Dr. Sandra Cohen, a Beverly Hills psychoanalyst, writes about your favorite film, TV, and book characters
and their real human problems.

The Seventh Seal is Bergman’s famous religious allegory about a Knight who faces Death and tries to outwit him. The film’s religious symbolism certainly reflects Bergman’s internal struggle with his Lutheran minister father and his questions about faith. But, as a psychoanalyst, I have much more to offer in looking at The Seventh Seal’s chess game with Death as a psychological struggle. I’ll explore the various ways our Knight is haunted by a dark internal depressive force, not unlike the Grim Reaper or the Black Plague, that follows him everywhere and wants to “kill” love and hope. And, we’ll see...

Shame can ruin a life. A mistake can force a woman to live in self-sacrifice. For Diane, the reasons why are hidden in the loaded question: “How is Brian?” This question haunts her through the entirety of Kent Jones’ character-driven film, Diane. Not only is Brian Diane’s alcoholic and drug-addicted son, but underneath her attempts to save him is the reason for her guilt. She never feels she can make up for what she did many years ago. Nothing lets her off the hook. She’s locked in a prison of voices muttering relentlessly in her mind. How does a woman...

We’ve all been intrigued with Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita since the classic film arrived on the scene in 1962. But, isn’t the burning question: Is there more to understand about Humbert and Lolita beyond, “he’s a pedophile and she’s a troubled 14-year-old seductress?” The answer is yes, there’s plenty. Believe it or not, both have pathological reactions to loss. Pathological is not a surprise, I’m sure. But, perhaps loss is. So, let’s look more deeply into the not so simple histories that have brought about Humbert and Lolita’s very disturbed longings and behavior. Making them unable to grieve. Professor Humbert’s Mother Loss Humbert...

Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro), age 26, is Taxi Driver's lonely, alienated "hero." Yes, he’s a Vietnam War vet, ex-marine, and likely has his share of PTSD. But, his problems stem from something much deeper than war-trauma. He must have suffered some kind of childhood trauma, to be sure. He wouldn’t be so troubled if he hadn’t. His letter to his parents is dutiful, secretive, and distant. He wants something, though; he wants Betsy (Cybil Shepherd), he’s obsessed with her beauty. But, he has no idea what a woman wants or how to date, let alone to have a relationship with...

NOW PLAYING AT THE PSYCHOANALYTIC CENTER OF CALIFORNIA'S SATURDAY CINEMA PHANTOM THREAD Still Shaking your head over last year's Phantom Thread? Come join us Saturday, May 18, 2019, from 10:00 AM to 1:30 PM for a complete viewing of Phantom Thread. Hear Dr. Sandra E. Cohen's psychoanalytic discussion as she explores the unconscious roots and meaning of Reynolds and Alma's dangerous feeding game. The question is: what does it have to do with the complex dynamics between obsessive control and dependency, love and loss? Saturday, May 18, 2019, 10:00 am to 1:30 pm PCC Office Classroom 11500 W. Olympic Blvd., Suite 445 Los Angeles, CA 90064 3.25...

Astrid Lindgren, the author of the inimitable Pippi Longstocking, knew all about superhuman strength. She had it as a young girl. At least, she had to believe she did. To get through a traumatic pregnancy and separation from her baby. “You can do it.” That’s what people told young Astrid over and over when she felt she couldn’t take it on alone. But, she did. Because what else is there to do when no one’s willing to help? Not her parents. Not the father of her baby. So, this is where Becoming Astrid began. She had to rise up out...

Tennessee Williams wrote: “This is a play about love in its purest terms.” Surprised? Don’t be. The heart needs a home. But, if a heart is tormented by unrealistic Guilt, it has a hard time opening up to the love that offers a place to nest. That’s The Night Of The Iguana’s Reverend Dr. Lawrence T. Shannon. A shut out and shut down Episcopalian minister who doesn’t know love from lust or misguided temptation from real desire. What’s his #1 problem? He’s confused about what is realistic to need. Shannon's father’s a clergyman and two grandfathers are Bishops. So he believes...

“I knocked, I cried, she wouldn’t open up.” That is Wiktor’s torment. These lyrics begin Pawel Pawlikowski’s film Cold War and foretell the fate of Wiktor and Zula’s love. A love that never had a chance. Theirs is a war originating in Zula’s history. A history that spawned deep shame and distrust of love. Just when Wiktor thinks Zula’s let him in, she turns cold and runs away; or betrays him. Yet, because she too cannot stay away, their cycle of separations and reunions plays out over many years as, finally, Zula “puts the knife” into Wiktor’s heart. We watch...

Zain is the face of desperation. The poster child for what neglect, abuse, poverty, and heartbreak can do. We watch Nadine Labaki’s film Capernaum - as despair, longing, anguish, the deepest of grief, emotional torture; and finally frustration and rage take over Zain’s otherwise stunning features. But, even more to the point, Zain is the poster boy for all the feelings his parents are incapable of feeling. He carries them all. Sees reality where they can’t. Speaks out for his own heartbreak. And for the heartbreak of every neglected and abused child whose parents have shut down their hearts. A Desperate...

Summer love on a deserted island isn’t real life. That’s the Gordian knot in Bergman’s 1953 Summer With Monika. This erotic and heartbreaking film tells the story of two adolescents caught in the throes of an idyllic love. It’s a love they both long for, given their troubled and sad early lives. And also an escape from life’s current cruelty and reality; which they can’t ultimately avoid. We all complicate love by what we bring from childhood. Bergman was no different. In his films, he wove an unconscious self-analysis as Barbara Young (2015*) rightly says. So, I think we can easily...

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