Two Paths Away From Loss

The Academy Award-winning film, Ida by Pawel Pawlikowski, is beautifully poignant visually, thematically, and psychologically. A haunting story of loss and the sometimes- unwinnable struggle against the overwhelming feelings involved. Loss is difficult under any circumstance. In Ida, we witness an aunt and niece estranged in the aftermath of the Nazi occupation in Poland. Both victims of almost inconceivable losses, they take very divergent paths in their attempts to survive. But, those paths also take them away from life instead of towards it.

Two Retreats From Life After Loss

What does Ida tell us about ways of coping with loss that doesn’t allow life to go on? “I’m a slut and you’re a saint”, Wanda says to her niece, Ida. This seemingly off-hand statement says quite a lot about how each copes with their losses. I wondered as I watched the film – which one is trying to save the other? But, actually, both are unreachable. Both have their forms of retreat from life –and primarily from reliving the past.

Wanda’s Inconsolable Guilt & Sadness

Wanda had a son. He was killed. She blames herself. When she’s locked up for driving drunk, she argues for immunity. What she really wants is immunity from feeling anything at all. That’s why she drinks. Why she has sex with different men every night. Anonymous men. Not to feel. But, when she goes back into the past with Ida – she begins to feel resurgences of guilt and sadness.

She can’t change her decision to leave her son to fight the German occupation. Can’t change that she couldn’t save her sister. She cries. Feels too much. Suicide is her retreat. The only thing to bring her total immunity from her feelings that she’s desperate for.

Ida’s Early & Unremembered Loss

Ida had a family. She may not consciously remember, but she did. She’s lived almost her entire life as Anna in a convent. Yet, she was once a happy baby in her mother, Roza’s, arms. She knows, in a memory stored deep in her body, what she’s lost. Ida is cloistered away from life, differently than Wanda, but in a retreat that also stops her from feeling or wanting anything.

When she allows a taste of life with Lis, the smile on her face when she lies in his arms is unmistakable. A memory. A longing. His words might promise a family – yet, she knows what it is to lose one. Running back to the convent assures her she’ll never lose anyone again.

They Can’t Stop Running Without Help

Alone in the world by fate or by toughening up and turning away from human contact, neither Ida nor Wanda have mourned their losses. Neither has help to negotiate and work out all the feelings and fears loss brings. And, neither has help to open up to a chance at love again. The only option either can see is one form of escape or another.

For ways loss brings people together, READ MORE HERE

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Dr. Sandra E. Cohen

I’m Dr. Sandra Cohen, a psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice in Beverly Hills, CA. I work with creatives in therapy, story/character development, and entertainment consulting. If you are a writer, actor, or director and want help with a character – or a chance to do some of your own personal work - call at 310.273.4827 or email me at to schedule a confidential discussion to explore working together.