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

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...

“One sleeps in one’s childhood’s shoes,” Bergman remembers Swedish poet Maria Wine, saying, and “that was the real starting point of Wild Strawberries.” (p. 212*) It’s true. And, some live inside the echoes of a cold mother. Every psychoanalyst knows how our childhoods slumber within each waking and dreaming moment of our lives, creating their repercussions. Like Dr. Isak Borg’s loneliness. A loneliness predicated on the need to stop emotional time; so not to feel anything. As we travel with Isak back to his childhood home, we see the chilling effects of his cold mother (and too many siblings in the...

The River’s family’s “I Got You” kind of love is If Beale Street Could Talk's most potent reminder of exactly what transcends hate, helplessness, and despair. We see it when Tish’s dad holds her: “I got you, baby, I got you.” When Tish says to her newborn son: “I got you. I got you. I promise.” And, when her Mama soothes her fears: “Love is what brought you into this world. If you trusted love this far, don’t panic now. Trust it all the way.” Yes, this kind of love is a steadfast love; love that doesn’t run away in...

Lee Israel has talent; she just doesn’t believe she does. We can see it in Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me. In the creative way she impersonates the letters of great writers, adding her own writerly wit; but, hiding behind their names. (In fact, the NY Times called her book: Can You Ever Forgive Me: Memoirs Of A Literary Forger, “a sordid and pretty damned fabulous book.”) That is, after she came out of hiding. Yet, if Lee doesn’t hide; she’s sure all she’ll get is criticism; and she can’t stand that. The real culprit, though, is that horrid...

A sentence to shame is worse than having no sanitary pads month after month. Period. End Of Sentence. This film, 2019 Oscar Winner for Best Short Documentary, shows us very clearly that you can’t do much as a girl in rural India if you’re bleeding. But, not only that. When old superstitions and taboos about menstruation prevail, and you’re seen as dirty or cursed; stigmatized and ostracized; it interferes with everything. Especially with hope; school; and being able to "rise and fly." Believe it or not, this is the state of affairs in parts of India in the 21st Century....

Hate breeds self-hate. And, self-hate can make you Quiet. That’s one of the things George Tillman, Jr.’s The Hate U Give makes very clear. And, Amandla Stenberg’s moving performance as Starr Carter makes even clearer just how scary hate and self-hate can be to fight. Especially if people (police, for example) refuse to listen. I’m white and Jewish. I’ve never experienced extreme anti-semitism. So perhaps I’m one of those “privileged whites” Starr comes up against at Williamson School. I can empathize. Take action; and protest. But I don’t know from the inside what it’s like … To be Black; poor; live...

Hanging himself wasn’t Jackson Maine’s fault. Nor was his drinking. Yes, his brother Bobby said to the heartbroken, Ally: “It was Jack; not you; not me; Jack and no one else.” But, that’s because he didn’t understand. And, really, Jackson had the right idea: “A song is only an octave. Twelve notes and it repeats. Over and over forever.” Yet, that’s not only what happens in a song; it’s also in the musical undertones that play inside a life; octaves of the past; singing their haunting song. Only sometimes you can’t hear the words; especially when your trauma is in...

Heartlessness, and what causes it, is the theme in Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther; as far as I can see. More importantly, Black Panther shows us how heartlessness can “create a monster,” in an abandoned child now-man, with his slow-burning hate; vengeful rage; and need for power. And, certainly, we witness what heartlessness has to do with greed and fear. Yes, there’s a lot going on in Black Panther, and a child cast aside, because keeping secrets is more important than his loneliness or need, is at the center of the story. But, let’s go a bit farther. Let’s think about...