A narcissistic mother uses her children. She controls them, starves them of love. In John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate (1962), that’s Eleanor Shaw Iselin, Mother of lead character Raymond Shaw. Raymond is deeply convinced: “I’m not lovable.” No wonder he has enough hate to be brainwashed to kill. “Yes, Mother,” “Yes, Ma’am, and “Yes, Sir” govern his responses. And, so he becomes his power-hungry Mother’s Russian pawn. We know foreign powers infiltrate elections. We might even say Trump was The Manchurian Candidate in 2016. But how does a power-hungry mother infiltrate a love-starved child’s mind? If the child does anything else...

Children need secure love. Not broken promises. Or, betrayal. Especially not abuse. When that happens to you, you build hard walls around yourself. Shut down to love. Not believing it’s there. That’s Femi. Small boy, turned teenager in Shola Amoo’s powerful, semi-autobiographical, The Last Tree. And, when “going tough” means turning against needing anyone, that has dire consequences. Mostly because you end up abandoning who you are. The real you. The one that cares. If you’re lucky, the people who hurt you, almost beyond turning back, say “I’m sorry.” That goes a long way to finding the real self you...

Watching Autumn’s cautious troubled face in the quietness of Never Rarely Sometimes Always draws us into the dark shattered life of a traumatized girl. If she’d let us in. Autumn lives behind walls. Alone. Vigilant. Angry. Always afraid. Can’t allow help: “I’ve got it.” People aren’t to be trusted. That she’s learned. If you think Eliza Hittman’s captivating film is only about teenage pregnancy and abortion, that’s not the whole story. By far. Never Rarely Sometimes Always reveals a world of secrets and terror. Of sexual abuse. A lonely world with no one to reach inside the pain. Or is...

What gets you stuck in a time loop? A freak of quantum physics? The self-quarantine of COVID-19 in which one day seems like the last (or the next)? Or, could it be the cynical self-protective bubble that loss and fear of love creates? Palm Springs, Max Barbakow and Andy Siara’s endearingly creative, intelligent, sensitive, and hopeful film tells us all about this bubble, in the story of Sarah and Nyles; an unlikely yet perfectly matched pair. They find themselves at Sarah’s sister’s wedding. Day after day after day. Sarah because she followed Nyles into that cave, even though he told...

Arthur Fleck is Joker. That’s the name of Todd Phillips’s 2019 film and Joaquin Phoenix’s well-deserved Best Actor Oscar-winning character. Arthur must be a Joker, a self-made stand-up comedian. He must laugh, even though his heart is breaking. And, being a comedian is the best way to keep laughing. Isn’t that right …? No, he’s not successful at it. But, laughing is a must - for complicated reasons that unfold as this disturbing film escalates to a confusing and shattering end. Confusion about what’s real and not, what’s funny and isn’t - is where Arthur lives. Joker says it clearly:...

What are the basic ingredients in Joe Talbot and Jimmie Fails’s The Last Black Man In San Francisco? An old Victorian house. A young man who has no home. A mother who abandoned him and can’t keep him in her heart. A necessary fantasy. A Greek Chorus (that speaks the anger, hate, and under it, the grief).A gentrifying city that is taking everything away. “We don’t own shit,” is the mantra for what’s happening as the Blacks are pushed out of their neighborhoods. But, it’s a mantra that goes even deeper. When your mom left you long ago and you...

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...

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...

What makes someone greedy; heartless; manipulative; and corrupt? So hungry for power that anything goes; even law; morality; & a daughter? Adam McCay’s Vice doesn’t answer questions of what or why. Vice tells the story of who and how. Yet, let’s for a moment think about Dick and Lynne Cheney as two parts of one person’s mind. I can show you how childhood trauma creates a tyrannical mental bully; waiting to steal every bit of power it can. “He did it like a ghost,” the film’s narrator tells us. And, that’s how a mental tyrant invisibly takes over when, watching...