Asif Kapadia’s 2016 Oscar winning Best Documentary, Amy, is a deeply truthful portrayal of the troubled psychological life of 6-time Grammy winner, Amy Winehouse. Amy predicted fame would drive her mad and, in a sense, it did. What the film makes clear to me, as a psychoanalyst, is that her complex fear of losing what she had, whether musical fame or love, was the real problem. We touch the surface of Amy’s fears in these lyrics from What Is It About Men: “my Freudian fate. History repeats itself. It fails to die.” The anxieties rooted in her “Freudian fate” were...

Director Ridley Scott's film, The Martian, tells the story of NASA astronaut Mark Watney’s (Matt Damon) accidental abandonment on the barren planet of Mars. Early childhood abandonment also creates a desolate emotional landscape. People can’t be trusted. Hope is fractured. On Mars, Mark has two things to turn to: the distasteful music of Commander Lewis’ (Jessica Chastain) 1970’s disco classics and his own ingenious tactics of survival. For anyone abandoned, these are serious questions: is clinging to fierce self-sufficiency the answer? Or is human connection that has already failed a too risky music to trust? Abandonment An unexpected and violent dust storm...

Steven Spielberg's powerful film, Bridge of Spies, asks some compelling psychological questions. Could there be two more different men than a Brooklyn lawyer in 1957 at the height of the Cold War and an alleged Russian spy – or are they different at all? And, if they aren’t, what is it exactly that forms an unexpected human bond in the face of hostile forces trying to bring them down? With James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) and Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) that connection boils down to one complex thing: being A Standing Man. What it means to be A Standing Man is at the...

There are opportunists in the mind that take over in states of emotional deprivation. Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) in Director George Miller's western style post apocalyptic film, Mad Max:Fury Road, is a good example. As a psychoanalyst who treats severe depressive states, I found this film a fascinating allegorical tale of the conditions under which mental tyrants take over, as well as the kinds of control they exert. We see in the characters of Max (Tom Hardy), Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), and Nux (Nicholas Hoult), what it takes to fight these tyrannical forces and also what causes that fight, in some,...

As much as I loved Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman, I can’t say I felt the same about The Revenant. I know the film won big at the Golden Globes and has received Oscar nods for Best Picture and Best Actor. Perhaps that’s because a fantasy lives deep inside us about exacting revenge where we believe revenge is due. Still, spending close to 3 hours watching the agonies of a man who’s brutally mauled by a bear, who can’t catch a break, is left to die by supposed friends, and has to endure one gruesome circumstance after another became almost unbearably tedious. Yet,...

Director Tom Hopper’s beautifully conceived film, The Danish Girl, begins and ends with artist Einar Wegener’s paintings of barren trees. The barrenness in these trees tells volumes about the lonely depletion of a self when the real self is split off and hidden. The story of artist Einar Wegener’s courageous transition from male to female, together with Eddie Redmayne’s tour de force performance as Lili Elbe, offers timely support to counteract the still current and often egregious misunderstanding and mistreatment the transgender population suffers. Yet as a psychoanalyst watching the film, I was rivetingly aware of how Lili’s emergence speaks...

What Happened, Miss Simone, Liz Garbus’ documentary of the brilliant and troubled Nina Simone’s life, ends by diagnosing Miss Simone with bipolar disorder. Does that explain her outrageous behavior? I don’t think so. Those with bipolar disorder are taken over by extremes of moods. But, in my experience, there’s much more to being bipolar than that. Each person has an individual history and reasons for their extremes. A diagnostic category just doesn’t cut it as a method for understanding anyone. How do you explain it then? What could possibly make Nina Simone destroy her career and treat her fans (and her...

Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s kooky and touching new film, Mistress America, gives us Brooke Cardenas (Greta Gerwig), a 30-year-old autodidact, full of life and ideas, but stuck. She can’t get her life off the ground. She needs help, but help makes her feel small: “There’s nothing I don’t know about myself. That’s why I can’t go to therapy. ”What do you do when you have to cover up your shame for not being able to figure things out for yourself? You either keep running from one thing to the next, or … how about a psychic? You can just drop in...

Asif Kapadia's deeply truthful,Amy, makes clear to me, as a psychoanalyst, that although Amy Winehouse predicted fame would “drive her mad,” it was more her psychological troubles that set her on a fatal downward course. The lyrics to What Is It About Men - “my Freudian fate. History repeats itself. It fails to die,” touch the surface of those troubles. Yet, it’s not so simply that she “emulated all the shit her mother hated” or her animal aggression or taking someone else’s guy. Her real Freudian fate was hidden in her bulimic struggle. It’s what eclipsed the real Amy –...

  12 YEARS A SLAVE — Some people need someone to hate. In Jean Paul Sartre’s essay, “Anti-Semite and Jew,” he says: “If the Jew did not exist, the anti-Semite would invent him.” I don’t think it’s a far leap to put the history of Blacks in America in the same category. The important question is why? Why does this need to have someone to hate (or someone to control and use for one’s own psychological purposes) operate more intensely in some people? Like in Edwin Epps, the vicious slave master (Michael Fassbender), in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave. The true story of Solomon...