Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace is a story about trauma and distrust. That might not be the most obvious thing in this compelling film about a Vietnam Vet and his 13-year-old daughter who live in hiding in a park forest outside Portland, Oregon. But for me, as a psychoanalyst, it is the film’s heart. Will (Ben Foster) has PTSD from a war we should never have fought. He’s witnessed killing. His wife died long ago. We can well imagine there is much more to the story of Will’s life. People have shattered his trust. We see the results. His daughter,...

Peter Zvi Malkin’s Holocaust trauma worked in his favor to capture Adolf Eichmann, Hitler’s Chief Executioner; Head of the SS Office of Jewish Affairs and the Architect of the Final Solution. At least that’s the Hollywood version of the story. It makes sense as PTSD goes. And, although Chris Weitz’ Operation Finale invented the dialogue between Malkin and Eichmann for dramatic purposes, it wouldn’t be too far fetched to believe that some of it might have been going on either in Malkin’s mind or in his unconscious. After all, wouldn’t it make sense that the personal nightmare and rage he...

Jordan Peele’s brilliantly conceived film, Get Out, does its job of shattering the myth that we are living in a post-racial America. My great uncle, Leo Hurwitz’s film, Strange Victory, tried to do the same in 1948 after we won the war against Hitler but came home to racism here. It’s now 70 years later and there’s still too much to be scared of. Peele says he made Get Out to face his fears. What’s he most afraid of? “Human beings. What people can do in conjunction with other people is exponentially worse than what they can do alone. Society...

Cruelty and misunderstanding can make you a monster or a mute. Guillermo del Toro’s compelling allegorical fable, The Shape of Water, shows us that quite well. We can say all the obvious things about this multi-layered film set in its backdrop of the Cold War and a high-security government laboratory in 1962 Baltimore. There’s loneliness and loss; competition between the United States and Russia to have the first man in Space; fear, paranoia, dehumanization and exploitation of people and creatures. There’s the overriding do whatever it takes kind of brutality to be the one on top. Yet, there’s also that...

Martin McDonagh’s darkly comic and deeply painful Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri gives us a tough look at how anger and blame is one (ineffective) way of trying to handle very difficult feelings. We have Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), a bereaved mom: hardened, blunt, feeling uncharacteristically helpless, and furious about it. The town’s much loved and dying Police Chief, William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) has gravely failed, in her estimation, to pay sufficient attention to the brutal rape and murder of her teenage daughter. What else is there to do, but take matters into her hands? Then, there’s the counter-phobic, racist,...

Baby (Ansel Elgort) wants to change, but … stop running? That’s easier said than done. Especially if you’re a sweet, loving, sensitive kid (that’s Baby in Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver), whose cruel dad is responsible for your mom dying as you sit helplessly watching. What do you do with those terrifying memories? You grow up and you drive fast; blocking out the constant reminders that ring in your head with the sweet music (or any music) of that mom you lost. You drive; better than most people; better than your mom could, since she couldn’t avoid that one fatal accident....

PTSD always follows trauma. No traumatized person is “strong” enough to escape it. Yet, for complicated reasons, Post Traumatic Stress symptoms are too frequently off everyone’s radar, particularly the radar of the one suffering. The reasons are both straight out of the DSM-V and very individual. Jeff Bauman’s story in David Gordon Green’s powerful new film, Stronger, with Jake Gyllenhaal’s deeply moving performance as Jeff and Tatiana Maslany’s complex and engagingly real portrayal of his girlfriend, Erin Hurley, is a good place to start understanding what happens after trauma. ...

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...

Director Lenny Abrahamson and writer Emma Donoghue's film, ROOM, takes us directly into the emotional experience of trauma. As the film opens, we hear a young boy’s voice introducing us to a girl named Ma. Kidnapped, stolen from her life, and kept in ROOM for seven years, Ma lives in a world as incomprehensible as Alice’s in Alice in Wonderland. Those victimized by trauma know its terror. Yet that terror,  not manageable alone, is put far aside someplace else in order not to feel it. What kind of help do those who’ve been severely traumatized need to slowly give words to terror? Terror Terror is a...

Ashley Judd is speaking out. Good, because sexual harassment is damaging. You feel powerless. You end up with a lot of unwarranted shame. You even blame yourself. But, when someone has power over you, of one kind or another, it’s hard to say, “No” - to report it, or to stand up for yourself. You might feel too scared. Maybe you change the reality around in your mind as if it’s not really happening. Or tell yourself it’s not as bad as you think. Perhaps you even feel you have way too much to lose. That’s the problem with sexual harassment...