Intro: Art and psychology are intrinsically linked. The best art illuminates (or attempts to) the human condition, which is, after all, at the core of psychological investigation. This linkage is perhaps best evidenced by looking at popular cinema. While film does not always offer the most insightful perspective on human psyche, it is an effective gauge of the public mindset, if for no other reason than its uncommon hold on the culture's collective imagination. For good or bad, cinema (and television) has far surpassed the popularity of all other narrative art forms. One can convincingly argue that this is partially due to the ease with which most cinema can be digested, when compared with, say, a novel. However, much of film's popularity can certainly be attributed to its overwhelming raw power. Film is a visceral medium, or to paraphrase Canadian director David Cronenberg, "Film has teeth." Movies are potentially an effective instrument by which we can examine our modern psychological landscape, both personal and social, because more than any other medium, it enables us to experience life from another person's vantage point, to walk in their shoes, as it were. Queendom's Reel Psychology series will highlight some of the films that most effectively (or perhaps ineffectively) demonstrate a psychological bent.
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Television drama produced by HBO
HBO's In Treatment may not be everyone's idea of satisfying television viewing. For those requiring car chases, violent murders, slapstick comedy or wisecracking teenagers as staples of their television diet, it will almost certainly disappoint. However, for those who prefer that the emphasis of their video nutrition focus on character development and the drama of interpersonal relationships, In Treatment offers more than enough sustenance.
Adapted from a popular Israeli series (Be 'Tipul) the series revolves around psychotherapist Paul Weston (played by Gabriel Byrne) and his treatment of a diverse group of patients. The structure of the show is a deceptively simple one. Over the course of five nights, each episode focuses on single session with a patient (Laura, Alex, Sophie and married couple Jake and Amy), with every fifth episode featuring the therapist's session with his own therapist, Gina (played by Diane Wiest). The following week the same structure is repeated. I say the structure is deceptively simple because it allows for complex character development that is seldom seen in television. In fact, character essentially is the show, which is of course befitting a show that is about psychotherapy.
Each of the patients portrayed present the viewer with intriguing glimpses into the human psyche that become progressively more complex and fascinating with each session. Laura (played by Melissa George), is a highly sexual young anesthesiologist with promiscuity and commitment issues, who further complicates her treatment (not to mention Paul's ethics), when she confesses her intense love for Paul. Alex (played by Blair Underwood), a tormented macho fighter pilot on a leave of absence after the (presumably) accidental killing of innocent schoolchildren during a bombing mission, is perhaps the most antagonistic of all Paul's patients, aggressively and arrogantly challenging Paul on his competence, ethics, intelligence, and even the availability of an acceptable cup of coffee.
Jake and Amy (played by Josh Charles and Embeth Davidtz) are the quintessential example of opposites attracting. Jake is a rough around the edges, aspiring but unsuccessful songwriter, while Amy is a polished and crisp sophisticate and successful career woman. They first come to therapy because they are having difficulty coming to an agreement on whether to terminate Amy's pregnancy, after struggling with years of infertility. Jake wants to have the child, we suspect, in part as a means of controlling his wife, while Amy is undecided, which fuels Jake's suspicions of her fidelity. Indeed, their attraction seems to be driven by their hostility towards one another and we wonder if they in fact have anything holding them together aside from their distrust and animosity for one another.
While each of the patients' sessions is fascinating in its own right and could almost constitute a series of its own (indeed some viewers no doubt have their preferences and may favor watching one character's sessions over others), it is the Gabriel Byrne character and his dynamics with each of his patients that provides the glue that holds the show together and gives it a greater scope. Each week's episodes culminate with Paul's own sessions with his therapist Gina, during which we are given a rare glimpse into the private workings of the therapist's mind.