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Movies and the MindReview - Movies and the Mind
Theories of the Great Psychoanalysts Applied to Film
by William Indick
McFarland & Company, 2004
Review by Mark Welch
Feb 9th 2005 (Volume 9, Issue 6)

Sometime around 1895 both the modern cinema and modern psychoanalysis came into being, and they have had a mutual, not to say incestuous, fascination ever since. They gaze at each other and see themselves reflected and reinforced. It has been remarked that no art form is quite so suited, because of its ability to focus intently upon one single protagonist, the close-up, the point of view, the voice-over, as cinema, and no psycho- or sociological theory is quite so seductive, although not always correct or sustainable by any means, as psychoanalysis. In this book Indick attempts to apply many of the most well known theories, great he would call them, to a range of films to illustrate their insights and truths. He looks at classical Freud, Jung, Adler, Rank, Erickson and May, and adds in Joseph Campbell for good measure, although there may be some debate about whether he could really be called a psychoanalyst. But no matter, what Indick attempts to is show how the constructs, archetypes, mechanisms, drives and so on about which the theorists expound can be seen to play themselves out, literally, on the screen. There is a sense in which he wants to show that the universal insights of psychoanalysis are present and correct.

He does this in a very entertaining manner, and anyone with even a passing interest in either of the topics, let alone in both, is bound to be intrigued. He casts his cinematic net far and wide, well far and wide in Hollywood. The treatment of non-Hollywood cinema is scant and only includes a bare selection of usual suspects, a little bit of German expressionism, a nod towards the angst of Bergman and Tarkovsky, but little else. Nor does he venture much outside the feature film. There is, for example, no reference to more experimental films and nothing about documentaries at all. However, within the Hollywood genres he does present an interesting range. It should be noted here that he is not so much interested in films with a psychological or psychiatric bent or storyline, he is interested in the myth-making, story-telling nature of film and how the psychoanalytic theories he applies can illuminate them and enrich our experience.

To that end, he seems as indebted to the work of Joseph Campbell as any of the clinicians. Campbell's monumental, and seminal, work on the universal and timeless themes of myths underpins much of the thesis of the book. Indeed, one of the persistent themes is the hero figure, the trials and the triumph. There is a direct and clear link between the stories of Homer (not Simpson although that may be an interesting study waiting to happen) and Frodo's quest, Luke Skywalker and the Jedi knights, Dorothy in Oz, and perhaps most thought-provoking of all, Malcolm X.

After a series of chapters in which he treats each theorist separately, and shows a Rankian take on Harry Potter or the Freudian murk of American Beauty, he attempts to pull all the perspectives together in an analysis of Malcolm X. It may be that this particular section could have been expanded a little (his eclectic approach is only about eight pages). The undeniable cultural context and political significance of the film could be developed more than it is. Indeed, if the thesis of the book is to have any distinct value it may be in the eclectic approach because few if any theoretical purists still remain. That time may have passed and Indick has the opportunity of bringing together a number of extremely important strands of thought and constructs of social and personal understanding to act upon perhaps the most significant myth-making medium of our age.

There is, if anything, a temptation to dismiss the work lightly as a bit of an academic party game -- "what would happen if Freud had written about Dracula instead of dreams?" -- but, it deserves more than that, and the final chapter, looking at a controversial, but certainly mythic film, may well have presented that opportunity. Perhaps this is an opportunity that could have been grasped more firmly.

However, Indick does have a serious subject, and a meaningful one. He clearly enjoys his films on many levels. It would be perhaps a little more helpful if he could have been more critical in his appraisal and more pertinent in his exemplars. Movies do matter. They do show many of the facets of myth-making. They do both arise out of and shape the societies they speak to and with. They are worthy of study and reflection. And, if on finishing this book a reader feels the same, Indick will have done a fine job.



© 2005 Mark Welch



Mark Welch, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta and Co-Director of the PAHO/WHO Collaborating Centre for Nursing & Mental Health.


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