As a member of the Psychoanalytic community, but not a Psychoanalyst, I feel qualified to opine that this film has nothing informative to say about this difficult subject. A few years ago, the writer Janet Malcolm dubbed it "The Impossible Profession", which nicely sums up the arduous training requirements and the hardships of putting the technique into practice.
Siegel approaches her subject from the above-it-all position of the skeptical reporter, whose rude and disingenuous questions put the subject in a bad light no matter what answers are offered. "Do you ever lie to your patients?" she asks. The question may tell us more about the "auteur's" problems than could possibly be revealed by the discomfited analysts. When I heard this tacit accusation I wanted to snap "What are you--two years old?"
If anyone is telling fibs, it is Ms Siegel herself, though she believes she escapes that accusation by tipping us off to deliberate torture of the truth. Her documentary mixes straightforward interviews with concocted sessions with a pretend patient. She brings all the players together at the end in a cast party, which has the effect of levelling the high and mighty one more time. The person with the camera is the one in control, the puppeteer. Everyone else is just "the talent".
Who can forget the late Anna Russel's contemptuous dismissal of the very kings and queens of Opera on whose glorious talents she made herself rich and famous. "Great singers have resonance where their brains ought to be." Of course Ms Russell's whole shtick was burlesquing opera, and she never called any of her comic routines an examination of serious vocal music.
Others may have found the conceits of the current film to be clever ways of getting a fresh look at a much-discussed subject, I had trouble keeping up : oh I see, this looks real, but it's actually constructed; and the previous scene contained the phony patient talking to real analysts. We should also get to hear an academic in the field of architectural design discuss the main piece of furniture in the analyst's office, the Eames Chair. By its very nature, says the expert in furniture, the chair suggests certain things about who has the power in the analytic consulting room. Again we're confronted with the "dishonesty" of analysis, where even the furniture is intended to reinforce a relationship of dominance and submission.
The professor was occupied throughout her discursive tour of the psychology of space and shape by the breast-feeding of her baby. Whether our society is rather backward in accepting this as a public activity is a question in its own right, but at this juncture such behavior still is freighted with meaning. I felt more buffeted by this piece of theater than I ever have by the analyst's choice of chair.
If any phenomenon is held up for examination by this film, it is the power we give to people who have the motive and the means to put our pusses in front of the public. I saw analysts dropping their pants to please this director. Far from taking what they said as the truth, I'd say that I've been witness to coerced confessions.
I saw this movie as a guest at its pre-release showing in Philadelphia, and I'd imagine that with a full house instead of a half dozen media commentators the funny parts would have seemed a whole lot more hilarious. It's possible not only to confess against one's will but to laugh in spite of being appalled.
The current flap over Michael Moore's docu-torial alerts us to the weaknesses of taking big liberties with the facts. Even a work of declared fiction loses its punch when the audience finds out that key elements of the story are just wrong. That's why good authors and screenwriters really research their subject matter, and often collaborate with a consultant from the field undergoing study.
Cecil-B Philadelphia, PA
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