Snowpiercer the Movie & How to Build Character

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Snowpiercer is a wonderful “end of the world” movie. We seem to be swimming in apocalyptic films & t.v. shows. I’ve always loved science fiction in books because it was an appreciation learned from my Father. Snowpiercer is extremely dark with a high body count.

Snowpiercer is a metaphor for our times. The “have-nots” are in the tail of the train & eat disgusting protein bars for their meals. How the “haves” live is greedy & full of drugs, gluttony & hedonism. There is a horrible, rigid disparity that offers no hope for class movement. We watch the 99% revolt.

I loved the movie because I could not predict the twists & turns. There were startling images that stick to your eyeballs long after the credits roll which is what I have come to expect from Korean directors (Chan-wook Park’s movies on revenge for example). This is Bong Joon-ho’s first American film & I experienced it as wonderfully political & courageous.

Bong Joon-ho takes risks like the heroes in the film.

It is intense & exciting to watch the events unfold on a train that carries the last of humanity in a postapocalyptic world that is the deep freeze due to mistakes that have been made. Survival means constant struggle & the empty words from Tilda Swinton as the prime minister just don’t cut it.

There is a raw urgency to the main character of Curtis who is the leader of the “have-nots”. He tells his story of how he grew into character development towards the end of the movie. It’s a story of why he has learned to make hard choices & do the right thing. Without spilling details which would spoil the movie he has made terrible mistakes. It’s the story of where his honor & strength started.

Heraclitus said that “Character is Fate”. I believe it is about learning to make the hard choices. You watch the pain Curtis is in when he lets his best friend die in order to keep moving forward. Heraclitus also said “Good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day. Protracted and patient effort is needed to develop good character.”

Curtis is brave & true & sticks with his hard-won morality until the very end. In contrast to many of the other characters in the film he is a man of honor & conviction. He stumbles into impossible situations that are very difficult and continues to change & adapt right up to the end instead of falling into despair & giving up.

He has earned his positive character traits the hard way; the way all of us must.

This is an exciting movie that has a lot of layers. The unexpected depth makes it the most satisfying movie of the year. It would be a shame to miss it. Critics have given it 94% on rotten tomatoes and my favorite reviewer Claudia Puig calls it profound, an art film that is a thriller. Don’t miss it.


My work with Denial & the movie American Hustle

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Denial is illusions. Illusions are denial. They are comforting & seductive. Throughout the movie there is the refrain “Everybody believes what they want to believe”. We all love to pretend to ourselves & others……we all love our self-deception.

My work involves interrupting belief systems with inconvenient truths: It’s stupid to have unprotected sex in a one night stand. Not only is your husband disappointing but you also are easily disappointed. You must learn to live within your means. You are an alcoholic & you need to stop drinking. You are living with a very difficult person who lacks empathy. You have not stepped up enough to change your life, go to a sex addiction meeting.

After wading through the initial defensiveness & anger; people usually feel some relief that someone has called them on it. Inside they know it’s time to be serious & do something different, not just talk about it.

The movie is a standout, absolutely terrific and you smile throughout as people believe what they want to believe. Even as we watch in the audience, we get surprised in our beliefs which is a pure delight. We laugh out loud at the tangled webs they weave on the screen.

I go to movies for the directors & David Russell recently moved to the top of my list. He directed Silver Linings Playbook & The Fighter. His movies have great moments of authenticity. I wrote a blog about the codependence in The Fighter because it captured that relationship problem so well.

David Russell takes you on a ride that is pure pleasure. The previews did not enchant me. The ABSCAM scheme in the 70’s, who cares? Then I realized it was David Russell & hit most top 10 lists for the year. I’m so glad I reconsidered.

Therapy is about the art of support & challenge. Many therapists find it too easy to simply be in agreement, nodding their head as if that’s enough. It takes a lot of work to support someone in their humanity, while helping them to see the darker side of themselves. Then they must take ownership of that in order to become a better version of themselves.

Part of my enjoyment in the movie was in a voiceover by Christian Bale’s character, where he recognizes he betrayed a friend. It is the 70’s so betraying his wife really isn’t on his radar because he provided her a nice financial life.

If you don’t leave therapy sessions with a bit of sweat on your brow maybe you need to be more honest with yourself that you are there for validation, not change. Comfortable is an obstacle to change.

I teach a couples workshop to other therapists & in it, I say if you are unwilling to talk to couples about sex you are doing them a disservice. A therapist in the audience said he never has & never would & I told him he was deceiving himself. A therapist has to model that talking about it matters, even if it’s uncomfortable, because they must learn to talk to each other.

No one can grow unless they are willing to be uncomfortable.

Single, Dating & the movie Enough Said

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Single & dating means surviving the awkward beginnings of relationships over & over & over again. Beginnings are often the hardest part of many things but especially in dating. Dating means two strangers begin a stiff dance of stumbling around in trying to know each other.

Dating can be such a painful experience that you may often want to give up (flashing through my head are so many faces of clients with a lot to offer, acknowledging to me how discouraged they are & wondering if it’s even possible to be successful). It’s very hard to open up & share when the dating relationship may fizzle before it’s really even begun.

Enough Said captures the awkwardness, fear, moments of thrill, fear, hope & problems of starting a relationship with admirable grace. It is heartwarming because it feels so real. It is so easy to consider bailing before any true intimacy has begun…..Who is this person your inner voice shrieks??? Run NOW!!

Dating is difficult in a culture where we avoid vulnerability.

We watch Julia Louis-Dreyfess struggle as she worries because he is fat. She is so fast & furiously collecting information that continues to add to her paranoia that James Gandolfini really is a mistake. She is so consummed with protecting herself that she betrays him.

Instead of letting her own inner sense of integrity drive her choices she allows fears to twist her own soul….instead of being betrayed she is the betrayer. Is that really who she wants to be? Inside it feels right because self protection is more important than integrity. Damn the cost we all secretly say to ourselves.

Thank goodness James holds onto his boundaries & he makes it clear that what she did is just plain wrong & unacceptable. No excuses to be entertained. He maintains his integrity instead of sinking to her level by offering too easy, unearned forgiveness.

Ultimately his clarity allows her to work towards & earn her own higher level of integrity. I believe real love is helping each other be better people. We are challenged by love to be the best person we can be….so we allow honest discomfort to honestly face painful situations, which is the only path of personal growth.

Any relationship will suffer if self protection is more important than integrity. Integrity is to say the true statement & ask the hard questions in a process of finding out who you & somebody else really is. If you are lucky you will find out if you can grow & whether or not both of you have character. Facades don’t really cut it over the long haul.

Self-Esteem & the movie The Way, Way Back

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Self esteem starts to “bake” in adolescence. It’s part of why adolescence can feel so tragic because there is such a slim grip on feeling ok. I was moved by the raw truth of this movie, a week after watching an adolescent struggle with his self-esteem.

The opening of the movie is powerful as his mother’s boyfriend grills him on rating himself between 1 & 10. It’s painful to watch and you wonder is there a joke in here somewhere that I don’t understand because it is Steve Carell playing the boyfriend. The 14 yr. old Duncan finally answers reluctantly with a 6 and gets bashed for the number being too high.

The core of self-esteem is built on small, medium & large accomplishments layered over time. You see this in Duncan’s exploring during his summer vacation. He finds a bike & a water park that set him free so he can evolve instead of being oppressed by the adults around him.

The relationships he develops at the water park are purely from his own efforts as he adventures into uncertainty and finds himself. It is touching as we watch him grow & succeed beyond his awkwardness into a confident young man. He withstands an awful secret about his father hurled at him by the self-absorbed boyfriend.

We watch the grown ups get lost in drunkenness and crossed boundaries as they act adolescent in contrast to Duncan who finds responsibility to be healing which help him find confidence. The friendship offered by Sam Rockwell is delightful….and how many parents today would really allow that to happen? Stumbling into people who believe in you is part of the wonder of life.

Duncan sits way back in the farthest seat in the station wagon which is accurate for how he feels in his life; disconnected from his Mom who is absorbed with her one year old boyfriend. Lots of kids feel shunted aside by their divorced parents’ new love interests. All of the sudden there is no one on one time with your parent…..their partner is always annoyingly part of the equation.

Parents need to recognize that one on one time really matters even with silent or sullen or angry teens. They all need to eat; so take them out for a meal, just the two of you. As my mentor Sonia Nevis says: Restaurants were made so people have to talk while waiting for the food to come.

Couples Fighting & the Movie Before Midnight

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This movie offers a glimpse of real life in the fighting between Ethan Hawke & Julie Delpy after 20 years of being together. In the first 6 to 9 years there is a lot of catering that goes on in the name of love. Then the illusions fall off & there is more work that goes into the true infrastructure of respecting the differences.

Fighting is a part of any authentic relationship after 6 years because the differences start to bang into each other. Only in the beginning is love all about the mushiness of being clones & catering. Then developmentally there comes a time where you bail to stay in the mush with someone else or you do the hard work of learning to meet in the middle.

I was in a master class at Chautauqua with the author Margaret Atwood (7/24) and she talked about the problems of life being in the extremes & how important the middle is….it made me smile to be validated by someone I so admire.

Ethan Hawke is a writer & lives in Paris to make his partner happy. The movie opens with him in an airport, saying goodbye to his son who lives in Chicago. He is clearly suffering with the pain of not living in the same country as his son. He begins to wonder about moving back to be near by which is a normal thing to wonder about….

Unfortunately his partner is completely ordinary & reacts with tons of defensiveness when he brings up the possibility. She has been offered a new job that scares her but she finds herself upset with even the idea the job could be yanked out from under her.

This is what happens in real life. We are so quick to react defensively that we erase any opportunity to meet in the middle to explore ideas and we don’t hear each other out. She is threatened by the idea & shuts down the conversation; this is what people do.

It’s as if only one person can be heard because only one person can win.

Couples are too often caught in the trap of: it’s either you or me. Dialogue where each person shares their truth is very rare. Truth can’t be hoarded until you feel entitled to one giant ugly dump.

In the movie the hurt & pain linger in the air between them….it is so palpable & burdensome that words are extinguished. The conversation stops because someone walks out or someone is absent emotionally. This is the norm with arguments because energy is closed off not open.

The movie demonstrates exactly what is required to continue the conversation after the uglies. He finds her sitting at an outdoor table & she hardens at his approach.They begin to talk & you watch her begin to melt her defenses & open up.

It’s this very crucial moment of softening that is exactly what restores hope the relationship will survive after all. So when you find yourself crossing your arms in defensiveness, thinking & saying ugly hurtful things try really hard to find your ability to soften up to hear another point of view.

It’s so easy to harden yourself against someone who loves you simply because you don’t like what they’re saying because you are determined to stay right & not be vulnerable. A couples therapist tries to wiggle into that softening & vulnerability at every opportunity. There is always merit to both points of view which can clearly be seen in the movie.

The extremes of hardening or constant submissiveness are what defeats longevity in relationships. Ethan Hawke says “I just want to talk about it.” She shuts him down “She’ll never give you 50% custody & it’s not worth the move to only have every other weekend.” Instead she could be courageous & vulnerable by saying “I don’t believe it’s worth it because it scares me to lose my new job.” If she owned her fears the conversation could continue.

Divorce Spills Over On To Kids & the movie “What Maisie Knew”

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Divorce is an opportunity for people to indulge their intensity & hoarded resentments on to everyone. Normally sane people will shriek when they meet their spouse in the grocery store. They are past caring how it looks because they are fueled by self-righteousness.

Divorce is an invitation to be your worse self, even in front of your own children. All people with children in the process of divorce should be forced to watch this movie. The movie captures the ugliness of divorce and it is startling when viewed through the eyes of a six-year-old.

Watching you will wince with pain more than once because the movie is so authentic about divorce.

Kids in divorce cry in my office because they never get any time alone with a divorced parent because now time is too often shared with the new love interest. Kids cry because a parent reveals too much about their new dating life or just because they reveal too much. Kids cry because they don’t want to understand the new reality that money is split between two households.

Kids in divorce cry because they don’t want divorce to happen to them. Kids cry because it’s all so confusing and they desperately want to be allowed to love both parents & not choose one. Kids cry because they hate keeping track of their stuff in two places and it gets overwhelming to forget something important so many times.

Kids in divorce cry because they lock up their inside feelings and act ok and nobody asks or listens to them about what’s hard.

The parents in the movie are wealthy and find two people to chew up & spit out as sparkly new young lovers who will make it all better and prove they are quite lovable. It’s the contrast of watching the genuineness and whole-hearted care of the young lovers for the six-year-old, compared to the birth parents’ selfish, calculating “how much can I get away with?” that provides the meat of the story.

So anyone watching the movie can comfort themselves with “I’d never do that…” but the truth is that the level of desperateness that follows divorce easily twists people’s souls into a pretzel of certainty that it’s ok just this once. Julianna Moore’s character is jealous of her daughter’s new-found affection for “stepdad” and she is very angry she has to share custody with her husband. Indeed it’s the raw selfishness and stinginess that too often emerges in divorce.

In the New York Times movie review A.O.Scott said: “What Maisie Knew” lays waste to the comforting dogma that children are naturally resilient, and that our casual, unthinking cruelty to them can be answered by guilty and belated displays of affection.

A Terrific TV Show; Parenthood has Authenticity & Intimacy

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The second half of season 4 began Jan. 1st on NBC @ 10pm. I read about this series because it was on Rob Owen’s Top 10 list for 2012 for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. He said that season 3 & 4 were terrific, so I decided to find out for myself. Wow, he was right!

What stands out for me are the honest communications that are made by characters who are grown ups. More than once someone takes responsibility by saying “I was over reacting.” People know how to have important conversations, they learn from each other & they risk being vulnerable.

If you are unsure how to be intimate with someone you love, sample some of their honest conversations. Intimacy depends upon authentic conversations about hard things. Intimacy requires vulnerability; I’m scared. I’m hurt. I’m jealous. etc.

Intimacy requires the time to tell your whole story instead of the image conscious version. This show takes it’s time layering authentic moments in the characters and intertwining their stories. That’s what makes this a family worth knowing.

It’s easy to watch 10 minutes & judge it as a soap opera. Stay for 60 minutes and you find yourself responding to the genuine emotions.

Jason Katims is the creator of this show as well as my favorite t.v. show for understanding teenagers “Friday Night Lights”. He has an autistic son and so does the eldest son of  the four Braverman siblings.  It is so poignant, in revealing the frustrations, & the worries and how autism affects everyone in the family.

Last January Emily Nussbaum in The New Yorker said “If it gets cancelled, I may never recover.”

We live in a culture that deflects real conversations, hiding out in false assumptions that being truthful will hurt, instead of recognizing that truth is a building block in the infrastructure of deeper intimacy. These characters consistently own up to the truth with each other and recognize their failings.

There is a palpable respect for differences when Crosby acknowledges that only his African-American wife can really explain prejudice to their biracial son. An unwed pregnant mother changes her mind about giving her baby to Julia & the pain for both of them in this reversal of fortune is raw and translates across the small screen.

It’s very hard for us to be vulnerable in real life & it is rarely depicted in pop culture.

One of my favorite scenes is when Ray Romano (who is smitten with Lauren Graham who plays Sarah) shares his anguish because his wife is taking their daughter and moving 1,000 miles away and he is helpless to stop it. I am proud to live in the state of Pennsylvania where this would be against the law. Too many women are casual in their disregard that BOTH parents are really important to kids.

This show has left me in tears with the realness of what happens. Tonight is your chance to join the audience & discover a family that often communicates with respect & authenticity (unlike so many of us in real life).