Monday, April 16, 2007

You Order Salad Like A Shrink

Or: working towards the MNP (see posts below)
Warning-- Plot Spoiler

So I went to see Reign Over Me with the connected Judge and my connected now-13-year-old daughter. I think Carrie recommended it some time ago in a comment on an old post. It was my second attempt this weekend to see The Namesake, the first go around I ended up at The Hoax with my husband.

So Reign Over Me Was a shrink blogger's jackpot. Here's the drift:
Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle) is a dentist, he lives in Manhattan with the perfect wife, the perfect life and two lovely daughters. His job and family define him, he longs for friendship, maybe even adventure, his life is perfect but sterile. In a boundary-violating maneuver bordering on stalking, he lurks outside a psychiatrist's office to bombard her with questions about "a friend" as she leaves her office--he can't hear that he should schedule an appointment, and the poor beautiful Dr. Angela Oakhurst (Liv Tyler) gets question after question.

Enter scooter-riding, unkempt, can we pleeese give him a haircut, Dr. Charlie Fineman, Alan's long lost college roommate and dental school pal. Charlie is a walking talking post-traumatic mess from the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in which his wife, 3 beautiful young daughters, and poodle (?) Spider, died in on one of the planes. By day, he compulsively and repetitively remodels the kitchen (--an apology, we later learn, to his wife who's final conversation with him was about the kitchen), by night he plays video games on a giant screen, goes to Mel Brooks flicks, collects vinyl from the 70's and 80's. He remembers nothing from before 9/11, has written off his in-laws, given up dentistry, doesn't recognize roommate Allan who reminds him how he used to sleep naked. Oh, good, another penis on the blog; hold on, there's more.

The two re-connect, their relationship becomes meaningful for both of them, their needs almost palpable. Charlie, however, has this little quirk that when someone mentions his past, he gets violent. Oops. Alan, however, is kind enough to overlook a few big outbursts, even one where Charlie grabs him by the neck, slams his diplomas to the wall. And Alan decides that Charlie needs help and he's going to be the one to get it for him.

So Alan has this other little sub-plot problem: a gorgeous patient, Donna Remar (Saffron Burrows) offers him a blow job (see, I told you, more penises), he tosses her from the office and she's sent off with orders to get a new dentist. Only jilted, she then sues him for sexual harassment, ridiculous, but how does one prove what goes on behind closed doors? Office partners just aren't happy. Eventually, he agrees to see her and she apologizes, explains she was mistreated by her ex, drops the lawsuit, turns out to be a patient of the lovely Angela, and will eventually be cast as the will-be girlfriend of the traumatized and violent Charlie the former Dentist.

Okay, so Alan wants to get help for Charlie, who wants no one and nothing that will touch on past memories. In a record store, they bump into the nerdy Nigel who invites them to join them for lunch-- Charlie quickly sniffs out the deception and yells over lunch "You're a shrink, you even order salad like a shrink." A man close to my heart, Nigel responds, "How does a shrink order salad."

Next, Alan introduces Charlie to Angela, who Charlie agrees to continue seeing, in part because she has great breasts, something he doesn't hesitate to tell her. He talks for a few minutes then ends each session abruptly. Finally, Angela confronts him with the fact that he needs to tell his story to someone or there's no point coming. He leaves, and tells his tragedy to Alan in the waiting room as Angela listens. It's one of those tear- jerking breakthrough moments that one hopes will lead to a cure, or even the end of the movie. But Charlie goes home, loads a gun, ends up pointing it at a police officer (this, my real-life judge friend tells me, is called Suicide By Cop), ends up tackled and spending 3 days in a psych unit, where Angela and Alan lobby for his release, and Angela insists what he needs is outpatient care which she can provide-- and ohmygosh nobody mentions that her last great intervention just days before nearly got the patient, or a cop, killed. Charlie goes free, there is another hearing a few days later in which the judge (Donald Sutherland) decides that his in-laws can dictate if he needs further inpatient commitment for up to a year, warning them harshly, "think about whether your little girl would want her husband to go to a place like this." Give me a break.

So Charlie moves out of the apartment with the now gorgeous kitchen, Angela the shrink and Donna the sexually harassing patient bring him root beer and pizza, everyone lives happily ever after.

So PTSD Adam Sandler style, with lots to think about, and while Dr. Angela is actually pretty good at times, there are all the boundary-blasting usual shrink things we've come to know and love in the movies.


ClinkShrink said...

So Charlie doesn't get time for threatening to shoot a cop? And Dr. Angela takes someone in a private practice with a known history of violence (and apparently no job or no insurance)? Maybe ex-elves-turned-psychiatrists do pro bono work when they're not helping hobbits.

I'm so confused. Somebody please order me a salad.

Anonymous said...

Lurker here. Kind of hated the psychiatrist Liv Tyler-character. But, hey. I'm just commenting here because Charlie loves Mel Brooks, not Gibson, films. Good synopsis otherwise.

Dinah said...

Clink: he's out in 3 days. It would've been hell to see this with you.

Anon-- oops. thanks, I changed it.

ClinkShrink said...

LOL and I promise not to drag you to watch silent monks.

Roy said...

3 days is pretty much standard of care, nowadays.

A psychiatrist's post with both the words penis and breast in it. How cliche (but titillating, nonetheless).

Haven't seen it, but I did just see Stranger Than Fiction, with Will Ferrel, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, and Maggie Gyllenhaal (with whom I'm now in love). What a great movie. Very creative, especially the graphics and the mildly OCD main character, played by Ferrell, who -- surprisingly -- knows how to play a character other than the usual dickhead that he does.

Sarebear said...

This has nothing to do with the movie, but your old shrinks in the media (tvs, movies, etc.) post is way old).

Anyway, I've been watching Brothers and Sisters, on ABC. A few episodes ago, when they showed Joe and Sarah in therapy, at first I thought, Oh no, a geezer iatrist or ologist, what's he got to say that's relevant, how can he help em. But when he opened his mouth more towards the end of the episode, talking to Sarah as she was bawling, I thought, WOW, they really got down GOOD a therapist, there . . . also taught me to not judge so much on appearance, a little (yeah, it's only a show, but hey, a good lesson anyway).

I look forward to seeing more of how they work therapy into the show, from time to time (heck, that whole Walker family could use some, lol . . . but then, that's why they're so interesting . . .)

Anyway. A really good, appropriate, effective, and thoughtful portrayal of a mental health professional, I thought.

To bring it back on topic, this movie Carrie recommended sounds interesting to me, although what's it rated? Ah, I'll Google it.

bikerchick said...

I remember Charlie found her match on last year. I am wondering what is going on with their relationship. As his fan, I post many of his photos on my blog

Anonymous said...

Dinah - I don't mean to be a pain, but you should have posted a "spoiler" warning before your synopsis. I actually didn't think you would give away the ending without that warning, so I kept reading... darn. I'm jut very used to discussion boards on Internet Movie Database ( ) and other film sites, where people always put that warning before they say anything detailed about the plot. I understand that this is not IMDB, but your own blog, though.

Otherwise, I really liked your comments on the film. I sometimes wonder what surgeons think when they watch Grey's Anatomy for example, or cops when they watch... any given cop show.

Btw: Sarebear - IMDB is a great site to check the rating. It's usually very reliable. There actually is a discussion there about Charlie not getting commited :).

Now, can anybody tell me why his family had to die in 9/11? Couldn't they die in a car crash? Dunno, maybe it's hard for me to relate because I'm not from the US, not even from an anglophone country, but it seems to me like an unnecessary exploitation of the event.

Anonymous said...

Is there a mental health professional's advocacy group that could put some pressure on Hollywood?

It misrepresents the profession to depict boundary violating incidents as a normal part of practice. Some years back there was an Australian film, Holy Smoke, in which a young woman who gets involved with an Indian guru is kidnapped by her uptight family and sent to a cabin to be deprogrammed by Harry Keitel.

They end up screwing.

This angered me because it is

1) Totally unethical for an counselor, especially a cult exit counselor, to have sex with a client.

2) Kidnapping and forcible detainment are no longer used by reputable exit counselors, anyway.

To get an equivalent, you'd have someone getting a tooth pulled, without anesthetic, by the local blacksmith and have that called 'modern dentistry.'

Again, we need a group of media savvy therapists who can respond to films like this by writing articles and giving interviews that could educate the public about boundaries and have genuine psychotherapists actually behave.

It would be great if we had films in which a therapist gets a phone call from some one in his or her consultancy group who says, 'You've missed two meetings. Get your ass in here and tell us what's happening in your life'.

Or the shrink comes home, looking distant, and his or her spouse has to help deal with it.

That would be so much more real--and could generate excellent dialogue.

Anonymous said...

Clink Shrink wrote:

"And Dr. Angela takes someone in a private practice with a known history of violence (and apparently no job or no insurance)? Maybe ex-elves-turned-psychiatrists do pro bono work when they're not helping hobbits."

You're right. We need more scenes in movies that show therapists on the phone, tangling with insurance companies and HMOs.

If Hollywood demands that there be sex in a script, how about a scene where a statistics-savvy psychiatrist pokes holes in a drug company rep's line of patter, and the rep tries to seduce the psyciatrist into some multiple regressions?

Or some not-so standard deviations?

(Thirty years ago, some warped psychology students published a journal called Worm Runner's Digest. It was bound together with a serious publication entitled The Journal of Biological Psychology. You can still find it deep in the stacks of a good university library.

The Worm Runner's Digest was full of articles written by frustrated graduate students. A subsection, entitled 'The American Journal of Statisticulation' consisted of statistics jokes.)

I used to read this in college when very depressed...helped much more than tricyclics did.

Anonymous said...

Foveva, at the top of the post I wrote "Warning Plot Spoiler" I'm sorry you didn't see it. Next time I'll do bigger and bolder.

Anonymous said...

Ups, sorry! My own fault than.

jcat said...

Think I'm beginning to understand why I like you guys so much!
I'm a psycho nutso BP patient, but my taste in movies and lectures compared to you guys makes me look almost normal!

NeoNurseChic said...

Cool post, Dinah... I really liked that movie, although it made me feel sad.

Someone asked if using 9/11 wasn't exploiting it, and I wanted to comment on that. Personally, I thought using 9/11 was perfect for this. Most of the time, when the media reflects on 9/11, they show how perfectly well people are doing these days, and how everyone has moved on, even though of course they remember their loved ones.

However, there is someone out there just like what happened to Charlie Fineman in the movie.... Our culture has a need to see how tragic things turn out okay in the end - a way of easing fears and calming nerves. However, not everything does end up well, and that includes 9/11 - some people really did fall apart and lost themselves and had a hard time putting their life back together.

I just think that it's honest, and it shows what the rest of us dont' want to see - that some people fell completely apart after 9/11. They may not have lost everything in terms of money, but they did lose everything in terms of their life and love. And thta's who Charlie Fineman represents. That there are people out there who don't just bounce back and recover from major tragedies. 9/11 is an easily understandable tragedy which to an extent, everyone can relate to - and yet at the same time - nobody can relate to in the same way. I just think some of this is why it isn't an exploitation.

Otherwise, I really liked the post. I agree that boundaries were crossed in the movie, but I thought the way they depicted post traumatic stress and even psychotherapy (to an esxtent...) were actually good for a change.

Take care,
Carrie :)

Catherine said...

Dinah: Yeesh, I could hardly keep track of the characters names, much less what they were doing!

ClinkShrink: Loved the hobbit reference.

sophizo said...

jcat...hilarious comment!

After reading this, I think I'll have to see this movie. I was going back and forth after seeing the previews, but I think I'll see it now. I don't care if you gave away the ending. I prefer knowing what will happen anyways.

And for those of you who haven't seen Stranger than Fiction...I also highly recommend it. Great movie, even though I lost about 5 minutes of that movie because of the scene where he makes up with the baker by giving her flours (so confused why I didn't see any "flowers"!!!).

Roy said...

I had to ask wife about the "flours", too.

Anon- the APA has attempted to engage Hollywood about more realistic roles. Unfortunately, sex (and violence and cannibalism) sells.

Sarebear said...

Well that sucks, Roy.

I vote w/my feet and dollars on entertainment like that, when I can, but I feel drowned out. Still, one person at a time is the way to start change so I guess I can feel good about that.

Anonymous said...

Several years back,Dr Mark Komrad consulted on the movie Silent Fall. He eventually caught on that, as Roy said, a movie is made to sell, and boring old reality isn't what producers are aiming for.