Archive of ‘Cinematherapy’ category

It’s a Wonderful Life? Non-Traditional Film & TV Ideas for the Holidays

One thing’s pretty certain: The holidays require us to spend more time with people. Family, friends, store clerks, shoppers, fellow partygoers, kids out of school, Trail of Lights crowds, crowds, crowds and more crowds. For better or worse, potential social connections are everywhere during the holiday season. Depending on many factors, this may cause you to either cheer or run for the hills (I find myself doing a little of both). Regardless of your stance, I’m going to attempt to stir up some ideas that may help you to either further those connections, or escape them, at least temporarily.

By: Shannon Haragan, LPC-Intern Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

By: Shannon Haragan, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

Film and TV are powerful mediums. They can lead us to feel deeply, learn about a variety of topics, people and places, identify with certain characters and learn from their choices, or simply serve as an escape. Film and TV can also bring people together. During the holidays, for instance, films can be a traditional part of a family gathering—think Its a Wonderful Life, Elf, or Love Actually. Films and TV shows can even serve to connect strangers: My supervisor recently told me about a Christmas Vacation “quote off” she had with a salesperson while shopping at Old Navy. Sharing the experience of a film or TV show with another person can be bonding, nostalgic, comforting, and/or invigorating, whether you watch it together or simply talk about it afterwards.

On the other hand, if what you really need is an escape from the family, the friends, the crowds — well, movies and TV can help with that, as well.

Instead of making a list of all the traditional movies and TV shows you already know and love (or don’t!), here’s a list of a few “under the radar” options for you to try during the holidays – either to experience with others, to talk about with others afterwards, or simply to escape. Enjoy!

Movies (taking place on or around Christmas):

Die Hard (1988). Set on Christmas Eve, still one of the best uber-non-traditional Christmas movies ever. (Available on Amazon Instant Video and Netflix DVD)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). Tim Burton’s masterpiece, which received both critical and box office success. Stop action, similar in style to the old Christmas specials (Rudolph, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, etc). Also features a wonderful soundtrack.(Netflix streaming)

Edward Scissorhands (1990). Another Tim Burton film. A beautiful story about a misfit who happens to have scissors for hands. Wonderful performance by Johnny Depp.(Amazon Instant Video)

The Ice Harvest (2006) Dark comedy featuring Billy Bob Thornton and John Cusack. (Netflix streaming)

Less Than Zero (1987). Not exactly an “upper,” but features a young Robert Downey, Jr, and an amazing 80s soundtrack! (Netflix DVD)
TV Shows worth the binge (all on Netflix streaming, except where noted):

Transparent (1 season, 10 episodes) This new Amazon-produced series is about a retired professor and father (Arrested Development’s Jeffrey Tambor) who finally opens up about identifying as female. It’s getting all kinds of acclaim. You can watch the first episode for free, but you either have to have Amazon Prime to watch the rest, or pay $1.99 per episode.

Black Mirror (2 seasons, 3 episodes each). Black Mirror is the most brilliant and riveting show you probably haven’t heard about—yet. Only recently released on Netflix (it’s British), it’s getting major attention from critics and audiences alike. Each episode features its own contained story (a lá Twilight Zone), and is filled with profound social commentary about technology and its impact on society and our relationships (or lack thereof). Be forewarned: this one is not for the faint of heart. It is dark. Very dark. But if that doesn’t send you running, it’s absolutely well worth checking out. Plus: There will be a Christmas special starting Jon Hamm (though its US release date is unknown).

Parenthood (6 seasons, 83 episodes). This uplifting, sometimes tear-jerking, family-oriented “dramedy” will be coming to a close in early 2015. If you haven’t tuned in yet, it’s a good time to catch up before the promised emotional and climactic series finale on January 29th.

Peaky Blinders (2 seasons, 6 episodes each) This one’s about a British gangster family in the aftermath of World War I. Beautifully shot, this series grows on you, as the drama gets much more intense after the 3rd episode, and just explodes in the second season. One of my new favorites. And the fantastic soundtrack is comprised of contemporary music (PJ Harvey, Nick Cave). (Tip: sometimes the Birmingham accent is tough to understand; try it with subtitles!)

Cheers (11 seasons, 275 episodes!) Because nostalgia + laughter is a great combo. (Tip: Christmas episodes are season 1, ep 12, season 6, ep 12, and season 11, ep 11)

Serial. This podcast, from the makers of This American Life, is obviously not a movie or TV show, but I’ve included it here because podcasts have the potential to do all that films and TV do (the images are just created in your own mind, rather than imposed externally), and this particular podcast is amazing, simply put. And people are talking about it. A lot. (Also, unlike TV and film, podcasts are perfect for holiday road trips!) Serial follows a single true crime story over multiple weeks, and it basically unfolds in real time, as the producers are just a step or two ahead of the audience. Each episode varies between 30 and 60 minutes, and there have been 10 episodes so far. You can listen directly from the website or subscribe on iTunes.

Reel Therapy: Birdman

“And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.”

This quote from Raymond Carver’s “Late Fragment” opens the film Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), and serves as a unifying theme throughout. This film has been hyped for several months, primarily as a comeback vehicle for Michael Keaton (ya know, Mr. Mom, Beetlejuice, pre-Christian-Bale Batman). After weeks of anticipation, I can say without a doubt this is a film that will stick with me. I loved it.

By: Shannon Haragan, LPC-Intern Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

By: Shannon Haragan, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

Riggan Thomson (Keaton) plays a formerly-popular movie star, once the very famous action hero Birdman, now trying to revive his career with a self-produced, written, and directed Broadway play. The entire film takes place in and around the theater, in the days before opening. Overall, the film focuses on ideas of ego and power, and explores how one copes when one’s entire sense of self-worth is dependent on the approval and adoration of others. We see the consequences of this play out in Thomson’s relationships with his just-out-of-rehab daughter (an amazing Emma Stone), ex-wife (Amy Ryan), girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough), co-workers and friends (Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis), and those with the most power of all, audience members, especially theater critics (Lindsay Duncan).

Throughout the film, Keaton’s character suffers from auditory and visual hallucinations–or does he? The film has an element of magical realism to it, so I often found myself unsure of what was real and what wasn’t. What pieces were from Thomson’s imagination or fantasy, and what was pathological? Without spoiling anything, the ending doesn’t provide any easy answers, but I thought it added to the beauty of Thomson’s yearning for his sense of self.

To be sure, this is not your typical mainstream-type film. It pushes boundaries, and if you go in looking for a traditional storyline, you may leave disappointed. Birdman is about people and relationships—with oneself, with others, and with society.

Birdman is also a technical wonder, as it looks like it was filmed in almost a single shot (i.e. no camera cuts). As an audience member, you travel with the camera from room to room, down hallways, onto the stage, back outdoors, etc. From a psychological perspective, this can heighten our engagement with the action, since we are forced to be with a character for an extended period of time, and are never let “off the hook” for even a second, by way of a camera cut. From a neurological perspective, watching these long tracking shots goes against the grain for our contemporary brains, as many believe the digital age is gradually decreasing our ability to focus for long periods of time on any one stimulus or input. Watch most any kids show these days, and you’ll likely notice a series of lightning-fast cuts and short bursts of auditory and visual input that scientists believe trains our brains to input only small nuggets of information, and ultimately decreases our attention span. If you have any interest in this side of film making and/or if you want to take your brain on a fun field trip, the film is worth the price of admission for this element alone. In addition to Michael Keaton and Emma Stone, I have high Oscar-nomination hopes for the cinematographer, Emmanual Lubezki, who won for his work on Gravity last year.

Although Birdman is unlike most Hollywood mainstream films you’ll see, it grapples with the universal need we all have to “feel myself beloved on the earth,” and it does so in a unique way.  MOOD: See this film with your creative/artistic friends, and talk about it over drinks after.

MPAA Rating: R (for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence)

Reel Therapy

What’s your favorite movie? I’ll give you a few seconds here … Got it? Great! Okay, now WHY is it your favorite movie? Your answer may be that you loved the story, or the acting, or it shifted your perspective, or it taught you something important, or one (or several!) of many other reasons. Here’s the thing: Regardless of your reasons, I’m wiling to bet it’s because of how those things impacted you emotionally. Movies are an incredibly powerful art form ultimately because of how the story, or the acting, or the perspective shift, etc, makes us feel. The most memorable and impactful movies go beyond engaging just our thinking brains (aka the prefrontal cortex). What makes a particular film stick with us is largely due to how it impacts us emotionally, reflecting involvement of a more primitive part of the brain called the limbic system.

Shannon Haragan, LPC-Intern Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

By: Shannon Haragan, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

Therapists sometimes recommend that their clients watch a particular film in an effort to achieve some level of therapeutic gain, a practice commonly known as cinematherapy. There are lots of ways that viewing films can be beneficial in a therapeutic context, but like stated above, one of the most impactful is through the emotional experience of a film. The emotional journey one takes watching a film can be healing just in and of itself. It’s been said that emotion is a bridge between a problem and a solution, and if you are able to fully go on that emotional journey, whether in a film audience or in life, when that particular emotion naturally subsides, you will typically find yourself in a new and better place. Additionally, films sometimes gives us permission to feel things we may otherwise suppress, and sometimes just being able to talk with co-workers or friends about a particular film can provide deeper social connections and consequently a feeling of inclusion, or being “in the club,” (also very true with so many popular TV shows nowadays, like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Scandal, etc).

We’re about to enter into Oscar contender season. The span between early October and Christmas affords us a huge number of high-quality, limbic-smashing films. Below is a brief list of films I’m personally most looking forward to seeing, with a few non-spoiling words describing each. Once I see some of these, my hope is to get back on here, and offer a bit of a movie review, with an emphasis on psychotherapy and issues of social justice. In the meantime, enjoy!:

  • The Imitation Game – Based on the life of British codebreaker Alan Turing, whose story (the little bit of it that I know) is incredibly inspirational, and ultimately devastating. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and people who’ve seen it are saying to just go ahead hand him the Oscar now.
  • Birdman – Michael Keaton’s comeback, and looks to be amazing. Deals with issues of fame and identity, and is already generating all kinds of Oscar buzz.
  • The Theory of Everything – Stephen Hawking’s love story, starring Eddie Redmayne, who is just ridiculously talented (you may remember him as Marius in the Les Mis film).
  • Unbroken – Another true story, adapted from the book of the same name, “a story of survival, resilience and redemption.” Directed by Angelina Jolie.
  • Wild – Adapted from Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about her 1,100 mile hike across the Pacific Crest Trail. All kinds of inspirational. Starring Reese Witherspoon.
  • Foxcatcher – Again, based on a true story, starring an almost unrecognizable Steve Carell. Described as a psychological thriller, involving what sounds like a very unhealthy (and ultimately tragic) relationship between two Olympic wrestlers and their wealthy benefactor.