Therapeutic Movie Review
By Birgit Wolz, Ph.D., MFT
Bend it Like Beckham
Director: Gurinder Chadha
Producers: Gurinder Chadha, Deepak Nayar
Screenwriters: Paul Mayeda Berges, Guljit Bindra, Gurinder Chadha
Stars: Parminder K. Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers,
Anupam Kher, Archie Panjabi, Juliet Stevenson, Ameet Chana
Mulroney, Len Cariou, Howard Hesseman, Kathy Bates
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 2003
This movie tells the story of high-school senior Jesminder. Her
Indian parents emigrated from Africa to England, where her dad works at Heathrow
airport. They live in the middle-class suburb of Hounslow, under the flight path
of arriving jets.
The British-born Jess is about to enter college and is encouraged
by her strict parents to emulate her soon-to-be-married older sister Pinky. Jess is a fairly
typical teenager. Her source of rebellion is to play soccer. In her family's living room is
a large portrait of a Sikh spiritual leader, but above Jess' bed is her own inspiration--the
British soccer superstar David Beckham. To Beckham's portrait she confides her innermost dream,
which is to play for England.
However, although her parents tolerated her sports passion
when she was younger, they now believe she should become serious about her life and prepare
for the future. That means giving up "children's games" for cooking lessons,
marriage, and university studies. They forbid her from playing any more. An Indian girl
should not play soccer, since the game consists of "displaying your bare legs to
complete strangers." The preparations for her sister's wedding only underscore the
liabilities of Jess's unladylike behavior. Her mother says: "Who'd want a girl who
plays football all day but can't make chapattis?" "Anyone can cook aloo gobi,"
Jess responds, "but who can bend a ball like Beckham?"
The edict to stop playing soccer comes just as Jess has
taken up an invitation from a white classmate, Juliette, to try out for an all-girls'
soccer team. The coach, a young Irishman named Joe, thinks she's brilliant and offers
Jess the opportunity to play for a semi-pro team. Her parents are appalled. The promise
of an upcoming visit from an American soccer scout, and the potential to play
professionally, keeps Jess sneaking back to the field for more soccer.
In the locker room, Jess finds herself schooling the white
girls on what it means to be her: "Indian girls aren't supposed to play
football," she explains. "That's a bit backwards,"
observes one of her teammates. Jess knows exactly what it is: "It's
just culture, that's all."
Jess and Jules develop a friendship, through
which the film explores the differences in their respective backgrounds and
the ways they navigate their parents' rather typical fears -- of other
cultures and changing times.
Jess's father regrets that he gave in to social demands when the British
in Africa laughed at his regular use of a turban and refused to allow him
to enter into their cricket competitions. Rather than use his resentment to
fight for his daughter, he tries to pass on his disillusionment. But "things
are different now," Jess tells him, and eventually he sneaks into the crowd at
a match to see for himself.
Several crises emerge when Jess and Jules both fall for
their soccer coach. When Pinky's future in-laws spot Jess and Jules on a street corner,
displaying more affection publicly than is seemly, the wedding is called off. Jules' mom
fears that Jules is a lesbian, and Jess' parents (believing short-haired Jules is male),
think Jess is intimate with a white boy. After these issues get cleared up, new
complications develop when the date chosen for Pinky's wedding is the very day that Jess
is scheduled to play in the most important match of the season.
All of these conflicts come to a head in a colorful finale
that crosscuts between a final football match and the traditional wedding. Jess and Jules
take their team to victory against all odds. The cultures continue to clash, but in
ys that are increasingly responsive to one another.
My 30-year old client, Rashmi, came to therapy for help with
her confusion around professional and relationship goals. She saw herself as bi-sexual.
Rashmi felt unhappy in her current relationship with a woman. She also felt stuck at work,
although she was very successful and well regarded at her workplace.
Rashmi's parents had immigrated into the US from India right before she was born. My client
emphasized that she feels very loyal to her traditional family. Rashmi contemplated whether
she might not be able to emotionally open up to her girlfriend because her parents would not
approve of this relationship if they knew about it. She wanted to leave her job and start
graduate school at a university on the East Coast. Although her parents were supportive toward
her carrier ambitions in general, Rashmi believed that they did not approve of her plans to move
far away from her family. It saddened her that she has to hide major aspects of her life from them.
Rashmi even wondered whether an arranged marriage would bring her happiness and the closeness to her
family she was yearning for.
My client also told me that she had not openly rebelled as a teenager.
After seeing Bend it like Beckham, Rashmi thought that she had missed the opportunity to
stand up to her parents, like Jess, and to communicate her dreams to them.
When I asked her whether she might consider starting this communication
now, Rashmi responded that she would try if she knew how. She was afraid that her parents "wouldn't
know what she was talking about because they live in a completely different world". I suggested an
"experiment": to watch Bend it like Beckham together with her parents and see whether this
might help start the dialog that Rashmi was yearning for.
My client came to her next session pleasantly surprised how relatively
easy it was to start talking with her parents after watching the movie. The film had served as a
catalyst for Rashmi to find the courage and share her dreams about graduate school. Her parents
listened and even expressed support. This lifted a big weight from Rashmi's shoulders. Pursuing her
professional goals didn't mean she had to sacrifice her family bond.
Sensing her parents' caring sparked new hope in Rashmi about being
able to introduce her girlfriend to them at some point. Consequently her relationship improved.
Like in the movie, Bend it like Beckham, Rashmi's family
was caught in a typical dynamic of immigrant families, when the traditional parents try to push
their conventional expectations onto their children who have been born into a different cultural world.
As in her case,
communication between clients and their family is often strained because they try to communicate a
concept that is unfamiliar to other members of their family. A film can introduce understanding
through readily grasped images. It serves as a metaphor and therefore represents more accurately
feelings and ideas that a client had trouble putting into words.
also be applied to work with couples and families. In combination with systems oriented therapy,
watching films that show family or other relationship dynamics, and comparing with them, helps clients
understand their problem as a function of being part of a
identify how they had or had not satisfactorily adjusted
in their system
retrieve or learn necessary attitudes, perceptions, behaviors, etc. to meaningfully
connect or reconnect with others (e.g. improve communication)
Ask clients to choose a film with a message they
want to convey to their partner or family.
If they cannot think of a movie, help them with their
choice using film indices (e.g. from www.cinematherapy.com)
Encourage clients to watch the film together with their
partner or family and explain to them why they picked that particular film. This helps clients to
enter into a more productive conversation about issues they were not able to communicate before.
Birgit Wolz wrote the following continuing education online courses;
Cinema Therapy - Using the Power of Movies In the Therapeutic Process, which guides the reader through the basic principles of Cinema Therapy.
Cinema Therapy with Children and Adolescents - This course teaches Cinema Therapy with young clients. It includes numerous movie suggestions, which are categorized according to age and issues. It serves therapists, teachers, and parents.
Positive Psychology and the Movies: Transformational Effects of Movies through Positive Cinema Therapy - This course teaches how to develop clinical interventions by using films effectively in combination with positive psychotherapy. It serves for mental health practitioners and anybody who is interested in personal growth and emotional healing.
Therapeutic Ethics in the Movies - What Films Can Teach Psychotherapists About Ethics and Boundaries in Therapy, which covers: confidentiality, self-disclosure, touch, dual relationships and out-of-office experiences (i.e., home visits, in-vivo exposures, attending a wedding, incidental encounters, etc.)
Boundaries and the Movies - Learning about Therapeutic Boundaries through the Movies, which covers informed consent, gifts, home office, clothing, language, humor and silence, proximity and distance between therapist and client, and, finally, sexual relations between therapist and client.
DSM: Diagnoses Seen in Movies - Using Movies to Understand Common DSM Diagnoses.
Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual (PDM) - A New Approach to Diagnosis in Psychotherapy