Therapeutic Movie Review
By Birgit Wolz, Ph.D., MFT
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Director: Peter Jackson
Producers: Peter Jackson, Barrie Osborne, Tim Sanders
Screenwriters: Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Stars: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean, Ian Holm
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Years of Releases: 2001, 2002, and 2003
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy is based on
J.R.R. Tolkien's well-known novel.
A little person (hobbit) with hairy feet, named
Frodo, is entrusted with a mysterious ring. It is the
One Ring, forged by the Dark Lord, Sauron, and capable
of corrupting the wearer. Sauron's servants, the Ring
Wraiths, are scouring Middle Earth for it, since, when
it is returned to their master, nothing would be able to
stop him. All of the world would plunged into war. The
only way to stop the evil will be to destroy the ring by
casting it into the fire where it was forged - in
Mordor, on the Dark Lord's doorstep.
Frodo starts his journey in the company of three
other hobbits. Later, as the dangers mount, others join
his company: the humans Aragorn and Boromir, the wizard
Gandalf, the elf Legolas, and the dwarf Gimli. Together,
these nine individuals must face ring wraiths, orcs, and
worse; travel through the treacherous landscape of
Middle-earth and the dreaded mines of Moria; and face
mistrust within their fellowship. The trilogy
chronicles extraordinary adventures and reveals how the
power of friendship, love and courage can hold the
forces of darkness at bay.
The patterns of many movie plots are born out of the
aspect of the collective unconscious that is reflected
in our mythology, especially the Hero's Journey. The
stages of the Hero's Journey can be traced in all kinds
of films, not just those that feature heroic physical
action and adventure, but also in romance, comedy, and
thrillers. The viewer is hooked into the same pool of
consciousness as the screenwriter. Both tap into the
following wisdom: The antidote for the ache lies in
ceasing the resistance to our calling, finding the
courage to face our worst fears, and consequently
expanding our possibilities. Especially when we go
through life changes, the movies with these kinds of
typical screenplays can help us access our courage to
release the hurt that is stuck in the past and the fear
and angst projected into the future. We follow the
characters' process of letting go and learn to move into
the present moment where we can take action with
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy seems
especially full of mythological motifs; and almost every
character embarks on a Hero's Journey. Maybe this
explains the movie's special attraction for so many
After I had seen Melanie (36) for several months, she
understood that many of her problems were rooted in her
hesitancy about embracing adulthood. She remembered
that, as a child, she had promised herself in a Peter
Pan like fashion not to grow up because the adult world
seemed boring, cold, and dangerous. "I am afraid of what
I might become," she said.
Consequently, Melanie holds a job that doesnt
challenge her. She created some artwork but frequently
struggled to meet the deadlines of art shows. She liked
to hang out with her mostly younger friends and
party. Often she experienced her life as unfulfilling
and meaningless. Her mood swings had increased.
When Melanie heard about Cinema Alchemy, our work
took a dramatic turn. I learned that she loves to watch
movies that tell epic and heroic stories. In fact, she
watches them over and over again. She also enjoys
exploring their metaphoric meaning and finding out why
certain characters and scenes touch her. We started
using these explorations to elevate her pre-conscious
patterns to a more conscious level. This inspired her
so much that she decided to write about her
Melanie first wrote about certain events that had
forced her to face her fear of growing up: "For one, my
body developed into that of a woman, all hips and boobs.
The second was the death of my mother. Somehow it's
difficult to continue to view myself as a child when
shes dead, even if I've been successful in ignoring what
my body had developed into. The third is the
realization that children are in an almost constant
state of disempowerment. Its probably this last
realization thats hit me the hardest. I'm unhappy with
my current situation, and feel like I have no power to
change it. I cannot continue to exist feeling I have no
power, because the frustration and pain I feel from that
far outweighs any consolation I might derive from
keeping my promise."
Melanie also wrote about her movie experience: "One of
the themes that attracted my attention in The Lord of
the Rings is that of personal evolution. Each one of
the members of The Fellowship is simultaneously a
participant in two quests: one which revolves around the
destruction of the ring, and another which revolves
around the confrontation of demons/fears that obstruct
that characters' personal growth. Although each member of
the Fellowship faces this challenge, the character I'm
interested in at the moment is Gandalf the Grey. When
he is first introduced into the story he enjoys eating,
smoking and play. He's somewhat ragged, with unkempt
hair/beard and a staff comprised of tangled roots at its
end. He's also a bit unsure of himself. He's lost his
edge from spending too much time with the Hobbits. A
couple of events forced him to ultimately face the demon
Balrog. They bring Gandalf to a point of no return. He
fell, and what seemed like certain death resulted in
Gandalf's evolution from Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the
White. [comment: these are crucial stages in the Hero's
Journey]. Gandalf the White seems to have a very solid
sense of himself, what needs to happen in certain
circumstances, and in organizing others to make that
After I read this, I suggested an exercise in which
Melanie took on the roles of Gandalf the Grey and
Gandalf the White while sitting in different chairs,
speaking from the corresponding parts inside her.
Consequently her process deepened significantly.
After this session she wrote: "Looking at Gandalf's
experience has helped me realize that I won't be a
totally different person, just an evolved version of
myself. I will be able to help myself as unfortunate
circumstances present themselves, hence better able to
help those around me. In fact, I would venture a guess,
that forging on through these fears would help empower
one's sense of self-love, which is of inestimable
assistance in facing fears. It would seem to be the
creation of an upward spiral that continually reinforces
itself. What a wonderful tool in coping with LIFE!"
Guidelines for clients who focus on
their personal transformation
Keep the following questions and suggestions in mind while you watch:
• Focus on the metaphorical meaning of this movie for you.
• What parts of the movie touch you most?
• What character do you most identify with and when?
• Notice how this hero goes
through phases of hesitation, fear, meeting mentors,
becoming aware that she cannot go back, facing tests,
obstacles, and crises, confronting fear, gaining new
perspective, and undergoing inner change (Stages of the
Hero's journey. Choose the parts that apply).
Questions after the movie:
• How does this characters journey compare with yours?
• Did this character develop
certain capacities that you may have already developed or
would like to develop as well?
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