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© Birgit Wolz
Occidental, CA, USA

 

 

Therapeutic Movie Review Column

By Birgit Wolz, Ph.D., MFT

When Did You Last See Your Father?

Director: Anand Tucker
Producer: Stephen Woolley
Screenwriters: Blake Morrison, Dave Nicholls
Cast: Jim Broadbent, Colin Firth , Juliet Stevenson, Matthew Beard , Gina McKee, Carey Mulligan, Elaine Cassidy, Tilly Curtis, Sarah Lancashire, Justin McDonald
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2007

Review

This movie is based on British author Blake Morrison's 1993 literary exploration of his relationship with his father. Arthur Morrison, Blake's dad, was a jovial country physician in England. He was beloved by acquaintances and a mistress. At home Arthur was aggressive, bombastic, and pig headed.

The movie first introduces Arthur, his wife Kim, and their two kids, Gillian and his older brother Blake, who is now a successful professional writer in his 40s with two children of his own. When Arthur is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he has only a few weeks left to live. Blake travels to Yorkshire to stay with his mother in the small town where he grew up. He visits his father at the hospital where his dad had spent much time as a doctor. As Arthur's condition worsens, Blake contemplates their shared experiences, their intimacies, and the irritations of their relationship.

The narrative regularly shifts between the present, with the adult Blake confronting death, and the past, with the younger Blake confronting life. Blake and his father had been close during the early days of his life. They spent outings together, during which Arthur was boisterous and domineering. Still, his son was in awe of him. Five-year-old Blake's big, adoring eyes say it all.

But when the boy became a teenager in the 1960s, he started to experience his relationship with his father as strained and uncomfortable. Arthur teased him frequently. Almost nothing worked between them, except when Arthur gave him the keys to the car and taught him his first driving lesson, and during a rare bonding experience in the Yorkshire Dales. The rest was unbearable for Blake. His father never seemed to notice this and kept laying it on. He routinely called his son "fathead" and blundered into his private life whenever it suited him.

The movie takes us deep inside Blake's thinking and emotions. He confronts his resentments as he looks back at Arthur's oppressive parenting by reflecting on much emotional pain. During one night, when Arthur forced his 14-year-old son to camp outside in pouring rain, the river flooded their tent. At this occasion, Blake discovered that Arthur had a long-term mistress, "aunt" Beaty. This confused him and deepened his hatred.

A couple of years later, father and son experienced a rivalry for the affection of the family's Scottish maid. What troubled Blake most was watching his mother putting up with her husband's behavior and still suffering through. When Arthur frequently publicly humiliated his wife, Kim responded by smoking many cigarettes and retiring to her bedroom with a migraine.

Although Blake ridiculed Arthur for never finishing a book, he just wished his dad would utter two words to him sometime: "well done." But Arthur was not able understand why his son did not want to pursue a lucrative profession as a doctor or a scientist. Instead, as a constant bookworm, Blake went off to the university to study English, following his dream to be a writer and a poet.

When Arthur's health deteriorates and he becomes a shell of himself, he is still saying hurtful things to his bewildered son. Although Blake finally attempts to connect with his dad, they keep putting off real communication and are unable to set things straight. "Stupid really," Blake says to his wife Kathy over the phone from the house of his parents. "You spend your whole life trying to avoid talking to someone, and when you want to, it's too late."

After his father's death, Blake questions the nature of their relationship, articulately expressing the contradictions, frustrations, love and loss bound into this complicated bond. He remembers how his dad was overcome and teared up sending his son to college. Blake starts seeing that Arthur was not a monster, but simply a needy, somewhat desperate man with a colorful and overbearing personality whose bullying ways and boorishness obscured his other qualities, making him careless and sometimes cruel. Compassionately he comes to terms with his contradictory feelings, letting the love and the hurt pour out of him. After watching the harshness and intensity of Blake's suffering, we witness his transcendence, acceptance, and joy.

One of the central themes in the film is the question Blake asks himself: Can he remember the last time he saw his father in a whole way? The title refers to this question - figuratively and literally.

Cinema Alchemy

Valerie came to see me because she felt stressed and emotionally overwhelmed. She lived with her husband and her two rebellious teenage daughters. Recently her 87-year-old father, Edwin, had moved into their house. He became too frail to live on his own after his wife had died. Valerie invited Edwin to live with them because she couldn't "stand the idea of sending him to a nursing home", although she was aware of the potential difficulties that can be associated with this kind of "sandwich" situation.

During the first couple of months, things worked out well. Since they were small children, Valerie's daughters had a good relationship with their grandfather. My client noticed with surprise that his presence helped shift the family dynamics in a positive way. Despite this positive development, Valerie had become increasingly irritable and emotionally stressed lately.

When I inquired more into the cause of these symptoms, my client started to become aware of the resentment that she felt toward her dad. She remembered feeling deeply hurt about his impatience during her upbringing as a young child. "It's really hard to be patient with him now, after he was so impatient with me sometimes," she said. "I have tried to talk to him about it, but he always gets defensive. I wish I could forgive him and let go of the past."  

After spending a couple of sessions processing the negative childhood experiences with her dad, I asked Valerie to watch When Did You Last See Your Father? at home. At the beginning of our subsequent session, she told me, "after watching this movie, I really got it. Like Arthur before his death, my father is really a frail old man now and not the bigger-than-life authority figure any more that he was when I grew up. I want to do everything I can to heal my relationship with my father before he dies."

Very soon, Valerie's resentment subsided and compassion for her dad started to arise. This allowed us to shift the focus of our work to exploring how she can start communicating with her dad more successfully to develop the closeness with him that she desired.

Theoretical Contemplations

My Cinema Alchemy work with Valerie drew from hypnotherapy as well as from dream work. In hypnotherapy, teaching tales can be used in formal trance states, as well as in open-eye-trance when stories are told without formal induction. Listening to these stories in a focused way creates a form of trance. They enter into this state, while listening, because they let go of distracting thoughts and issues. Metaphoric tales include a form of indirect suggestion , in which subliminal commands are conveyed. These embedded commands are used to circumvent resistance to hypnotic suggestions through unconscious learning . During unconscious learning, clients intuitively understand the meaning of dreams and symbols and other unconscious expressions. People tend to resist commands, but they don't resist descriptions. Therefore clients accept suggestions with a reduced critical sense.

Being "drawn into" a movie while watching can be considered a light trance state too, similar to the state often achieved via guided visualizations or hypnotherapy. Specific films can be prescribed to model specific problem-solving behavior or to access and develop a client's potential. The concept of teaching tales with their embedded suggestions underlies this form of Cinema therapy.

Guidelines for Questions and Suggestions to Clients

•  Did you see a character who modeled behavior in certain parts of the film that you would like to emulate?

•  Did this character develop certain capacities or qualities that you would like to gain as well?

•  Imagine yourself as this character. Imagine yourself with the mature or wise aspects of the character's personality.

•  How would your life look like if you had the character's qualities or capacities?

•  Imagine yourself using these qualities or capacities in your life.

 


Birgit Wolz wrote and co- 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