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Grossman, L. (2006). In and Out of the Frame: Moving between Fantasy and Reality in Movies and Psychoanalysis. Fort Da, 12(2):8-17.

(2006). Fort Da, 12(2):8-17

In and Out of the Frame: Moving between Fantasy and Reality in Movies and Psychoanalysis

Lee Grossman, M.D.

Imagine being in a quiet room with sensory input strictly limited so that cues to everyday social and material reality are minimized, and with motor activity restricted. These are the conditions for dreaming, for watching a movie, and for analysis. I would like to expand on these three frames and think a little about how they work, and what it means when they don't work. I will then suggest that one way to categorize the difficulties that certain patients encounter in the analytic situation is in terms of how they use adaptive regressive and self-observing capacities — in other words, how they characteristically deal with the framing of fantasy in analysis.

The audience at a movie exercises two complementary capacities: the ability to give oneself up to the action on the screen, to accept its premises, to let it be the whole world; and the ability to extricate oneself from the action on the screen, to re-enter the mundane world, and to think about the film from a perspective outside of it. In the context of movie-going, the first of these skills is sometimes called “suspension of disbelief”; the second is sometimes called “critical thinking.” A patient in analysis is called upon to use the same two complementary capacities. In analytic language, the first is sometimes called “adaptive regression” or “regression in service of the ego”; the second is called “reflection,” “self-observing capacity,” or “psychological-mindedness.” The movies and analysis both establish the conditions for the exercise of these paired skills by exploiting what the philosopher Natanson (1962, p. 81) calls the “astonishing sorcery of the art apprentice” — the act of framing.

Putting a frame around something tells us to narrow the focus of our attention to what it contains, and to suspend attention to everything else.

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