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Newman, K. (1978). Movies in the Seventies: Some Heroic Types. Ann. Psychoanal., 6:429-441.

(1978). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 6:429-441

Movies in the Seventies: Some Heroic Types

Kenneth Newman, M.D.

The psychoanalyst's approach to movies should be substantially different from his approach to individual patients. Movies cannot be viewed simply as reflecting individual psychopathology or merely as the productions of several imaginative couch hours. Artists have a unique capacity to grasp deeper patterns and psychological configurations, often far in advance of their time, and can use symbolic imagery to evoke meaningful experiences in their audience. In this way they can express the dominant, although frequently latent and universalized, contemporary psychological themes. The success of the film will often be determined by the interplay between the quality of the imagery used to evoke a responsive sense of recognition in the audience, balanced by the artist's ability to be concerned with the “aesthetic illusion” (Kris, 1952)—i.e., to provide optimal distance from the raw psychological conflicts so that the audience can enjoy both a sense of release and recognition without being overwhelmed by its own underlying feelings and needs. What can psychoanalysts bring to movie criticism? A psychological view of movies using the best of our introspective and empathic instruments can give them meaning and may even add, at times, a level of integration by synthesizing the parts into an understandable whole, bringing to light the poignant and universal themes implicit in the film.

Modern movies present heroic figures in a manner that reflects a contemporary shift to concern with core anxieties and wishes. The specific shifts in emphasis depicted in contemporary film are paralleled by the recent studies in psychoanalytic theory which have investigated the importance of early developmental issues in shaping object relations and the formation of the self.

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