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Miliora, M.T. (2004). Journey to Self-Discovery: Road to Perdition. Psychoanal. Rev., 91(1):139-148.

(2004). Psychoanalytic Review, 91(1):139-148

Film Note

Journey to Self-Discovery: Road to Perdition

Review by:
Maria T. Miliora, Ph.D., MSW, LICSW

The story depicted in Sam Mendes's 2002 film Road to Perdition has much in common with a family tragedy in the tradition of the Greeks, that is, a family that is destroyed from within (Alford, 1992; Simon, 1988). Moreover, the drama unfolds in a manner reminiscent of a psychoanalysis as it chronicles a journey of self-discovery of a man, Michael Sullivan (played by Tom Hanks), and his twelve-year-old son and namesake (played by Tyler Hoechlin). During the process, father and son uncover the truth about themselves and others with whom they are in relationship, and they gain the capacity to express feelings.

The story focuses on father-son relationships involving two Irish-Catholic families: the Rooneys and the Sullivans. The men of both families are gangsters during the era of Prohibition and Al Capone's criminal empire. The film gives us a picture of the dark and shadowy world of gangsters who embody and live out the death instinct (that is, an urge or need for obliteration and annihilation) as they seemingly move inexorably toward self-destruction and the destruction of others. The evil that these men perpetrate on people outside of the gangster family is matched only by their treachery toward each other.

The film is set during the winter of 1931 in the tricities area near Chicago, as well as in the city itself during the dark days of the Great Depression. First, I provide a description of the main characters and the dynamics of the key relationships. A summary of the action, together with a psychoanalytic analysis follow. Noted throughout the text are particular aspects of the story line that are reminiscent of Greek tragedy.

John Rooney (Paul Newman) is the powerful boss of a criminal gang, and he has an alliance with Capone. He is a widower and has an adult son, Connor (Daniel Craig), who is slated to succeed him upon his death. Connor is impulsive, deceitful, and psychopathic. John Rooney is also the surrogate-father of Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks), whom he raised and provided for since his boyhood because Michael was fatherless.

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