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Benton, R.J. (2005). Empathy, Intimacy, and the Psychoanalytic Space: Empathy and Intimate Strangers. Psychoanal. Rev., 92(4):637-648.

(2005). Psychoanalytic Review, 92(4):637-648

Film Note

Empathy, Intimacy, and the Psychoanalytic Space: Empathy and Intimate Strangers

Review by:
Robert J. Benton, Ph.D.

In Hollywood movies, when people take their problems to psychoanalysts, the problems are usually resolved either by the analyst and patient becoming romantically involved, or by some other form of acting in. In these scenarios the analytic space is one in which real-life problems are resolved by real-life solutions.

Two recent films that do not come out of Hollywood, Empathy (Amie Siegel, USA, 2004) and Intimate Strangers (Confidences trop intime; Patrice Leconte, France, 2004), present more nuanced pictures of the psychoanalytic space—but they do so by exploring spaces that are not altogether psychoanalytic.

In the film Empathy, the concept of the psychoanalytic space unfolds gradually. This film is on one level a fictional narrative about a woman, Lia, who does voiceovers for a living. She goes into psychoanalytic therapy because she has become, literally and metaphorically, alienated from her own voice: “It's almost as if my voice were not my voice…. I can't play a part in the world, I just narrate it.” Lia's problem has invaded her feelings about her career as well as her ability to be intimate with her family, her friends, and the man that she is dating.

Lia's analytic trajectory is fairly straightforward: At the outset, sitting on the edge of the analyst's couch, she tells her story, all the while resisting the treatment in various ways, including being seductive toward the analyst. Then we see her in different situations with friends and family, many of them involving conversations about sex. By the end, an empathic interpretation by the analyst, when Lia is angry and threatening to end treatment, leads her to open up, at which point she lies down on the couch, apparently ready to really start working in the treatment. It appears that the therapist's empathy has opened up a space in which Lia's analysis can take place.

However, the film is thoroughly postmodern in intent. It is fiction, but it is also a documentary.

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