Category Archives: Shrink at the Flicks

What is the psychology behind the characters, plots, and emotional resolutions in popular classic and modern films?

The Times presents our guest columnist Dr. Alvin Burstein, Professor Emeritus, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, to help answer these questions.

Dr. Burstein currently serves on the faculty of the New Orleans-Birmingham Psychoanalytic Center where he moderates their Film & Discussion Series.

John Wick Chapter 2

This film, a sequel to John Wick, is remarkable. The first film tells of a retired hit man who is lured back into practice with the promise of compensation that will permit him to retire and to marry. He lives up to his reputation and then some. He is not so much an assassin as a murder machine, cementing […]

Mind Over Matter: A Review of Split

The theme of several personalities fighting for control of the body they share has a long history in imaginative fiction as well as in psychological theory. In October 1919, The Journal of  Abnormal Psychology carried reports by Morton Prince and Charles Corey of cases of multiple personality. It is worth noting that Robert Louis Stevenson had published The Strange […]

Deepwater Horizon

A Review by Alvin G. Burstein Watching this film gave me a new perspective on the tragic explosion of the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico April 10th, 2010. At the time, the newspaper headlines made it clear that it was a major oil spill, that lives were lost, and that major ecological damage […]

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All The Pretty Horses

by Alvin G. Burstein I have been addicted to oaters ever since Shane and High Noon. Being, in addition, a fan of actor Matt Damon and author Cormac McCarthy, I decided to take a belated look at All The Pretty Horses. The movie begins with striking scenes of a vanishing West and herds of wild […]

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The Revenant

To say that this film is gripping is an understatement. It confronts us with realities that cry for denial. To what Freud called “the crushingly superior force of nature” the movie adds the human capacity for brutish betrayal and exploitation. And the story unfolds against a backdrop of classic beauty that highlights the gouts of blood and pain it frames.

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A Wing and a Prayer: Too Big to Fail? Review of It’s A Wonderful Life

by Alvin G. Burstein With Christmas approaching, I found myself wanting to re-view the 1946 film, It’s A Wonderful Life. It is said to be director Frank Capra’s favorite film, one that he screened for his family each Christmas season. Not just Capra’s favorite, it is listed as the most inspirational American film of all […]

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Out of the Past, Thundering Hoof Beats: Review of Bridge of Spies

by Alvin G. Burstein Holy Moley, a thriller without special effects, splattered gore or colliding cars! Much makes this Spielberg/Hanks movie both remarkable and memorable. It deftly recreates the 1950’s and 60’s, when Kruschev and Eisenhower were fumbling on the edge of open conflict and the Berlin wall was going up. Early in the film […]

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Dealing With The Devil: A Review of Black Mass

by Alvin G. Burstein The biopic’s title prepares us for a consideration of moral perversion. Johnnie Depp’s chilling portrayal of James (Whitey) Bulger, the Boston mob boss, his bloody career, and his relationship with the FBI provide that opportunity, raising questions, some of which go unanswered. The film describes Bulger’s transition from a member of […]

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Looking Back At Lucy: A Review

by Alvin G. Burstein The movie takes an intriguing theme, evolution’s goal, adds glitzy special effects, a heady mix of exotic locations, and invokes three solid thespian performances, but manages, nevertheless, to disappoint me. Without turning a hair, Morgan Freeman, as Professor Norman, gives us a Nobel quality neuroscientist who is loveably warm and wise. […]

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Creepy Crawly

A review of Ant-Man by Alvin G. Burstein Dr. Pym is a scientist who has developed a secret particle that makes objects shrink by reducing inter-molecular space. Because, like atomic weaponry, the discovery will change the nature of warfare in frighteningly unpredictable ways, he guards the secret. A one-time protégé, Dr. Cross (double?), has ousted […]

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X Marks the Spot: A Review of Ex Machina

As a fan of RoboCop flicks, I looked forward to this film. Ex Machina explores the same question as RoboCop: the difference between man and machine. That exploration puts it in an established genre, one occupied not only by its predecessor, but by Collodi’s Pinocchio, who hungers to be a real boy, and by Star Trek’s Lt. Commander Data, who struggles to feel emotion and to understand jokes.

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Far From The Madding Crowd

by Alvin G. Burstein This 2015 movie, like the novel by Thomas Hardy with the same name, is titled with a quotation from Thomas Graves’ Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard: Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife, Their sober wishes never learned to stray, Along the cool sequester’d way of life They kept the […]

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Gone Girl

by Alvin G. Burstein [Editor’s note: The following review contains direct quotes from movie dialogue that could be offensive to some readers.] All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina The movie Gone Girl is about an unhappy marriage, one that is unhappy in […]