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.

US: A Review

by Alvin G. Burstein Jordan Peele’s follow-up, Us, to his highly acclaimed Get Out shares its predecessor’s blend of horror and comedy, but is more thought provoking. Race is not a critical focus for this second film. Us left me thinking about the relationships among horror, terror and the surreal. The ethical questions it raises […]

Cold Pursuit: A Review

by Alvin G. Burstein This movie begins with an Oscar Wilde epigram: “Some cause happiness wherever they go, others whenever they go.” That sets the tone for this movie, both in substance and in style. It is a movie centered on murderous revenge—a death that brings happiness to an avenger. And Wildean ironic humor is reflected in the film’s slyly […]

On The Basis of Sex

by Alvin G. Burstein This biopic focuses on an early case argued by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, now in her twenty-sixth year on the Supreme Court, the second female justice to be appointed. The screenwriter, Daniel Stiepleman, is her nephew, and  unsurprisingly, the film is a warm tribute to someone who has become an icon of political liberalism in general, and […]

Girl in the Spider’s Web

by Alvin G. Burstein Almost 150 years ago, the philosopher John Stewart Mill published what was then a provocative essay, On the Subjection of Women. Mill, a former child prodigy and later, a noted public intellectual. He argued that women were not just disadvantaged, but as, half of humankind, the largest group of enslaved humans. […]

The Sisters Brothers

by Alvin G. Burstein Varieties of Western tales, film and story, abound. There is the mysterious stranger who arrives to right wrongs like Shane or The Lone Ranger; there are the stories of a gunslinger, sometimes aging, sometimes retired, like The Unforgiven and The Long Ride; there are ironic spoofs like Cat Ballou and Destry […]

Mission Impossible –Fallout

by Alvin G. Burstein There are two levels on which to enjoy this film. The first is its predictable employment of the features that characterize the whole series of movie adaptations of its television predecessor: the pounding musical theme, the amazing face masks, the fanciful technology, metal crunching car and motorcycle races, bloody hand-to-hand combat, […]

A Simple Favor

by Alvin G. Burstein The film’s opening credits are backed with a shifting array of images and pop songs, a neat foretaste of the complicated tale to follow. The story opens on an ongoing charmingly amateurish vlog (video-log). Stephanie Smothers is regaling her audience of mothers with a mélange of homemaking advice. We quickly learn […]

Three Identical Strangers: A Review

by Alvin G. Burstein This is a powerhouse film, deeply stirring emotionally, and raising profound questions about morality and the nature of truth. Three Identical Strangers is an indie film by Neon/CNN, produced by Tim Wardle. It won raves at this summer’s Sundance Film Festival, and is now beginning general release. I will do my […]

Hereditary: A Review

by Alvin G. Burstein It may have been Stephen King—and who would be better qualified—who distinguished among terror, horror and shock. Stories evoking these strong unpleasant feelings, paradoxically, can find an avid audience, a fact on which King has capitalized. The distinction is that terror implies a sense of personal fearful involvement; horror is a […]

A Quiet Place

by Alvin G. Burstein A Quiet Place is not just another horror flick retreading the well-worn War of the Worlds trope. It involves us in an exploration of the meaning of family, introducing themes of tenderness, loss and love. It takes us from horror to terror, involving us with a family that demonstrates courage and […]

Ready Player One

by Alvin G. Burstein The movie takes us to a dystopia set a few decades in the future. We visit The Stacks, a collection of futuristic, highrise, crowded, big city slums. The unsavory dwellings are populated by the survivors in an America ravaged by the consequences of global warming, a stagnant economy, over-population and unemployment. […]

The Black Panther A Review

by Alvin G. Burstein Once upon a time, centuries ago, in sub-Saharan central Africa, a group of tribes discovered a miraculous source of radioactivity, Vibranium. The competition for control of the lode was resolved when the leader of one of the tribes imbibed a tea concocted from an herb that the mineral had affected, acquiring […]

The Shape of Water

by Alvin G. Burstein My first reaction was to think of this film as a mash-up of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, with its fantastic and frightening monster, and Splash, with its mermaid romance. But more complexity is promised by the beginning and ending epigraphs that frame it: If I spoke about it – […]

The Post: A Review

by Alvin G. Burstein It could be argued that words printed on paper are passé and newspapers are a format in the process of becoming extinct. Warren Buffet, the Omaha sage of Wall Street, does not agree. He thinks that, despite the fact that the number of daily newspapers is shrinking, The New York Times […]