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.

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. […]

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 […]

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.

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 […]

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 […]

Interstellar-A Race Against Time

by Dr. Alvin Burstein Interstellar is a corker of a film. The Director, Christopher Nolan, has assembled proven ingredients—a spunky young girl, Murph, an echo of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird; a wise mentor, Professor Brand, reminiscent of Star Wars’ Obi Wan; a laconic (space) cowboy, Cooper, like his namesake in High Noon; and […]

The Great Dictator

by Alvin G. Burstein The jihadist massacre of Charlie Hebdo staff in response to their publication of a cartoon of Muhammad and the putative hacking by North Korea of Sony Pictures in response to a movie, The Interview, highlight searing questions about a complex of issues including ridicule, freedom of expression, hate speech, et al. […]

My White Plume

A review of Cyrano de Bergerac by Dr. Alvin Burstein The French poet, Edmond Rostand, published a play, Cyrano de Bergerac, in 1897. Rostand’s hero had a real life counterpart who railed against the church and state -a gallant soldier, a duelist, a poet and a political dissident. The protagonist in the play is a […]

Forrest Gump

by Dr. Alvin Burstein with J. Nelson It seems fair to say that Forest Gump has achieved the status of an American classic. Fans in an ABC poll voted the film the best of all Best Pictures over the last decades. The film manages to evoke laughter, heartache, and a sense of depth. This remarkable […]

12 Years a Slave

by Dr. Alvin Burstein Aristotle taught that the power of epic tragedy lies in its ability to stir the audience to pity and fear—catharsis. The emotional impact of 12 Years a Slave earned it three Academy Awards, a Golden Globe Award and British Film Academy kudos. Watching it I felt more than fear. I felt […]


The 1987 film, RoboCop, was a financial success, grossing over fifty million dollars in its domestic run. It was also well-regarded critically, being listed as one of the best one thousand movies ever made by the New York Times. It is not surprising, then to find the 2014 remake playing in current theatres. The original […]

Bah Humbug — A Christmas Carol

by Dr. Alvin Burstein The approach of Christmas stirs up memories—and a wish. Some of the memories reflect my confusions about the holidays as a child. Both my parents were Russian immigrants. Mother was an observant Jew. Although my father had spiritual interests reflected in his Masonic studies, he did not follow Jewish religious practices. […]

Hitchcock’s Suspicion (1941)

by Dr. Alvin Burstein Suspicion is the 1941 Hitchcock RKO thriller that earned Joan Fontaine an Oscar, and cast her co-star, Cary Grant, in an uncharacteristically dark role. Hitchcock is known, of course, as a master of the suspense. In this film, the focus, as its title indicates, is on the psychological tension generated by […]