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.

The Rise of Skywalker

The Rise of Skywalker There was no way that I would miss seeing what was billed as the conclusion of the Star Wars series.  Particularly because of the intriguing title. Luke was dead, sacrificing himself as had his first mentor Obi-Wan—would he be resurrected? One of the movie’s strong points is a surprise-filled plot line, […]

Ford V Ferrari

Ford V Ferrari This movie, a story about how the Ford Shelby Mustang wrested domination of the fabled Le Mans road race from Ferrari’s race cars will appeal to motor heads and patriots. But its appeal is more complex than that.  It begins by taking us inside Ford’s corporate headquarters in the early 60’s where […]


Joker has been criticized as a splatter film likely to encourage copycat gun violence. The movie does—trigger warning— contain some gory scenes, but it is much more complex than an effort to shock or a celebration of violence. Symbolism, social criticism, psychopathology, the human need for affirmation, surrealism and a virtuoso acting performance make a […]

The Peanut Butter Falcon

by Alvin G. Burstein This 2019 movie is a striking contrast to the currency of splatter films, special effects and shock.  It is a frankly feelgood film with a focus on character and motivation. Many of its reviewers characterize it as a riff on Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In the Twain classic […]

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

by Alvin G. Burstein “Once upon a time” is a phrase signaling the beginning of a fairy tale. Fairy tales are folk tales that persist in a culture because they embody and illustrate that culture’s values. They function as parables. So the title of this film invites us to look for its moral center. There […]

Spider-Man: Far From Home

by Alvin G. Burstein This film is a many-layered confection, like a pousse-café or a Dobosh Torte. At one level, it is the latest link in the seemingly inexhaustible Avenger series of Marvel world films. As such it provides the hectic action and mind- boggling special effects that characterize the super-hero film genre. That is […]


by Alvin G. Burstein This movie about Elton John dazzles, and raises provocative questions. The first of those is that of authorship. Is this a biography, or is it an autobiography? A biography is usually a straightforward historical account of its subject’s life told by someone else. It offers us a chance to evaluate the […]

Avengers: End Game

by Alvin G. Burstein Avengers: End Game is the capstone of a decade of Marvel Comics super-hero sagas. It is a three-hour blockbuster loaded with features that will entertain viewers and deeply gratify followers of Captain America and his superhero team and their battles against forces of evil. The Avengers series has antecedents in a […]

Penguins: A Review

by Alvin G. Burstein Penguins is literally spectacular. It immerses the viewer in the dramatic panorama of the Antarctica, not a frozen solitude, but the setting of an incredible avian migration and its complex context. If that were not enough to make it worth the price of admission, the opening credits remind us of contributions […]

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 […]