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.

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 […]

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 […]