May 26

Agoraphobia: “Woman In the Window,” Etc.

The three films addressed in this post all have a main female character with agoraphobia, defined by Psychology Today as “a fear of any place where escape may be difficult, including large open spaces or areas with crowds, as well as various means of travel.”

Furthermore, each of the featured agoraphobic characters is either a mental health professional and/or being treated by one.

I. The Woman in the Window (2021)

In addition to Amy Adams as a child psychologist with agoraphobia, cast members include Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman, and Anthony Mackie. The not-a-rave critics’ consensus, per Rotten Tomatoes? “A milquetoast and muddled thriller that drowns in its frenzied homages, The Woman in the Window will have audiences closing their curtains.”

Although little is explained about Anna Fox’s (Adams) condition, she never leaves the house. Stephanie Zacharek, Time, notes that Anna is continually “in a moody haze induced by the anti-anxiety drugs her shrink (Tracy Letts) has prescribed for her, which she pairs with copious amounts of red wine.”

Naturally, the shrink sessions have to be in her home that she never leaves.

One of her main preoccupations is looking out the window (of course), which leads to seeing something very disturbing.

Any reference to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window is strictly intentional: early on we catch a glimpse of James Stewart’s face, in all its neurotic postwar glory, on Anna’s TV screen. His Jeff Jefferies is her dream twin, a man who has come to prefer the prurient watching of life to actually living it.

Zacharek describes this Netflix film as “a modern gothic tale of obsession, voyeurism and possible madness.” The real suspense, she adds, is whether Anna will “ever be able to bring herself to go outside again.”

II. Agoraphobia (2015)

This horror flick is new to streaming (Amazon Prime). An agoraphobic, Faye, is afraid of what’s inside her newly inherited home. “Even looking at the view outside from her safe walls causes anxiety and panic attacks” (filminquiry.com). Importantly, she does have a psychiatrist, Doctor Murphy.

As Faye’s husband will be gone a lot because of his work, a woman is hired to keep Faye company and tend to the house. But possibly her biggest problem lurks inside, not necessarily outside.

Lots of weird and scary things ensue. From filminquiry.com:

Is it Faye’s mental illness playing tricks on her or is there something more sinister going on? As the lines begin to blur between her illness and the paranormal, strange things start to occur in the home. Is she just paranoid? Is someone messing with her on purpose? Is there another presence in the house that no one is aware of?

III. Copycat (1995)   

Filmfare.com rates this thriller as one of the best films that deals with agoraphobia.

Psychologist Helen Hudson ( Sigourney Weaver) suffers from agoraphobia after being harmed by a serial killer, but when another killer starts copycat killings, cop MJ Monahan (Holly Hunter) asks her for help. This new killer is a fan of famous serial killers of yore….He develops a thing for Helen and begins stalking her big time. Helen deduces that he has been following the list of serial killers in the same order as she has been presenting them in her lectures and she tries to work out where and when he will strike next. What follows is a cat and mouse chase between the hunter and the hunted.

Jan 30

“Big Eyes”: Effects of Having a Manipulative Spouse

Recently Amy Adams won a Golden Globe for her starring role in Tim Burton‘s Big Eyes, based on the true story of Margaret Keane, whose husband Walter (1915-2000) (Christoph Waltz) for many years took credit for her famous love-’em-or-hate-’em big-eyed paintings.

The trailer for Big Eyes:

The following may contain some SPOILERS regarding the story of their lives, which is said to be pretty accurately represented in the film.

History Vs. Hollywood notes that Margaret has described herself as having been “extremely timid and shy” in the marriage. From SFGate: “Back then, women kind of went along with their husbands, didn’t rock the boat,” Margaret says. “He finally wore me down. While we were fighting this out at home, the paintings were just flying off the walls. Posters were selling. It was unbelievable. It snowballed overnight. I kept getting in deeper and deeper…I lost all respect for him and myself, and lived in a nightmare.”

A.O. Scott, New York Times, writes of Walter’s “sadistic, controlling behavior,” while Tony Bartolone, Huffington Post, says Big Eyes shows him as a “relentlessly charming and manipulative merchandiser.”

Preston Ni (Psychology Today) cites four characteristics of a manipulative person:

  1. They know how to detect your weaknesses.
  2. Once found, they use your weaknesses against you.
  3. Through their shrewd machinations, they convince you to give up something of yourself in order to serve their self-centered interests.
  4. In work, social, and family situations, once a manipulator succeeds in taking advantage of you, he or she will likely repeat the violation until you put a stop to the exploitation.

What are the effects of living under such circumstances? More from Bartolone:

There are only two possible outcomes that can occur when a sly brute attempts to slowly suffocate what should be free. The oppressed will either turn into a coward and die quietly or they will turn into a hero and fight with tremendous volume. This is the virtue in being bullied. As long as the oppressed survives, there becomes a great strength in their capacity for endurance. And that developed strength can be focused into a power that does not know defeat. Though it is torturous to watch somebody be bludgeoned by a dominating ego, there is genuine understanding of understated anguish inside a human being who is starving for their art. It’s difficult to pinpoint the moment when Margaret becomes a badass, but the gradual burn turns into a raging inferno of justice.

Because of her husband’s specific threats should she reveal the truth and/or leave him, Margaret lived in fear of being killed for quite some time. Despite this, she did in fact eventually leave him, did in fact win her court case against him, and is alive and remarried today. However, Walter, who died in 2000, never actually admitted he’d stolen her creative identity.

Jan 30

“Her”: A Man Falls Romantically for His Operating System

Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix and written/directed by Spike Jonze, has created quite a stir, including among those who find it spoof-worthy, as in a recent short film by SNL starring Jonah Hill and Michael Cera.

The plot is summed up pithily by IMDB: “A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that’s designed to meet his every need.” The OS is Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson.

Peg Streep, writing in a Psychology Today post, points out that the film takes place in a context in which the majority readily accept Theodore’s relationship status:

The ease with which everyone accepts the relationship as ‘real’ is reminiscent of how quickly the culture has accommodated itself to the ‘new normal’ of living in the digital age, where seeing a couple eating dinner together while texting other people no longer seems strange or ‘friending’ people you don’t know so you can get more attention or feel better about yourself is okay.

Significant Plot Points

Tom Shone, The Guardian, sets it up:

…(T)he film is half in love with the loneliness it diagnoses…and for the first hour the conceit is unveiled beautifully, via a brisk series of gags, most of them in the periphery of the main plot. Theo’s workplace is a website called BeautfulHandwrittenLetters.com, where he sits in office composing personal notes for those who can’t be bothered…while a neighbour, played by a curly haired Amy Adams, designs video games in which mums pick up ‘Mom points’ for feeding the kids or beating the other mothers to the carpool, or else face the ignominious charge ‘You’ve Failed Your Children!’

Theo

Alonso DuraldeThe Wrap: “His own emotions…remain a mystery to Theodore; he’s been in a serious funk since breaking up with his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara), to the point where his old college pal Amy (Amy Adams) invites him for a night out with friends but specifies that she’s asking the ‘old, fun’ Theodore to come.”

Samantha

Scott FoundasVariety: “Lack of physical presence notwithstanding, Samantha at first seems close to the male fantasy of the perfect woman: motherly and nurturing, always capable of giving her undivided attention, and (best of all) requiring nothing in return.”

Below you can watch the trailer:

Selected Reviews

Dana Stevens, Slate: “It’s a wistful portrait of our current love affair with technology in all its promise and disappointment, a post-human Annie Hall.”

Anthony Lane, New Yorker: “What makes ‘Her’ so potent is that it does to us what Samantha does to Theodore. We are informed, cosseted, and entertained, and yet we are never more than a breath away from being creeped out. Just because someone browses your correspondence in a mood of flirtatious bonhomie doesn’t make her any less invasive; and just because you have invited her to do so doesn’t mean that you are in control.”

Christopher Orr, The Atlantic:

By turns sad, funny, optimistic, and flat-out weird, it is a work of sincere and forceful humanism…

Indeed, by the end of the film, the central question Jonze is asking seems no longer even to be whether machines might one day be capable of love. Rather, his film has moved beyond that question to ask one larger still: whether machines might one day be more capable of love—in an Eastern philosophy, higher consciousness, Alan Wattsian way—than the human beings who created them.