Sep 11

“Big Little Lies” Season Two: Therapist Loses Cred

In a previous post I commented on the competence of the therapist—and how refreshing this was considering how little of this we see on TV and film—in Season One of Big Little Lies. Unfortunately, my opinion has changed after watching the most recent shows. Although Big Little Lies Season Two features the same therapist, she’s different now. I’ll try to explain. Spoilers ahead.

Big Little Lies Season One therapy: In a nutshell, Celeste (Nicole Kidman) addressed being the victim of domestic violence in her therapy with a helpful Dr. Amanda Reisman (Robin Weigert). But Celeste didn’t have to decide to leave her abusive husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) after all. As of the finale he’s dead.

Big Little Lies Season Two therapy: Each therapy scene is jarringly confrontational and off-putting, but the worst offense occurs when Dr. Reisman asks Celeste not only to focus on remembering her abuse but also to imagine her best friend, Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) being abused in the same way. Sure, Reisman probably wants to turn Celeste’s empathy for others inward. But, as Julia Naftulin, Insider, points out, her approach leads to unnecessarily retraumatizing Celeste.

Indeed, one of the goals of a trauma-sensitive therapist involves trying not to trigger the painful memories and flashbacks. Purposely probing for a reenactment of the past is likely to further embed aspects of the trauma into a client’s brain.

Another problem is Reisman’s judgmental attitudes. She pushes Celeste, for instance, to see her marriage in more black-and-white terms, i.e., Perry is bad—someone to get over already. The reality is that Celeste had been in a complicated relationship with a man who yes, did awful things to her—but who was loved as well.

Therapist Kelly Scott gives Insider this sound opinion: “…Dr. Reisman’s approach ⁠— insisting that Perry was purely evil, with no positive attributes ⁠— only could have been effective if he was still alive and Celeste needed a one-dimensional view of him to leave the relationship. But now that Perry is dead, painting him as the bad guy serves no purpose for Celeste or her safety. Rather, it will likely alienate her.”

Madeline and her husband Ed (Adam Scott) also sign up for Reisman therapy after Ed finds out Madeline was unfaithful. In what appears to be their very first session, Reisman badgers a confused Madeline into explaining why she cheated, then out of the blue accuses Ed of being “profoundly disengaged” and possibly as guilty as his wife for their current problems. The upshot: neither is happy with how they’re treated.

For additional info and opinions regarding the therapist in Big Little Lies Season Two, here are a few resources:

Dec 26

“Wild”: Cheryl Strayed’s Difficult But Therapeutic Journey

The plot in brief of Jean-Marc Vallee‘s Wild, based on Cheryl Strayed‘s memoir: Following a series of losses and struggles, Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) embarks on a solo three-month hike on the Pacific Coast Trail. Her mission statement: “I’m going to walk myself back to the woman my mother thought I was” (Susan Wloszczyna, rogerebert.com).

Her mother Bobbi (Laura Dern) has died several years earlier. In flashbacks we see Bobbi as well as Cheryl’s friend (Gaby Hoffmann) and her husband (Thomas Sadoski).

Strayed encounters people—mostly men–along her current journey as well. Justin Chang, Variety: “As an attractive woman in her 20s traveling alone, Cheryl is acutely aware that every strange man she encounters is a potential predator — whether it’s the kind farm worker (W. Earl Brown) who offers her a hot meal and shower, or the fellow traveler who turns out to be a very real threat. But Cheryl is neither a passive victim nor a saint, and in a film of quietly understated moments that often prove more impressive than the whole, few are as telling as the one where she casually spies on a male hiker (Kevin Rankin) emerging nude from a dip in the river — a rare example of the female gaze at work in American movies.”

See the Wild trailer below:

WITHERSPOON AS STRAYED

Like many (including myself), Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune) is fully on board: “Witherspoon does the least acting of her career, and it works. Calmly yet restlessly, she brings to life Strayed’s longings, her states of grief and desire and her wary optimism.” Ann Hornaday, Washington Post, represents the other camp: “…(T)here’s not a moment in the film when we can forget that we’re watching Reese Witherspoon…”

CHERYL STRAYED

Dana Stevens, Slate: “Cheryl’s a female protagonist of a kind we rarely see in the movies, someone who can be not just unlikable but at times unknowable, even to herself. This woman is a piece of work: disorganized, sailor-mouthed, given to self-destructive promiscuity and addictive behavior, but also curious, sardonic, and scary smart.”

A.O. Scott, New York Times: “What makes its heroine worth caring about — what makes her a rare and exciting presence in contemporary American film — is not that she’s tidy or sensible or even especially nice. It’s that she’s free.”