Therapeutic Movie Review
By Birgit Wolz, Ph.D., MFT
Director: Roger Michell
Producer: Scott Rudin
Screenwriters: Chap Taylor, Michael Tolkin
Cast: Samuel L Jackson, Ben Affleck, Toni Collette, Sydney Pollack, William Hurt, Amanda Peet
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2002
As he is rushing off to court from a fender bender,
attorney Gavin, hands the other man involved in this
accident, Doyle, his card and says Better luck next
time! then accidentally drops a signed form that means
millions to his firm. Although Doyle is stuck with a
flat tire, Gavin refuses to give him a ride. Doyle, who
is a recovering alcoholic, finds the attorneys
form. When Gavin shows up at court without it, the judge
gives him until the end of the day to produce it or his
firm forfeits the money.
Meanwhile, Doyle wants to convince his ex-wife not to
move with their kids to Oregon. He hopes that by keeping
his family nearby he might save his failing marriage. To
accomplish that, he needs to prove to a divorce judge
that he is solvent and stable and plans to do so by
showing him that the bank has approved his home
loan. But because he shows up twenty minutes late, he
finds the case has been decided without him. Blaming
Gavin, he takes out his rage by taunting him with a page
faxed from the form that he found. Gavin retaliates by
getting a hacker friend to artificially ruin Doyles
A spiraling series of attacks and counterattacks
eventually leads both men to see that their worst enemy
is their own anger. Gavin and Doyle keep trying to
demonstrate their individual power by acting out their
anger at the other person. For one whole day they do not
have the awareness or the inner containment that would
help them with their destructive emotions.
The two characters hit an emotional bottom. But they
learn from their experience. By the end of the day, each
man's own anger scares him more than the other
person. After reacting only to the actions of the other
in unconscious ways for a long time, both became aware
of themselves, their own behavior, and the subsequent
consequences. This enabled both men to start taking
responsibility for their actions, develop empathy for
the other, and find inner peace again.
Nancy came to see me to work on her sudden outbreaks
of anger. She was afraid that her uncontrolled outbursts
might damage her marriage. Things became more manageable
when she learned to become aware of the very first onset
of rage toward her husband, Rob. Exploring the origins
of her rage also lead to enlightening insights. But
Nancys real breakthrough happened after I asked her to
watch Changing Lanes with conscious awareness according
to the guidelines below.
Nancy watched this video together with Rob. In our
next session she told me that at first she completely
identified with Doyle and his anger when Gavin said:
"Better luck next time!" She started yelling at Gavin on
the TV screen. How can you do this! She almost got into
a fight with her husband who had a more removed
perspective and questioned Doyles response to the
insult. Nancy felt angry about the indifference she
thought she had perceived in Rob. In her already upset
state she could not clearly hear what he said. But she
remembered my suggestion about conscious awareness and
noticed what had just happened inside her. The couple
turned off the video and talked.
Having just seen on the screen almost exactly what
she experienced inside, it was much easier for Nancy to
step back and reflect on what happened as her anger rose
inside her. Normally, when she would feel herself being
drawn into her rage, it was impossible to take this
conscious internal step back. Now, with the support of
the distancing effect of the movie, plus her effort to
become more aware of her emotional responses, Nancy
suddenly saw how she had been caught in a very familiar
pattern. She was surprised how absurd her previous angry
reaction looked to her now and clearly recognized the
process in which she tended to fall into blind rages
over and over in the past. After they talked, the couple
finished watching the rest of the movie. Nancy had a
more detached and clearer perspective during this part
of the film .
My client told me, I really get it now. When Im angry
I do not hear what he really says. With more conscious
awareness her perspective opened up to what he tried to
communicate. Now she understood what Rob really meant
and that he was including both characters
perspective. From this new angle she thought that his
comments about the movie characters just reflected his
way of seeing things in general, which now seemed
acceptable to her. Nancy felt as if she had awaked from
a bad dream. For the first time, she understood on a
deep level how her anger- induced blinding mechanism had
completely distorted her perspective of reality and how
it robbed her of her capacity to see things more
The movie also provided a voice for her to
communicate something she was unable to explain
before. Previously, Rob never took seriously her efforts
to work on her rage in therapy. Now, during their
discussion, he saw his wife struggling and conquering
her inner demon right in front of him. Rob saw two
movies: Changing Lanes and Nancys process. He was able
recognize Nancys efforts as well as her level of
awareness and became very impressed with the progress
she had made in her inner work.
Weeks later Nancy told me she had experienced only
one small episode of rage, which ended almost
immediately when her husband mention the character
Doyles name in a lighthearted way. As she was able to
become centered and rational again, Nancy now could
address more clearly the real reason for her anger. Rob
was able to listen calmly and hear what she had to
Guidelines for watching movies with conscious awareness:
Handout given before the movie:
• While watching the movie, sit comfortably and relax.
• Pay attention to the film and to yourself.
• Observe how the movies images,
ideas, conversations, and characters affect your emotions,
physical sensations, or your breathing.
• Notice what happens when these
throw you off balance because they trigger undesired
emotions. In all likelihood, whatever unbalances you in
response to a movie character or scene is similar to what
unbalances you in daily life.
• You might let yourself get
completely absorbed by the movie for a while. Notice your
sensations when you come back to awareness of
Questions after the movie:
• Do you remember your feelings and
sensations, or whether your breathing changed throughout
• Notice what you liked and what
you did not like or even hated about the movie.
• Did you identify with one or
• Did a character develop certain
capacities that you would like to develop as well?
Birgit Wolz wrote the following continuing education online courses;
Cinema Therapy - Using the Power of Movies In the Therapeutic Process, which guides the reader through the basic principles of Cinema Therapy.
Cinema Therapy with Children and Adolescents - This course teaches Cinema Therapy with young clients. It includes numerous movie suggestions, which are categorized according to age and issues. It serves therapists, teachers, and parents.
Positive Psychology and the Movies: Transformational Effects of Movies through Positive Cinema Therapy - This course teaches how to develop clinical interventions by using films effectively in combination with positive psychotherapy. It serves for mental health practitioners and anybody who is interested in personal growth and emotional healing.
Therapeutic Ethics in the Movies - What Films Can Teach Psychotherapists About Ethics and Boundaries in Therapy, which covers: confidentiality, self-disclosure, touch, dual relationships and out-of-office experiences (i.e., home visits, in-vivo exposures, attending a wedding, incidental encounters, etc.)
Boundaries and the Movies - Learning about Therapeutic Boundaries through the Movies, which covers informed consent, gifts, home office, clothing, language, humor and silence, proximity and distance between therapist and client, and, finally, sexual relations between therapist and client.
DSM: Diagnoses Seen in Movies - Using Movies to Understand Common DSM Diagnoses.
Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual (PDM) - A New Approach to Diagnosis in Psychotherapy