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© 2002-2015 Birgit Wolz
Loch Lomond, CA, USA



Therapeutic Movie Review Column

By Birgit Wolz, Ph.D., MFT


Director: Bennett Miller
Producers: Michael De Luca , Rachel Horovitz , Mark Bakshi, Andrew S. Karsch, Alissa Phillips, Brad Pitt, Scott Andrew Robertson, Scott Rudin
Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, Steve Zaillian, Stan Chervin
Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright , Stephen Bishop, Kathyrn Morris, Chris Pratt
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some strong language
Year of Release: 2011


Moneyball is based on Michael Lewis' 2003 biographical book of the same name.

At the center of the story is Oakland Athletics' (nicknamed A's ) general manager Billy Beane, a one-time baseball wunderkind, whose promise was never fulfilled as a player. We learn through flashbacks that, as a phenomenal prospect out of high school, he had failed to meet the lofty expectations of big league scouts. He painfully flamed out as a pro ballplayer after turning down a baseball-football scholarship at Stanford University.

In early 2002 Beane, now managing the A's , is able to find budding superstars to take the team to the play-offs, though not to the World Series. But after losing three marquee players to teams with much larger payrolls, he finds himself on the precipice of a disaster, presiding over a Major League team with no stars and a payroll so low it became a laughing stock around the league. The team's owner tells him: "Oakland is a small-market team with a small-market payroll, unable to compete with the rich guys in Boston and New York. Find another way to win."

Upset and nervous about this challenge, Beane visits the Cleveland Indians to talk about trade possibilities with their executives. He notices a nebbish junior executive whispering to his boss about each player Beane expresses an interest in - at which point his request is turned down.

Billy tracks the young man, Peter Brand (based on real-life baseball executive Paul DePodesta), to his cubicle to pick his brain. This nerdy recent Yale economics graduate has radical ideas about how to assess players' value. Billy tests Peter's theory by asking whether he would have drafted him. After some prodding, Brand admits that he would not have done so until the ninth round, and that Beane would probably have gone to college instead. Sensing opportunity and faced with rebuilding the team at bargain basement prices, Beane hires Brand as the Athletics' assistant general manager.

What Brand brings to Oakland is a new way of looking at players' skills, based on key performance statistics called sabermetrics. Brand tells Beane he should not look to buy big names, but hire based on key performance statistics that point to undervalued players. He explains that there are a lot of players who are undervalued by the baseball establishment, because they don't conform to conventional norms, even though they get on base with greater regularity than some of the superstars.

Together they begin to construct a team out of unwanted players with far more potential than the A's hamstrung finances would otherwise allow. They face fierce opposition, because they use new tools, instead of relying on conventional baseball wisdom and the gut instincts of aging scouts, who have done things the same way for 50 years. The bullet-headed team manager, Art Howe, refuses to start the players that Beane has brought in, because he feels insulted. Howe believes that the general manager was mesmerized by a half-baked Ivy League theorist who does not know what he is talking about.

Beane is an inward and lonely man, who was left by his wife and dotes on his daughter, Casey. But he has to steal time to be with her. Casey worries about the TV and Internet reports that focus on the precariousness of her father's job.

Although he feels upset and initially hesitant, Billy holds on to his approach. Even as the Oakland Athletics go into an early-season tailspin with eleven losses in a row , because Howe does not follow Beane's playbook, he keeps his cool. Given his past, disappointment is not unfamiliar to Billy. He stays true to his principles, is determined, and motivated by his hatred of losing. He trades a rookie sensation to force Howe's hand. During an agonizing period, Beane convinces the owner to stay the course.

Billy Beane is so driven, nervous, and possibly superstitious, that he cannot bear to watch a game in the stadium. Instead, he drives aimlessly while listening to it on the radio. He fears that he will be unemployed if he follows his new theories for the full season and they fail.

Eventually Beane's approach proves itself the biggest bargain in baseball history. The team's record begins to improve dramatically. After 19 consecutive wins, his daughter talks Billy into going to the Oakland Athletics game against the Kansas City Royals , as the A's are already leading 11-0 after the third inning and appear set to continue their winning streak. He arrives, only to watch the team go to pieces allowing the Royals to even the score. Finally, the A's achieve a victory with a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning by one of Peter Brand's picks.

The nation's lowest-salaried Major League Baseball team achieves twenty consecutive wins , setting a new American League record. These unprecedented successes are followed by a loss in the first round of the postseason. Beane is disappointed, but satisfied because he found a way to atone for his past failures by demonstrating the value of his and Brand's method.

In closing, the film shows that Billy passes up the opportunity to become the general manager of the Boston Red Sox , despite their gigantic stadium and an offer which would have made him the highest paid general manager in baseball history. We learn that Boston won the World Series in 2004, based on the theory that Billy Beane pioneered.

Cinema Alchemy

My 55-year-old client Robert told me that he experienced panic-like feelings and insomnia since he had learned about upcoming changes at his workplace. His company planned to implement new operating procedures. He did not think that he was able to adapt as fast and complete as his younger colleagues. If he cannot keep up with them, he "might get fired and will not be able to find a new job at his age". My client was able to see the connection between his negative beliefs about his lacking ability to face these new challenges and his symptoms. His new tasks appeared overwhelming to him.

After a period of client-centered therapy that helped Robert to calm down his anxiety during our sessions, he said, " I feel ok here, but my panic feelings often comes back when I am at work. I think I only have a chance to make it through these work transitions if I don't feel so emotionally overwhelmed every time my boss asks me to learn something new.

I asked Robert whether he knows a movie in which a character has to confront and overcome overwhelming challenges. Right away, he said that he had just watched Moneyball . My client was a baseball fan and knew most details about the history of the Oakland Athletics and their general manager. I encouraged him to watch this movie one more time. This time he was to observe exactly how Billy Beane masters his challenges.

During our next session, Robert said: "Watching Moneyball again showed me how it is possible to make it through really big challenges. Although I didn't like how he treated the players as if they were just objects, I admire Beane because he had the courage to try something new. That's why he succeeded. And he is not just a character in a movie. The real-life Beane went through this. It helped a lot to see all this on the screen."

When I asked Robert whether he remembers a time in his life when he overcame a big challenge like Billy Beane, he told me about his divorce several years ago. He said, "I made it through that scary time too." I responded, saying, "maybe you have a an Inner Beane inside you that you are not always aware of." Robert smiled and nodded.

I encouraged my client to picture a potential interaction with his boss that would have been scary for him in the past. This time, he was supposed to picture himself with the qualities that he had recognized in Beane. Already before he went into a meeting with his supervisor, he was to take a couple of deep breaths and get in touch with his Inner Beane .

This technique turned out very successful. As he practiced identifying with the A's general manager, he lost his anxiety during these meetings. This allowed him to understand instructions better and therefore perform his new tasks to everybody's satisfaction. Soon he did not feel overwhelmed any more and was able to sleep better.

Theoretical Contemplations

Although based an real-life events, Moneyball has a typical plot development according to modern rules of screenplay writing: The main character commits to a quest after a surprising loss of innocence, goes through a phase of inner conflict about taking on a challenge, and reaches a point of no return. Then the film hero acts despite fear, releases old ideas, renews his or her commitment, acts without fear, sometimes revises plans into realistic goals, and concludes the original quest by resolving it from a new perspective.

Similar to the mythological Hero's Journey, the patterns of many movie plots are born out of the aspect of the collective unconscious that is reflected in our mythology. The viewer is hooked into the same pool of consciousness as the screenwriter. Both tap into the following wisdom: The antidote for the ache lies in ceasing the resistance to our calling, finding the courage to face our worst fears, and consequently expanding our possibilities.

Especially when we go through life changes, the films with this kind of typical screenplay can help clients access their courage to release the hurt that is stuck in the past and the fear and angst projected into the future. They follow the characters' process of letting go and learn to move into the present moment where we can take action with clarity.

After clients have seen a movie with this screenplay structure, guiding questions in therapy help them to become aware of the connections between the film and their own situation.

Guidelines for Questions and Suggestions for Clients who Struggle with Overwhelming Challenges

•  Do you know a movie, in which a character has to confront and overcome overwhelming challenges?

•  Watch this film again and observe exactly how the character masters these challenges.

•  Do you remember a time in your life when you overcame a big challenge like the character?

•  Picture yourself with the qualities that you saw in this movie character.

•  Before you enter into a challenging situation, take a couple of deep breaths and get in touch with your Inner ... (name of character) .


Birgit Wolz wrote and co- 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