Therapeutic Movie Review Column
By Birgit Wolz, Ph.D., MFT
Under the Tuscan Sun
Producers: Tom Sternberg, Audrey Wells
Screenwriter: Audrey Wells
Cast: Diane Lane, Raoul Bova, Sandra Oh, Lindsay
Duncan, Dan Bucatinsky, Vincent Riotta
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2003
Although Under the Tuscan Sun received mixed
reviews from critics, with some calling it typical Hollywood escapism,
it also won praise for its fairy tale storyline, gorgeous scenery and
Diane Lane plays Frances Mayes, a San Francisco
author and book critic who suffers intense emotional pain in the process
of divorcing her husband. First he cheated on her. Then he played the
legal system to get a big chunk of Frances’ money. Lane’s
very convincing facial expressions and body language of despair pull
the viewer right into Frances’ internal
emotional experience: we feel her hesitant anticipation
when her newly pregnant lesbian best friend gives Frances a 10-day
trip on a gay tour through Tuscany, we sense her joy and confusion
around spontaneously buying a 300 year old house there. We share her fear
and dread during a big thunderstorm and the many other challenges
she confronts while remodeling her villa. Rebuilding the mansion
corresponds symbolically with the process of reassembling the
fragmented pieces of Frances’ soul.
As her inner healing
progresses, Frances falls in love with an Italian man. She
starts expressing a heart warming and extremely uplifting exuberance. Coming
home after having sex for the first time in a long time, she
bounces up and down, pumps her fists in the air and shouts, ”Yes!
Yes! I still got it! I got it! I got it!”
this story conveys are hopeful. Just as with the 1989 Field
of Dreams, Under the Tuscan Sun says: “Don’t
give up,” “If
you build it they will come,” “Relax and let
go, when you cannot control an aspect of your life. Things
will fall into place on their own.” During the last
two scenes of the film, Francis receives a surprising reward
for having learned these lessons. Her life
becomes complete again.
A Client’s Response:
Several times during my therapeutic work
with Jennifer, I suggested certain movies to her. Watching these films inspired her and
served her as a catalyst to bring awareness to previously
unrecognized dimensions of her psyche. She loved the results and
started watching many motion pictures “with different eyes.” She
watched them, wondering how the character development or the
story might apply to her and her life. I was amazed when my
client told me that she even began to choose movies in a new
way. Sometimes Jennifer picked a film because she felt intuitively
that it might inspire her to find a solution to a problem she
was struggling with. After reading some reviews, she felt drawn
to the newly released Under the Tuscan Sun.
for quite a while Jennifer had been struggling with the question
of whether to stay in her marriage. She and her husband tied
the knot shortly after high school. Now, 12 years later,
she was not the same person any more. After one year of couples’ therapy
with another therapist, they still fought very frequently
and rarely ever had sex. Jennifer also became increasingly
aware of a strong desire to have children. She felt nervous
that her biological clock was ticking. Her husband was adamantly
against having kids. When they first got married she had
not considered this a problem. Now my client felt trapped. Although
Jennifer deeply wished to be with a partner who shared her
desire for a family before it was too late, she could not
imagine starting over again on her own after having spent more than
a third of her young life married to her husband. She understood
that her fear of an uncertain future might cause her to stay
in her marriage for the wrong reasons.
Because the movie plot
shows a courageous woman rebuilding her life after a devastating loss,
Jennifer found it to have positive therapeutic effects. I believe it
can have a similar effect on many viewers who don’t
yet see a “light at the end of the tunnel” in
their life situation. The engrossing portrayal of the
emotional roller coaster and the rich use of symbolic
images in the film contribute to this effect.
understood the film’s messages intuitively. Our
subsequent explorations in session helped her integrate
her newfound wisdom on a more conscious level. Hope began
to arise. She gained a new perspective of faith in the
future, even if that future involves starting over. Jennifer
believed now that there can be a new beginning after
a phase of grief. She felt more inner strength and freedom,
less constricted by fear. This process helped her enter
the next stage in therapy where she now started evaluating
whether she wants to stay in her marriage from this fearless
new perspective. In our most recent session she
decided to suggest to her husband a temporary separation
in order to find more clarity about what is best for
both of them.
Guidelines for clients in life
transition before they watch the movie:
• Focus on France’s strength,
courage, and determination to rebuild her life after experiencing
• Notice the “messages” she
receives throughout the movie that hp her cope.
Guidelines for questions after
clients watched the movie:
What touched you most?
• What resources inside
and outside herself did Frances access to cope with her loss and to
rebuild her life?
• How can you apply this to
yourself and to your own inner and outer resources?
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