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Occidental, CA, USA



Therapeutic Movie Review Column

By Birgit Wolz, Ph.D., MFT

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Director: Peter Jackson
Producers: Peter Jackson, Barrie Osborne, Tim Sanders
Screenwriters: Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Stars: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean, Ian Holm
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Years of Releases: 2001, 2002, and 2003


The Lord of the Rings Trilogy is based on J.R.R. Tolkien's well-known novel.

A little person (hobbit) with hairy feet, named Frodo, is entrusted with a mysterious ring. It is the One Ring, forged by the Dark Lord, Sauron, and capable of corrupting the wearer. Sauron's servants, the Ring Wraiths, are scouring Middle Earth for it, since, when it is returned to their master, nothing would be able to stop him. All of the world would plunged into war. The only way to stop the evil will be to destroy the ring by casting it into the fire where it was forged - in Mordor, on the Dark Lord's doorstep.

Frodo starts his journey in the company of three other hobbits. Later, as the dangers mount, others join his company: the humans Aragorn and Boromir, the wizard Gandalf, the elf Legolas, and the dwarf Gimli. Together, these nine individuals must face ring wraiths, orcs, and worse; travel through the treacherous landscape of Middle-earth and the dreaded mines of Moria; and face mistrust within their fellowship. The trilogy chronicles extraordinary adventures and reveals how the power of friendship, love and courage can hold the forces of darkness at bay.

Theoretical Contemplation:

The patterns of many movie plots are born out of the aspect of the collective unconscious that is reflected in our mythology, especially the Hero's Journey. The stages of the Hero's Journey can be traced in all kinds of films, not just those that feature heroic physical action and adventure, but also in romance, comedy, and thrillers. 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 movies with these kinds of typical screenplays can help us access our courage to release the hurt that is stuck in the past and the fear and angst projected into the future. We follow the characters' process of letting go and learn to move into the present moment where we can take action with clarity.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy seems especially full of mythological motifs; and almost every character embarks on a Hero's Journey. Maybe this explains the movie's special attraction for so many viewers.

Cinema Alchemy:

After I had seen Melanie (36) for several months, she understood that many of her problems were rooted in her hesitancy about embracing adulthood. She remembered that, as a child, she had promised herself in a Peter Pan like fashion not to grow up because the adult world seemed boring, cold, and dangerous. "I am afraid of what I might become," she said.

Consequently, Melanie holds a job that doesnt challenge her. She created some artwork but frequently struggled to meet the deadlines of art shows. She liked to hang out with her mostly younger friends and party. Often she experienced her life as unfulfilling and meaningless. Her mood swings had increased.

When Melanie heard about Cinema Alchemy, our work took a dramatic turn. I learned that she loves to watch movies that tell epic and heroic stories. In fact, she watches them over and over again. She also enjoys exploring their metaphoric meaning and finding out why certain characters and scenes touch her. We started using these explorations to elevate her pre-conscious patterns to a more conscious level. This inspired her so much that she decided to write about her process.

Melanie first wrote about certain events that had forced her to face her fear of growing up: "For one, my body developed into that of a woman, all hips and boobs. The second was the death of my mother. Somehow it's difficult to continue to view myself as a child when shes dead, even if I've been successful in ignoring what my body had developed into. The third is the realization that children are in an almost constant state of disempowerment. Its probably this last realization thats hit me the hardest. I'm unhappy with my current situation, and feel like I have no power to change it. I cannot continue to exist feeling I have no power, because the frustration and pain I feel from that far outweighs any consolation I might derive from keeping my promise."

Melanie also wrote about her movie experience: "One of the themes that attracted my attention in The Lord of the Rings is that of personal evolution. Each one of the members of The Fellowship is simultaneously a participant in two quests: one which revolves around the destruction of the ring, and another which revolves around the confrontation of demons/fears that obstruct that characters' personal growth. Although each member of the Fellowship faces this challenge, the character I'm interested in at the moment is Gandalf the Grey. When he is first introduced into the story he enjoys eating, smoking and play. He's somewhat ragged, with unkempt hair/beard and a staff comprised of tangled roots at its end. He's also a bit unsure of himself. He's lost his edge from spending too much time with the Hobbits. A couple of events forced him to ultimately face the demon Balrog. They bring Gandalf to a point of no return. He fell, and what seemed like certain death resulted in Gandalf's evolution from Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White. [comment: these are crucial stages in the Hero's Journey]. Gandalf the White seems to have a very solid sense of himself, what needs to happen in certain circumstances, and in organizing others to make that happen."

After I read this, I suggested an exercise in which Melanie took on the roles of Gandalf the Grey and Gandalf the White while sitting in different chairs, speaking from the corresponding parts inside her. Consequently her process deepened significantly.

After this session she wrote: "Looking at Gandalf's experience has helped me realize that I won't be a totally different person, just an evolved version of myself. I will be able to help myself as unfortunate circumstances present themselves, hence better able to help those around me. In fact, I would venture a guess, that forging on through these fears would help empower one's sense of self-love, which is of inestimable assistance in facing fears. It would seem to be the creation of an upward spiral that continually reinforces itself. What a wonderful tool in coping with LIFE!"

Guidelines for clients who focus on their personal transformation

Keep the following questions and suggestions in mind while you watch:

• Focus on the metaphorical meaning of this movie for you.

• What parts of the movie touch you most?

• What character do you most identify with and when?

• Notice how this hero goes through phases of hesitation, fear, meeting mentors, becoming aware that she cannot go back, facing tests, obstacles, and crises, confronting fear, gaining new perspective, and undergoing inner change (Stages of the Hero's journey. Choose the parts that apply).

Questions after the movie:

• How does this characters journey compare with yours?

• Did this character develop certain capacities that you may have already developed or 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