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© Birgit Wolz
Occidental, CA, USA




Therapeutic Movie Review Column

By Birgit Wolz, Ph.D., MFT

Pride and Prejudice

Director: Joe Wright
Producers: Tim Bevan, Liza Chasin, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Paul Webster
Screenwriter: Deborah Moggach
Stars: Keira Knightley, Talulah Riley, Rosamund Pike, Jena Malone, Carey Mulligan, Donald Sutherland, Brenda Blythen, Simon Woods, Matthew MacFadyen, Tom Hollander, Kelly Reilly
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 2005


This sumptuous new screen adaptation of Pride and Prejudice shows a fresh take on the story of Jane Austen's novel.

         Social mobility is the goal for the hysteric Mrs. Bennet in marrying off her five well-brought-up daughters. But her second-born, Lizzie, and her older sister, Jane, stubbornly stick to their romantic ideals. Conveniently, the objects of their affections, Mr. Bingley for Jane, and his best friend, the standoffish and snobbish Mr. Darcy for the intelligent, outspoken Lizzie, are rich and come into town to stir up trouble and steal hearts. When they first meet, Lizzie starts disliking Darcy because he slights her at a ball.

         Not long after this ball, Jane is invited to dine at the house in which Bingley, his sisters, and Darcy are staying. Upon her arrival, she falls ill with a fever and Lizzie goes and cares for her sister. As Darcy comes to know her better during the course of her visit, his unfavorable opinion of Lizzie is challenged. In spite of himself, Darcy begins to find her playful manners intriguing.

         After the sisters arrive back home, it appears that Jane will soon marry Mr. Bingley. But Lizzie hears that Mr. Darcy talks his friend out of proposing because he believes that Mrs. Bennet and the younger girls are boorish and predatory. Lizzie becomes furious with Darcy for interfering. At a party, a handsome and charming officer, George Wickham, reveals to her a scandalous story about how Mr. Darcy ruined Wickam's prospects by refusing to give him a valuable living that had been bequeathed to the officer in Mr. Darcy's late father's will. Lizzie is shocked at Mr. Darcy's callous nature and her dislike of him increases.

         In her time, women were not allowed to own property or inherit estate assets. Getting married was their best chance for financial security. Passive, docile women accepted dull, boring husbands in exchange for security, but Lizzie is unwilling to compromise. When a wealthy cousin, Mr. Collins, proposes to her, she rebels and refuses his offer, although her mother is upset and angry.

         A subsequent scene shows Lizzie surprised about Darcy's proposal to marry her in the soaking rain. Both seem infused with spontaneous passion as they break into heated shouting. Later, at home, when Lizzie is in the midst of pondering over Darcy's arrogant conduct, he visits her again. The suitor begins pacing around the room until, suddenly, he bursts out into a declaration of love for Lizzie. She is amazed and stunned, not only by this announcement, but also by Darcy's insulting method of a second proposal. Angrily, she refuses him again.

         Because he deeply cares about Lizzie, Mr. Darcy is upset and writes a letter convincingly defending himself against the accusations that she leveled at him in her refusal of his offer of marriage. When she receives the letter, she finds its contents difficult to believe. However, gradually she comes to understand Darcy's point of view and her hatred of him dissipates.

         Some time later, Lizzie and her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner are invited to visit Darcy's estate. They mistakenly believe that the Darcy family is away from home for the summer. When Lizzie and Mr. Darcy see each other she is astonished at the drastic change in his character and recognizes her love with him. Later she enjoys learning about Darcy's role in uniting her younger sister Lydia with Wickham who had abandoned the girl earlier.

         Lady Catherine, Darcy's aunt, visits to gain a promise from Lizzie never to enter into an engagement with Mr. Darcy. The young woman, of course, refuses to oblige the aunt's imperious demands. Instead, she overcomes her pride and prejudice, acknowledges her love for Darcy, and marries him.

Theoretical Contemplations:

When we watch a film, we know that we are seeing a highly edited version of reality. The film's creators have selectively chosen to highlight some events and leave out others, in order to evoke certain feelings and focus our attention on certain themes. They create an illusion of reality and we make a decision to accept it as real. In a similar way, we look at our own reality through a highly personal lens. We may think and feel as if we are seeing an objective reality but, in fact, we choose to edit out certain information and experiences and focus on others. We see life through the filter of our own personal histories, beliefs, and blindspots.

         I use this movie analogy as a tool to help clients become conscious of, question, and eventually release, negative views about themselves and their lives. I explain to them that their beliefs can help them or mislead them and that they are usually formed in childhood, as an adaptive response to their reality at that time. These beliefs are often not accurate reflections of the current reality. In other words, they are cognitive distortions. These distortions can prevent clients from developing healthy self-esteem and realizing their goals in life. I teach my clients that what they take to be real is, in fact, often a filtered version of reality, and encourage them to think of it as their personal myth of reality or their old inner movie.

Cinema Alchemy:

I had used Cinema Alchemy with Miriam before to work with her General Anxiety Disorder, Dysthymia, and self-esteem issues. But I did not expect that she would be fascinated with a movie like Pride and Prejudice . This client is a modern day, artistically inclined 33-year-old with a history in the punk community.  

         Her intense response to this film confirmed for me that the effect of metaphors in movies can be powerful even if the characters lead completely different lives than our clients. Miriam told me that she had "become obsessed" with this motion picture after watching it. I encouraged her to describe what moved her so deeply. She told me that she loved how "certain characters walk away from certain incidents, say 'I fucked that up', and then things work out at the end." Early in the movie," she continued, "Lizzie gets very angry when she cordially asks Mr. Darcy to dance, and he refuses. She feels even more hurt when he continues to insult her. Pride is a guard for her because people are disappointing Lizzie. But she has to overcome her ego-driven behavior."

         At this point, I asked Miriam in which way this reminded her of herself. She responded, "this movie made me aware that I always take things personally and that I often beat myself up when I get rejected. Then I intensely defend my public image". When I wondered about the possible roots of the underlying negative view of herself, Miriam said: "The message in my childhood was eternal condemnation when I screwed things up. That's why I rarely try new things and why I always put myself down after I speak up." During our subsequent exploration, she recognized how her view of herself was based on a cognitive distortion and on an old inner movie that had its roots early in her life. My client also understood that she responded to the character, Lizzie, so strongly because a mature part of her recognized that there really is no eternal condemnation when she makes a mistake. The faith, strength, and courage that she saw in Lizzie helped her recognize a new, more appropriate inner movie . This new perspective sank in during our subsequent explorations.  

         I encouraged Miriam to watch Pride and Prejudice again with this new understanding in mind. During our following sessions, she continued to refer to the effect that the movie had on her. Within a few weeks, she was able to start letting go of her defensive guard in her interactions with friends and family, which improved the quality of her relationships. Her self-esteem increased and her anxiety and depression symptoms appeared significantly less.

Guidelines for Questions:

•  What character did you admire most?

•  Do you have a negative view of yourself or your life that this character does not have?

•  Could this cognitive distortion be based on an old inner movie that has its roots early in your life?

Possible Interventions:

•  Describe the following metaphor to clients: By watching the movie character with this awareness, his or her admired qualities are "copied" into your own "inner movie screen" with a new, more appropriate inner movie . At the same time the old, undesired inner movie gets "erased".

•  Instruct clients to write their new, healthy view or belief on cards, and to place these notes at prominent places around their house so that they can be seen frequently throughout the day.


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