Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Michael Clayton

Kudos to Michael Clayton for showing in an accurate light the symptoms of a person who suffers with bipolar affective disorder. But was the change of heart and integrity of Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) only the result of going off medication? The protagonist, same name as the movie's title, certainly was more anguished in his choice to do the right thing. That Michael Clayton has been nominated for an Oscar for best picture makes this movie, to me, a sleeper (in fact, I dozed off in parts), the fine Tom Wilkinson and marvelous Tilda Swinton performances not with standing. One colleague thought it made the list because it speaks about the corruption, even willingness to kill, of contemporary corporate America, in particular, the Bush administration. I don't know.

Written ("Bourne" trilogy) and directed (first time) by Tony Gilroy, it is in the genre of John Grisholm and intelligently suspenseful. It is a story about one man's (Clayton's, played by George Clooney) redemption. But unlike "Atonement," this main character is so covered in figurative mud it is easy to believe he had to be pushed into doing the right thing. Clayton says of himself, when a client hopes he can get off scott-free after a hit-and-run , "I'm not a miracle worker, I'm a janitor." Clayton cleans up the messes of his law firm's senior partners and of their clients. In this case, Edens, defending an agri-giant with a poisonous product in a $3 billion law suit, has decided to go over to the righteous plantiffs' side and to reveal documents which seal his client's culpability. Unethical for a lawyer, perhaps Edens invokes a higher judge. "I have blood on my hands!" and "I am an accomplice!" Edens tells Clayton. Edens was inspired by one plaintiff, Anna: "She's a miracle, a perfect little creature," whose parents are dead and whose brother is dying (think Erin Brockovitz and Changing Lanes).

But the movie isn't about Edens (or Eden). It's about the lengths people wil go to to protect their own (greedy) interests and about Clayton's change of heart. It was difficult, though I am in that business, to understand how Clayton is finally led to change. Perhaps it was his tenuous, though valued, relationship with his son, just as Edens may have seen his daughter in Anna, that helped both men strive to make the world a safer place, or, at least, to hold accountable those who poison the world. Perhaps it was the loss of a valued friend and mentor that was the last straw for Clayton. The other characters showed no shortage of a deficiency in putting themselves in another's shoes. But that is a hard thing for all of us.

Protecting one's interests reminds me of Jessica Benjamin's work (see "It Takes Two..." posted on this Blog on February 6, 2008.) How very difficult it is to put oneself in the other person's shoes, that is to say how easy it is to dehumanize, if only momentarily, another person to that of an object for one's own devices. (Anton Chigurh "No Country for Old Men" was on such an inhuman mission, and was unrelenting. Daniel Plainview "There Will Be Blood" sometimes connected with his adopted son and had to struggle to stay disconnected from his past and from his longing for family).

Change of heart? Isn't that a welcome by-product of psychoanalytic psychotherapy? New York Times writer Manohla Dargis said of Clayton's legal morass "an abyss, largely of our own making." Don't our patients, with us, sometimes discover that they have more freedom than here-to-fore realized to make changes which invite more joy and peace into their lives?

Let us know what you thought of Michael Clayton.

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