Sunday, March 28, 2010

Giving up vs. Going on: The Role of Remembering the Past

A Secret is the story of a Jewish family in post-World War II Paris. François, “a solitary, imaginative child, invents for himself a brother as well as the story of his parents’ past. But on his fifteenth birthday, he discovers a dark family secret that ties his family’s history to the Holocaust and shatters his illusions forever.” The film is adapted from psychoanalyst’s Philippe Grimbert’s celebrated truth-inspired novel, Memory. The film won the Grand Prix of the Americas Prize at the Montréal World Film Festival in 2007.

USF World Languages Professor, Madeline Camara cautioned against comparing the film against the novel, because they two are distinct languages. She warned that a director cannot convey the same feelings as does the writer. She lectured on three facets of the film: structure, characters, and history. The fragmentation of the movie is appropriate to convey the experience of introspection. Francois’s telling of the story is made possible because of his ‘borrowed memory.’ He has lots of mediators between the past and what he comes to understand about it. What it lent from the stories of others eventually constitutes his memory.

In terms of characters, the family friend, Louise tells Francois the story of his parent’s relationship and his lost brother. It is only she who can tell the story and keep living. Early on when Louise learns that Maxime and Tania are in love, she does not judge them, just as she does not judge Hannah’s decision to return to occupied France with Simon and face the cruelty of the Nazis. It is intimated in the film that Louise is a lesbian and perhaps this is the reason for her lack of an evaluative position.

Dr. Camara brought up the Greek tragedy of Medea who killed her children to punish her husband when he betrayed her. But much more is going on with Hannah then is the fate of the archetypal monstrous mother of myth. When Hannah seemingly decides to sacrifice her son to the police, she is in grave distress. Hannah has lost her parents, her brother and her tie to Judaism. She even believed that she has lost her husband, Maxime to Tania given the infatuation he conveyed toward her through his gazes. Without him, whom Hannah described as her world, she had nothing.

Tampa psychoanalyst, Michael Poff, an audience member for this screening, suggested that children create imaginary friends to deal with the isolation and loneliness they feel and to channel unacceptable affect including rage. Poff give extended remarks on how the film made him feel as a way to understand the plight of the characters. His descriptions included: deep melancholy; grieving that is never able to take place; bitterness about betrayals; and moments of anger interspaced with moments of understanding.

The dead child is idealized by Francois’ father, but Francois, is not related to in a humane and affirming manner by Maxime. Francois is treated as a replacement child and hence carries that psychological dynamic. The replacement child is always going to be seen as a weakling by the parents and is compared and found wanting to the lost child. As a man Francois goes on a journey to find out what really happened to his father’s first wife and son, hoping that the information he recovers will free his father from his guilt and tear down the wall that stand between them.

Dr. Camara noted that Maxime was never able to heal from his past because he was so focused on controlling everything and everyone around him.

My own thought is that Maxmine seemed to be uncomfortable with difference. Maxime idealized Tania for her athleticism and he worshipped his first son Simon for his athletic ability as well. Maxime was quit muscular and seemed to be able to love, only those that were like him. Francois, on the other hand was awkward child and would not respond as Simon had to his father’s coaching. This difference caused Maxime to distance from Francois. In the novel, the stark truth is that Maxime kills Tania when she suffers a stroke because he could not stand the thought of losing his ‘champion.’ Perhaps his inability to tolerate and relate to difference made it easy for him to bury his Jewishness, to simply become like everyone around him and certainly aspire to the Nazi ideal of athleticism noted in the wish for Aryan supremacy. This controlling behavior is evident earlier in the film as he tried to cut Hannah’s strong tie to her Jewish heritage.

Dr. Lycia Alexander Guerra, noted the impossibility of keeping secrets. Secrets cannot be held down or kept from being revealed. In psychoanalytic treatment, the goal is to let history come alive and to help the individual develop the capacity to hold memory and present day life in tension. The movie attempts to convey the importance of revealing the secret to establishing relational bonds through the use of color. The director portrays the past in color, while the present is in black and white. Color is again introduced into the film in the epilogue after Francois has experienced the death of his parents and the birth of his daughter with her ability to say the names of those from the past, something denied him as a child. It is at this point that he has integrated the sorrow of the past with his present ability to recognize what was loss and give it a name.


Madeline Camara -- Born in Havana, 1957. BA in Hispanic Lang and Lit in University of Havana, MA in Women Studies in Colegio de Mexico, Ph.d in Hispanic Lang and Lit in SUNY at Stony Brook. Has taught at University of La Havana, UNAM, and San Diego State University, California. Was the founder and editor of literary journal Letras Cubanas, in La Habana (1986-1992). Presently she writes a literary column for El Nuevo Herald. She has received a Rockefeller Resident Fellowship in the Humanities in Florida International University, in 1997, as well as a Fullbright Award Border Program in 2001.She is the author, among others, of Vocacion de Casandra (NY, Peter Lang: 2000) and co-editor of Cuba: the Ellusive Nation (Gainsville, Florida UP, 2000). Next books are La letra rebelde: estudios de escritoras cubanas (Miami:Universal, 2002) and La memoria hechizada (Barcelona:Icaria, 2002) Her present research deals with the image of the mulata as an icon for Cuban identity.

Lycia Alexander-Guerra, M.D.
received her medical training at Boston University, her psychiatric training at UF and USF, and in 1986 was chief resident in psychiatry at USF. She received her psychoanalytic training at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, and, subsequently, has studied Relational and Self Psychology, as well as Intersubjectivity at the Tampa Bay Institute for Psychoanalytic Studies, Inc (T-BIPS). She is the current president of T-BIPS, and of the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society, as well as founding Co-chair of the Veterans Family Initiative, which provides pro bono mental health services to families of veterans of the Iraqi and Afghani conflicts. She blogs for Presently, Dr. Alexander-Guerra is in private practice in psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, and psychiatry in Tampa, FL.


I wish to point out that I posted only the comments written by Bob Stolorow which recently appeared on the blog. Bob sent his comments about what he feels are unfair attacks upon him and his writings to me, and said it was fine to post them on our blog. However, all the other pieces about the recent visits of Stolorow and Ringstrom were written not by me, but by Lycia Alexander-Guerra, and represent her "take" on these speakers and their presentations and ideas. Regarding the original "offending document," as Lycia refers to it in her post, Stolorow in his post offers to send the full 38-page document to anyone who requests it.

Edward H. Stein

Assurance to those who bring difference (of opinion)

I would like to assure Robert Stolorow that there was no "cruelty and viciousness" and no attacks on Stolorow's personhood in the presentation in Tampa on March 21, 2010 by Philip Ringstrom. Instead, Ringstrom questioned ideas and pointed out, as he saw them, contradictions, or perhaps simply described an evolution of ideas. He also contrasted how other theorists might use terms and apply theories clinically. The recent post, without the original offending document, makes its contents hearsay.

While we are all grateful to the contributions of Stolorow in his describing the phenomenology of trauma, and we heartedly regret any suffering he endures, we also struggle to hold in tension ideas that contradict his in our attempts to practice perspectival realism, to give all self states a voice, and to consider the subjectivity and 'truth' of a myriad of ideas.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Post by Bob Stolorow

Bob Stolorow has recently posted this on the Institute for Contemporary Psychoanalylsis (ICP) listserv in Southern California, in response to what he feels are unfair and ad hominem attacks on him and his work by Phil Ringstrom. (Bob Stolorow spoke at the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society on January 9, 2010, and Phil Ringstrom spoke here on March 21, 2010.)

Until now I have not wanted to dignify Ringstrom's activities in relation to me with a response, but the time has come for me to address squarely the question of "theoretical disagreement" versus "personal attack" and hopefully put it to rest. This will be my only listserv post on this matter.

Last Spring Ringstrom distributed a 38-page version of his "review" of my trauma book to members of the ICP community, including his students, some of whom were my analysands and supervisees. On the title page of the review appeared the words, "Submitted for publication in the International Journal of Psychoanalytic Self Psychology." These words indicate beyond any doubt that this version was not merely a working draft and was intended for a wide audience.

This 38-page version contains, interspersed among Ringstrom's theoretical criticisms (many of which were ill-founded), many obviously disparaging attacks on my account of my personal experience of a traumatic loss and its aftermath. (I will email this version to anyone who wishes to see it and judge for himself or herself.) Ringstrom submitted this same version to the program committee for last October's international self psychology conference. Some time after the title of this version appeared on the conference program, a letter of concern signed by 38 people was sent to the program committee co-chairs. The letter objected, among other things, to the tone of the "review," characterizing it as "unprofessional,"
"disrespectful," "contemptuous," "trivializing," and "personally disparaging." In response to this letter, the program committee took a closer look at Ringstrom's "review" and required him to delete the disparaging, attacking aspects before presenting it. The program committee co-chairs sent me an apology, my (abridged) reply to which appears below. It speaks for itself.

"June 22, 2009


"Yes, this second letter from you does help. Thank you for acknowledging that you made a mistake, apologizing for it, and expressing remorse about the pain that has resulted.... Thank you also for requiring Ringstrom to clean up his act before presenting it and for your commitment to making sure that he does so....

"As you probably know, I ordinarily enjoy spirited intellectual debates with critics of my ideas, and I am a veteran of many psychoanalytic wars over the decades. But, in its cruelty and viciousness, what Ringstrom has done far exceeds anything I have experienced or witnessed in such wars. He has attacked and disparaged me in the sacred place of my greatest suffering, to which I gave him access when we became "friends" in the immediate aftermath of Dede's death; he distributed his unrevised attack to members of my psychoanalytic community, including his students at the institute I helped found; and he managed to get a presentation, with the very same title as the version he distributed, to appear on the program of an international conference. No amount of clean-up can alter the emotional harm Ringstrom has already done to me and those in the psychoanalytic community who care about me and who have been helped by my ideas on trauma....

Sincerely, Bob [Stolorow]"

Intersubjectivity and Mutual Recognition; Ringstrom compares.

Comparative Intersubjectivity

In comparing theories of intersubjectivity on Sunday, March 21, 2010, at the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society, Inc. (TBPS), Ringstrom continued his critique of Worlds of Experience (2002). Noting common ground between these authors and relational theorists, Ringstrom says both groups share the common epistemology of perspectival realism and of agency. He contrasts how the former is used: While Stolorow, Atwood, and Orange remind us that the therapist’s perspective is just one of many, but not truth, it remains in the background. Relational writers, on the other hand, bring it to the foreground as they take up mutual recognition and negation.

In Chapter 5, Stolorow, Atwood, and Orange criticize Cartesian trends in psychoanalysis which hold forth the isolated mind. They recommend a highly context sensitive and context dependent approach that renders dichotomies irrelevant and seamless, and claim that relational language is Cartesian, and shames, blames, and re-traumatizes the patient. They further state that relational therapists make experience explanatory (causal) ignoring the system of the intersubjective field. While agreeing that all is contextual and mutual, relationalists counter asking how, then, does either figure out who contributes what to a particular sequence, claiming that sometimes a disproportionate contribution comes from one or the other.

Stolorow, Atwood, and Orange note that intersubjectivity is general and inclusive of every experience, allowing us to experience at all. Benjamin sees intersubjectivity as a developmental achievement which allows for mutual recognition, replacing seeing the other as controlling (paranoia) or controlled (narcissism), and is always in tension with negation. The two different definitions are like apples and oranges, says Ringstrom, though mutual recognition, while precarious, is an experience, and thereby a subset of all experience. But Stolorow, Atwood, and Orange claim that mutual recognition falls prey to the ‘god’s eye view’ (who gets to define it, and does the patient have to adopt therapist’s view to get well?) and interferes with the seamlessness, risking separation and alienation. [One attendee noted the irony of this anti-intersubjective view.] They claim that mutual recognition impedes inchoate growth and may produce shame in otherness.

Relationalists take the antipodal view, seeing benefit to owning the subjectivity of the analyst. They note that mutual recognition can only be understood in the dialectical tension with its opposite: negation. The two are balanced precariously like a see-saw, and both are essential to every relationship, including the therapeutic dyad. Evident in assertion of the self, self assertion ruptures seeing the subjectivity of the other and forces repair to mutual recognition.
Relationalists claim that intersubjectivists ignore negation. Stolorow, Atwood, and Orange retort that relationalists impose their demands on their patients. Relationalists say that all relationships, even those with the intersubjectivist therapist, always include hidden demands of one on the other, and it is making these differences explicit and understood, that both work their way out of enactments and impasses. In fact, enactments, they say, fill the space of that not given discourse.

Stolorow, Atwood, and Orange see the Cartesian and non Cartesian as so incommensurable that one is forced to choose between Freud/DesCartes and the post Cartesian theories. Relationalists are more inclined to hold these in tension, noting that to choose one leads to loss of the other's potential, at any particular moment, usefulness.

Is Stolorow's Intersubjectivity Intersubjective? Philip Ringstrom in Tampa Bay

Philip Ringstrom delighted the intimate group -- particularly students in attendance from the Tampa Bay Institute of Psychoanalytic Studies, Inc (T-BIPS) who are learning to think critically-- with his critique of Stolorow, Atwood, and Orange’s Worlds of Experience (2002) on Sunday, March 21, 2010 at the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society, Inc. (TBPS). An interesting juxtaposition for Tampa Bay, as Stolorow had recently (Jan 2010) discussed his work in Tampa, this book was currently being read at T-BIPS. Ringstrom also contrasted these authors, who write as if with one voice, to Relational authors who, celebrating difference, write in separate voices.

Stolorow, et al had a theory of intersubjectivity which posited that it was not trauma per se which proved traumatic but instead the absence of attuned responsiveness, along with feeling shamed for one’s reactions to trauma, which proved traumatic. Ringstrom claims that Stolorow, as a result of experiencing his own personal trauma and finding no comfort in the attuned responses from others, had a crisis of theory: Stolorow distinguished attunement not supplied with attunement not felt. Ringstrom thinks Stolorow has a hidden moral agenda, when, after turning to philosophy, particularly Heidegger, Trauma and Human Existence(2007) splits the world into those who have been traumatized, their absolutisms shattered (brothers and sisters in darkness) and therefore, consequently, the only ones awakened to authenticity, and those who have not been traumatized and therefore continue to live in delusion. Stolorow finds the two incommensurable.

Ringstrom finds this incommensurability at odds with intersubjectivity, for intersubjectivity, per Stolorow et al, says all is contextualized. Likewise, if Stolorow et al had previously seen as normal delusions which are protective after the shattering of absolutisms, how now, when these delusions are shattered, do traumatized people become the only ones who are normal/authentic? And if only those who are traumatized can supply, in a kind of twinship, attunement to other victims of trauma, Relational theorists might ask how then does Stolorow’s intersubjectivity confront difference? While Stolorow sees twinship as a consequence of trauma, Ringstrom asks what becomes of Kohut’s idea that there exists an innate longing for twinship? (He refers us to Ilene Philipson’s Pathologizing Twinship.) Ringstrom adds that twinship is also a cult dynamic, splitting ‘us’ and ‘them,’ and sees the us/them mentality as a failure (see Benjamin’s work) of intersubjectivity.

Instead, Ringstrom considers a part of what is traumatic to include the unimaginable. In Heidegger’s being toward death, there is an awareness of death, and the question is whether, at the end of one’s life, one has lived an authentic life or not. Ringstrom referred to the paradox eloquently described by Irwin Hoffmann: that death is both a necessary boundary to ascribe meaning to life and renders life meaningless. Ringstrom cautions against confusing this death anxiety with death trauma. The audience, too, noted the difficulty of taking personal experience and generalizing it to a theory.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Poetry: A Day is Made of Hours…

A day is made of hours
and of multiple lights.
Of joys. Of storms.
Of small passions.
And the ambit of its white essence
keeps on unfolding until
that hushed field of shadows where
peacefulness resides.

And so it is our cup overflows its minutes
with a precision of page sketched
by invisible illustrators;
with an exquisite, surprising quality,
like that of the crystal of quartz,
or the wellspring’s open eye.

And on this path of points,
on this geometry
of the chronometer,
we go, hallucinated,
fervid, somnambulant,
passing, from crime into miracle
and from voice into silence,
through rare seasons
that not many recognize, not many,
and not many comprehend.

Daybreak, for example.

It is not only a bird singing,
piercing, shelling the essence
of the air.
It is not just a delightful
coolness, or the green pasture,
or the runaway dew.
But also our souls that arise,
if there is a soul
and if there is a dawn,
with a nugget of joy and
a chunk of danger underarm.

It is not only the tree,
bored of standing against
the unchanging horizon.
Or just the soft murmurs
of water, of wind,
of corollas opening.
But also our souls that arise,
if there is a soul
and if there is a dawn,
with the large window
of amazement open
and a curiosity
of pre-pubertal dream.

Something begins,
someone screams,
something or someone
savors arising life again.

And this is daybreak, today.
One season. One of many.

The clocks come rolling later
and you with them and with me,
almost certain that everything
is real, even ourselves.

The light opens our eye’s chalice.
Our eye suffers. It surrenders
its wounds to the seven capital
colors and to the sharp edge of the line.

And in that elementary pain,
in that rutilant violation,
a universe emerges
beyond our world
and a living soul deeper
within our living souls.

Be this initial word, then,
this utterance of love,
a praise to the light early-riser,
from which our universe is born,
brilliant, new,
full-filled with gems
and with mysteries.

Ernesto Vasquez, MD
March 2010

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Teicholz is Terrific!

Convergences In Psychoanalytic Theories
Noting the far reaching impact of constant and immediate mutual influence (as documented in infant research) on the therapeutic endeavor, Judith Teicholz, Ed.D., urged clinicians in a most collegial, small discussion group (hosted by the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society, Inc. on March 6, 2010) to consider the humbling discovery that we impact patients more than we imagined and at a pace greater than imagined. This occurs outside of conscious awareness, and it is from this constant mutual influence that the structure of the self emerges. Beebe’s infant research films show that it is steady, attuned responsiveness that is ideal, and also what is continually disrupted and repaired. Being in a relationship with someone-- who is genuinely trying, over and over and over, to understand you, while simultaneously creating a new and evolving narrative -- is at the heart of therapy. In comparing theoretical positions, Teicholz recommended that our theoretical intentions be held in tension with openness to the patient’s experience.

“An Improvisational Attitude”
In her morning presentation Teicholz discussed the dialectic between safety/ trust, play, and self. Winnicott wrote that only in play can an individual be creative, and, furthermore, only creativity allows the emergence (‘discovery’ was his word) of the Self. Teicholz sees spontaneous play between patient and analyst as a royal road to self and other. Collaboration is a unique expression of an intersubjective field, belonging neither to one or the other alone, but a third created, and it requires both participants to be open to the self and to the other. Teicholz, too, sees (dyadic) play as a creative process, and necessary for a cohesive sense of self. Improvisation, a form of play, as with actors, requires taking what the other puts forth and using it, and that an improvisational attitude engenders play. The cue from an other, within relentless, bi-directional , mutual regulation, can go to places undreamed of by its initiator. Empathy too requires imagination, and Teicholz says empathy signals a willingness to play. Mutual empathy builds a relational bond, and both feel safer. Likewise, safety co-created facilitates the space for play.

Play and improvisation, then, are growth promoting. Improvisation, with its spontaneity and make believe [unquestioned as per Winnicott], in therapy is the impromptu (unplanned and unintended) provision of whatever is needed at a given moment. This is not a gratification of instinctual drive, but a necessary provision to enhance the cohesion of self and other, and to facilitate the psychoanalytic process. Improvisation is a subjective form of engagement which can open a third position in a dyadic stalemate (Ringstrom). The back and forth play in service of the patient, while strengthening the dyadic bond, expands the sense of self and one’s consciousness, creating new meanings and and facilitating growth, joy, interest, and curiosity.

Tronick writes that the human mind strives toward coherence and complexity. Two or more together create complexity, and coherence emerges when complex meanings come into place (as within the therapeutic dyad). Tronick says that to create new meaning, one must give up (or reconfigure) the old [or, maybe, hold old and new in tension?] and accept the chaos of the dyadic expansion, including via play, of the self. Teicholz adds that improvisation moves us toward the goal of creating new meanings and greater complexity, thereby enhancing cohesion of the self.

Sometimes improvisation includes mimicry in an exaggerated form, as when the mother echoes the baby’s movements, voice, or state, but in a slightly altered form, creating both the experience of being understood as well as of otherness (Fonagy et al). Because humans have the capacity to continually adapt to significant others, improvisation can dislodge (violate expectations: Lachmann) entrenched experience. But play alone is not mutative; it must be relevant, affectively salient, and occur within a ‘good enough’ dyadic experience, where one, and the other, is known in a new light. Play can reorganize experience [relational paradigms, emotional convictions, organizing principles] and enlarge the repertoire. Tropp et al write that the goal of therapy is to produce change powerful enough in one context to produce alterations in other contexts. While insight might lead to behavioral change, Lyons-Ruth and Tropp note the reverse is also true, that altering behavior [through, e.g., implicit relational knowing and through improvisation] can lead to insight.

“Dancing on the Edge”—the Forward and Trailing Edge
As if her earlier presentation were not replete enough with beautiful clinical examples, Teicholz spent the afternoon in a small group setting discussing in detail a clinical example to illustrate how important it is for the therapist to hear the patient’s point of view and to somehow make sense of it in order to understand what the patient is trying to do. The forward edge (Kohut, Tolpin) or leading edge is a striving toward cohesion and health or psychic growth, and in the transference the patient looks to the analyst for what is missing. Tolpin called the forward edge ‘the repetition compulsion of health.’ The trailing edge, on the other hand, speaks to the regressive pull of instinctual life, of what is repetitive and defensive.

While Freud may have emphasized what was pathological (trailing) about defenses, Kohut reminded us what is purposeful (forward) and protective about them. While all behaviors, including within transference-countertransference dyads, have an element of the forward and trailing, it is sometimes difficult to recognize the forward edge. Deeply hidden are the tentative outgrowths of hope for relational experience. For example, while verbal attacks on the analyst may also include a defense against intimacy, they paradoxically invite engagement. When the analyst survives (Winnicott) attacks, that is, neither retaliates nor withdraws, but keeps alive interest in the patient’s experience (a kind of ‘primary maternal preoccupation’), the forward edge of the hope for shared connection and attachment is illuminated. In the search within the dyad for the forward edge, it is incumbent upon the analyst to place the patient’s painful experience in the context of the analyst’s failure (wearing the attributions-Lichtenberg). When the analyst evokes both the here and now, and the past, increased recognition by the patient of the delineation of inner and outer, new and old, may result.

A remarkable day
was spent with Judith Teicholz, Ed.D. Not since Carla Leone visited Tampa in March 2009 has a speaker’s explicit talk been so in consonant with her/his demeanor. What was communicated implicitly by Teicholz did not contradict her papers. She demonstrated in attitude and behavior exactly what was meant by her words. How very important this is when we consider implicit relational knowing and how so much is communicated without words. [In fact, what I often think “creepy” about a person is when the implicit and explicit do not ‘match up’ (Upshaw).] Just as ongoing mutual influence transcends any particular theory, so Teicholz is transcendent in her integration. No wonder, with her ability to synthesize and utilize, as called for by the moment, varying theoretical positions, Teicholz’ has been the perfect choice to pull things together at the end of large conferences.

Lycia Alexander-Guerra, MD

Friday, March 5, 2010

Academy Awards 2010

Daunted by the Academy’s nomination this year of ten films for the honor of Best Picture, some that I might still choose to never see, I will not be blogging about the nominees this season [despite my great love for the Coen Brothers and for Tarantino] in this category, save one, Up in the Air. I will also say something about A Single Man, of which I think the Academy mistakenly failed to include as a nominee for Best Picture, along with their oversight of Julianne Moore for Best Supporting Actress.

When one in the psychoanalytic field thinks of trauma and loss, one thinks of the idea of a relational home which serves to mitigate both. Shelley Doctors notes that Relational therapists are attuned to how two together interact, what is uniquely co-created from this interaction, and, yes, what meaning is made of it. Being in relationship with another can facilitate the capacity of being with; being with our painful feelings, and, as Doctors, adds, the perception of the other as receptive creates an atmosphere “in which experience may be known and shared;” what Hazel Ipp says permits “ a sense of release, revitalization, and enhanced connection.” Robert Stolorow also intimates the importance of a relational home when he writes that “Painful emotional experiences become enduringly traumatic in the absence of an intersubjective context within which they can be held and integrated.”

Up in the Air (directed by the very adroit Jason Reitman of Juno and inspired by the novel by Walter Kirn) is about a hired gun (George Clooney), who performs the dirty work [no, this is not Michael Clayton again] as the firing agent for companies which, though downsizing, want to avoid breaking the heart-breaking news to their soon to be former employees. Ryan Bingham (Clooney) is connected to no one, has no significant other, and has little contact with his family of origin. Nonetheless, he almost blithely dispenses advice and encouragement, and solves problems on a need to need basis. Many of those devastated by job loss in this film are portrayed by people who are not actors but who have lost, in their real lives, their jobs. It is somewhat precious that they now get to respond to their, albeit fictional, hang men. What is most striking about these real people are their explanations, at the end of the film, about what kept them going despite the loss of a huge part of their days and identities: unequivocally it is their loved ones, their relational homes. This is in vivid contrast to Bingham, and to George Falconer ( A Single Man).

In A Single Man (adapted from Christopher Isherwood’s novel and boasts fashion designer Tom Ford as first time director), Falconer (Colin Firth) has lost a sixteen year emotional home when his lover was killed in a car crash. The victim’s family, eschewing its son’s homosexuality, did not even allow Falconer to attend the funeral of his beloved. And, because this is 1962,because Falconer is a teacher (professor at a California college), or perhaps just English, he must keep his homosexuality a secret, both falconer and captive falcon. This culturally and self imposed isolation leaves him consequently having no one, save Julianne Moore, with whom to share his loss. There is no relational home which might serve to mitigate overwhelming grief.

While Up in the Air aptly captures the cold starkness of hotel rooms (even those upgraded for the million, or ten, mile club) befitting of a man unconnected, A Single Man has the beautiful cinematography of a period piece (1962! with JFK and finned cars), sometimes shot in black and white, sometimes in dreamscape. Is it strange that I found both movies so uplifting? Bingham, for his temerity and generosity despite having no current connections? and Falconer for his ability to see beauty moment by moment despite, perhaps because of, a great loss?

Lycia Alexander-Guerra, MD