Over the past 60 years there have been a plethora of films about Father-son relationships pointing up the powerful impact of the Father upon emotional and psychological development. Standouts that come to mind are The Godfather, East of EdenHudThe Great SantiniIn the Name of the FatherCatch Me If You Can, and Big Fish to name a few. These films depict experiences of the Father that range from idealization, abandonment, rejection, humiliation, and intimidation. 

Psychological complexes generally cause significant emotional distress when they remain unconscious. One of the important goals of depth psychotherapy is to help patients recognize and understand their complexes so they are not taken unawares by them. Psychological complexes can be conceptualized as various themes such as Mother, Father, sex, money, food, etc., around which relatively simple emotions revolve, generally considered a positive complex, or highly conflicted emotions are at loggerheads, otherwise thought of as a negative complex. The danger of remaining unconscious about a negative complex is that it causes a high degree of reactivity in relationships or elsewhere in life. In short, the ancient Greek aphorism, “Know Thyself,” is equivalent to know your complexes.

Well depicted in the films HudEast of Eden, and in the Name of the Father, is the painful rejection of sons by highly principled Fathers. These films deliver the complex emotional experience of rejection by a powerful figure that can cause a far-reaching and emotionally injurious psychological impact upon boys. One outcome of this type of complex can look like a high degree of emotional reactivity, which at its worst causes behaviors that resemble oppositional defiant disorders.

Conversely, rejection by a powerful Father figure can spawn low self-esteem, passivity, depression, a torn sense of identity, and tormenting self-doubt. Additionally, rejection is not always overt. The remarkable film, Big Fish, illustrates how feelings of rejection can also occur when a Father who is self-absorbed is experienced as emotionally or physically absent. Boys generally assume they are unlovable or “bad” in some way because their Father did not want to be part of their life.

Like most memorable films, HudEast of Eden, and In the Name of the Father, deliver a sentient and emotional internal experience that is often difficult to achieve in routine talk therapy. There is nothing like the emotional catharsis facilitated by a film to cause the kind of intrapsychic, internal movement where talk therapy fails. Perhaps our ability to fully engage with a film depends upon its ability to hit a troublesome complex, particularly as we watch someone else undergo an experience similar to our own. And, a full understanding of how a negative complex constellates behaviorally must include the emotional experience that caused the complex to begin with.

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