Having studied and enjoyed the works of Freud, Lacan, Kristeva, and other great psychoanalytical thinkers in school, the term “psychoanalysis” carries a significant weight for me. That being said, I had quite a few expectations when picking up this film. Expectations that were not met. Now to be fair, etymologically, “psychoanalysis” means ‘mental (psyche) loosening/break apart (analysis),’ and that is most certainly delivered. However, I believe that the only relationship that this film has to the writings and theories of psychoanalysis is that literal definition of the title. Otherwise, it is a tremendous mystery to me as to how this film received its name.
Dr. Paul Symmonds is a young, successful psychologist who is making great strides in his field: he is scheduling big conferences, his book is about to be published, and he is about to finally settle down with his partner. Then, in one week, five of his patients commit suicide without warning. Soon, Dr. Symmonds begins to speculate that a rival psychologist, Dr. Andew Fendell, has murdered his patients in an effort to sabotage his career. Soon thereafter, an independent documentary crew catches wind of the story, and they decide to observe Dr. Symmonds as he searches for his answers.
Outside of barely pertaining to the concept of psychoanalysis, the most troubling aspect of experiencing this DVD is that it is pitched as a psychological thriller on the cover, yet what you watch is a faux documentary about the events transpiring. Where I was expecting to find an interesting thriller that follows general (or the more popular/accessible) topics of psychoanalysis, I received a boring documentary-style investigation into a shallow pool of ethics. Basically, the film’s writing feels superficial and borderline implausible.
As the documentary team investigates the case with Dr. Symmonds, we discover that his “new way of practicing psychology” is incredibly unethical. Rather than the reflective, contemplative exchanges that a patient has with a psychologist, Symmonds begins to divulge his own issues to his patients, treating them more like friends, as he believes he must gain their trust for effective treatment. What bothers me the most about this plot is that I believe that this is unbelievable. Based on personal experience, the ethics behind psychological practice are what draws people towards the field in the first place. People need to talk, and doctors are there to listen and challenge your thoughts in an effort for you to see it in a new way. Not to mention that Freud, one of the forerunners of psychoanalytic theory, brought us “the talking cure” model of psychology that is still used today.
Outside of the implausible writing, the film is coherent. I am not a fan of the faux documentary style, but in terms of piecing together a good “documentary,” that succeeded for sure. In fact, there is one poignant moment toward the end of the film that brings up a very complex philosophical issue regarding film: these filmmakers needed a story, and by encouraging Dr. Symmonds to follow through with events that lead to dark places, they are now implicated in altering Symmonds’ actions. While I love that point so much, it really came way too late in the movie, and I wanted them to explore that much more.
Bottom line, I could have enjoyed the film much more if it were actually marketed as a “documentary.” Instead, I felt deceived by the film, which made for a much longer and less desirable viewing. It was a coherent film, but the subject matter feels a little too naïve for its own good.