Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Parallel Process

(Warning:  spoilers!)  In theThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, there is one photo of the presumed murdered young Harriet that I swear is actually Rooney Mara (who plays Lisbeth Salander)--the faces are exact, the eyebrows dyed platinum like Lisbeth's.  Lisbeth helps Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) find a killer of women, but of course she's also avenging the abusers in her own life--her father and her new legal guardian, who has raped her.  As it turns out,  Harriet was also sexually abused, first by her father Gottfried, and later by her brother Martin.  In a flashback she takes an oar to her father's head, which results in his drowning.  Lisbeth similarly smashes Martin's skull with a golf club (and note that Lisbeth also attempted to kill her own father for abusing her mother).  Martin flees, but he dies in a crash that's a bookend to the accident on the bridge that provided the distraction to allow young Harriet to escape with the help of her cousin Anita. 

The film is built on these parallels (the book may be as well, but I haven't read it).  When Mikael's new employer Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) has a heart attack, Mikael is potentially as penniless as Lisbeth was rendered at the opening after her longtime guardian suffered a stroke (and as penniless as Mikael's nemesis Wennerstrom will be after Lisbeth empties his secret bank accounts).  Mikael and Lisbeth come to share the same bed, but they are destined never to come together (literally or figuratively--recall the humorous scene in which Lisbeth brings herself to orgasm on top of a distracted Mikael), except in the moments of realization they have separately but simultaneously about the killer's identity from the Uppsala badge.

Trains and subways and bridges are visual metaphors that reinforce these parallels and the links between past and present but also suggest isolation and separation.  Mikael's daughter, from whom he's disconnected by divorce and her religious conversion, drops in via train on her way to Bible camp; her religiosity echoes Harriet's notebook (and provides a potential clue); her age is close Harriet's when she disappeared.  Lisbeth is mugged on her way to the subway, but the train provides sanctuary from the authorities after she attacks the mugger and retrieves the backpack which contains, for all intents and purposes, her life.  At the very end, Lisbeth rides over to present Mikael with the gift of a leather jacket, her happiness and fantasy of them fueled by a photo from Mikael's past, only to find him arm in arm on the bridge above her with his longterm lover Erika Berger (played by Robin Wright).  Lisbeth throws the gift in a dumpster and rides back down under the bridge into the depths.

One can view the title sequence as a kind of bridge as well--it takes us out of the world of the film after the opening scenes, but visually and aurally preps us for the darkness and revelations to come.  (Another outstanding score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, but it was Fincher  who pushed Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" for the credits.)

Fincher has said that the sequence represents Lisbeth's "subconscious,"  and also that "...title sequences are opportunities to set the stage or to get people thinking in different terms than whatever it is that they understand the movie to be."

And of course this film parallels, in so many ways, Fincher's  great film of 2010, The Social Network.  Both have protagonists who could be diagnosed as having Aspergers, with the attendant lack of social skills, difficulty with human attachment (what in psychoanalytic terms we'd call dismissive attachment styles--very left brain hemisphere dominant, generally emotionally unavailable, disconnected core selves), and obsessional interests involving computers.  How cool is it, then, and perhaps deliberately so, that Mara was cast as Lisbeth, since she and Jesse Eisenberg (who played Mark Zuckerberg) were romantic interests in the opening of The Social Network!  

In art, in life, parallel process is occurring all the time.  It becomes particularly poignant in psychotherapy.  In treatment, parallel process may be as simple as a client struggling with something that the therapist herself has struggled with or is still struggling with--grief over a loss, for example.  The therapist is faced with helping the client to wrestle with something that the therapist herself may not have been able to resolve in her own life.  

I recall a treatment with a client in which my role was, in large part, to assist her in discovering and overcoming the impediments to accomplishing something for which she was clearly well equipped, yet had not been able to do so for myself with regard to a similar endeavor.  I was acutely aware of the irony of the situation, and of the need to contain--and use--my own experience while also being a container for the client.  Therapy is always a kind of group--or intersubjective--process.  It's a road that the client and the therapist stumble down together:  they co-influence each other, and they're both altered by the journey.

To give another example, parallel process might occur in a supervisory relationship when the difficulties that a therapist is having with a client become unconsciously replicated between the therapist and the supervisor.  Parallel process is a basic aspect of the transferential nature of the work, and it can be a powerful tool--as long as one is aware of the process and uses it to the benefit of the relationship.

What better medium to teach us about this than film or literature?  David Fincher has made two extraordinary films about characters with avoidant/dismissive attachment styles and challenging personalities.  And he's managed to make all that computer research and hacking cinematic.  I wouldn't be surprised if Fincher were to turn these two films into a trilogy by next tackling a Steve Jobs biopic.  

Jobs was a genius, but also a nightmare on a personal level--with (these are my diagnostic impressions) an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, narcissistic and borderline personality traits, and also a dismissive attachment style--or so it would appear from Walter Isaacson's biography of Jobs.  Heck, Fincher is probably already mentally casting the actor of the hour, Michael Fassbender, as Jobs....

It's fun to think of who else might be cast in the spirit of artistic repetition compulsion.  Robin Wright could easily take on the role of Jobs's wife Laureen Powell (on the left in the photo).  Rooney Mara would probably do a cameo as Jobs's first child Lisa (right), whom he abandoned (and later named a computer after her).  And how about Joely Richardson (who played the adult Harriet) for Mona Simpson, Jobs's novelist sister (middle photo)?

As for the young Jobs, Jesse Eisenberg in long dark-dyed hair could make it work.  

And so you see, the therapy couch is also a parallel for the casting couch....

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