Wednesday, March 9, 2016

In YALOM'S CURE, Sabine Gisiger (barely) explores one of the world's most famous living psychotherapists and authors

More, I suspect, for the already converted than for someone like me (and maybe you), who, prior to viewing the new documentary, YALOM'S CURE, knew little or nothing about its subject: an evidently famous and much-loved author, psychotherapist and scholar named Irvin D. Yalom. The fact that Dr. Yalom, is considered to be one of the most influential living psychotherapists was enough for me to climb on board. I am not sorry that I did because now I know more than I knew going into this 74-minute movie.

The subject of the doc does indeed seem like a pretty nice guy: pleasant, intelligent and with a sense of humor, a loving wife and a bunch of good-looking kids and grandkids. Otherwise, though, we really learn damned little about his practice and theories, which I rather thought would be the goal here. Far be it from me to tell the filmmaker Sabine Gisiger, shown above, how to make her movie, but I can't help thinking she made it for folk like herself who already know and love the work and ideas of Dr. Yalom (shown on poster, top, and in all the shots below).

Why else would she consistently skim the surface of everything -- life, work, family, ideas and practice -- reducing much of this to those typical "sound bites" we're now so used to hearing via television news. The film's subtitle -- A Guide to Life, Love and Happiness-- sounds like the latest in self-help books, but fortunately the movie proves a bit more than that. Yalom wants us to think more about ourselves and our existence. Bit since most of us are already too narcissistic, how about going a little deeper and more specifically into that, please?

Yalom's "cure" would seem to consist of exploring one's regrets in life as a way of coming to terms with one's death (this is told us at the beginning and repeated at the end, so I guess it's important). We are also shown that the good doctor laid the groundwork for the "group therapy" idea that became famous in the late 1960s and 70s and we even see old films clips of one of these groups in action. (I can vouch for the effectiveness of this kind of therapy, having been a member of one of those groups at Roosevelt Hospital, New York City, back in the late 60s.)

Yalom evidently loves to go deep-sea diving so we spend some time underwater with him and his family. In terms of his personal life, he appears to have had one strong and loving and relatively honest marriage over his entire life, though all of his four children have been divorced (a fact that has led to a certain amount of guilt for some of them). That's his wife, above, center, and one of his sons, at left. We also learn of his parents' history and something of the personalities of his mom and dad.

We get snippets of ideas from, I suspect, some of his famous books, too -- the idea of "falling in love" as against the more productive idea of "standing in love." OK: that's cute. But how about going a tad deeper? Perhaps these 74 minutes are meant to encourage us to purchase one of Yalom's books in order to learn more.

I certainly agree with his "take" on Freudian therapy as being unproductive for him personally and possibly for many other patients. (The idea of simply sitting and listening and not interacting with a patient seemed anathema to Yalom at the time of his own Freudian therapy, and evidently it still is.) But by the end of this short film, I had the feeling that I'd simply bounced around the subject and his ideas without ever being able to really engage with them. Still, at least I now know something about the man, his life and work. In fact, I think that I'd entrust my own psychotherapy to the guy. But this movie about him ought to have been better.

Yalom's Cure, from First Run Features, opens theatrically in Los Angeles this Friday, at Laemmle's Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills. Elsewhere? Nothing appears to be scheduled as yet, but First Run always seems to release its movies onto DVD and video eventually, so please stand by....

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