Coffeehouse 2: A Critic In Treatment

I n less than a week, I’ve crammed in all 35 episodes of the second season of In Treatment, and I have to say, it was quite an emotional experience.  HBO must be commended for the audacity of producing and airing a television series about therapy with this kind of format.  Half-hour sessions with a psychoanalyst and patients (with the primary analyst then attending his own session at the end of the week with his mentor).  It is demanding and hard, at first, to understand how on earth this could be considered entertaining, but it is about hard human emotion, relationships, and how we figure out the whole mess.

Gabriel Byrne is magnetic as Dr. Paul Weston and the largely familiar cast on down the line (Hope Davis, Dianne Wiest, Alison Pill, and John Mahoney) provide something more powerful than a merely supportive ensemble for Byrne to interact with; they make the therapy sessions come alive.  The drama and the secrets.

A special treat though has been watching a newcomer like Aaron Shaw, as a young boy whose parents are preparing to divorce and unfortunately uproot their son in a thoughtlessly (and carelessly) violent way, embody the raw pain of a wounded child struggling to be heard.  He becomes the stand-in for all of the hurt children residing in each and every adult in these sessions and maybe, in him, we are also supposed to see the adult alternative as well.

But, as a critic and fan, I have found that the series surprisingly speaks to me on another level – that of the critic as therapist.  Weston’s mentor Dr. Gina Toll (Wiest) reminds him during one of the later sessions of the season that there are distinct differences between the therapist, who sits above the herd observing through binoculars, and the lions hunting and attempting to take care of their families down in the thick of things.  It was a pointed comment about how he may flounder as a man – a son, husband, and father – but as an analyst he has perspective to guide him and his own sterling memory and ear, other tools at his disposal that so many lack or cannot access in the moment.

Critics, of all stripes, have similar tools in their arsenals, and like therapists, it is difficult sometimes to make distinctions between our roles as critics versus fans of the mediums we survey.  We write as a means of applying our own self-awareness, as an attempt to wrestle with how we see and appreciate the world and the culture around us.  There is an Oscar Wilde quote that I stumbled across recently on moviecitynews.com, which says, in effect that criticism is autobiography, plain and simple.

I believe that to be true, very true, indeed.

But it is more than that. Film criticism, in my case, especially with this blog, is about opening up a dialogue, creating a forum where we can look at these stories together and hash out our feelings.  I’m tired of making pronouncements from above.  I want to engage the voices of moviegoers, television watchers, readers, music lovers, etc.

Let me know what you think of my brand of film therapy.

Reach DCP Film Critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit his blog for additional film reviews at TerrenceTodd.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @ttsternenzi.

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