SPELLBOUND and the Magical Therapeutic Insight

There’s a common trope in film and television that a person can have a magical therapeutic insight that changes everything. An insight that fixes everything. Understanding the origin of destructive behavior or limiting anxieties makes them melt away and a new life becomes possible. It was in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (with Freud himself as the analyst), it was in the parody of The Prince of Tides on The Simpsons. I’ve seen it everywhere, but strangely, TV Tropes doesn’t have a page dedicated to what I’m talking about.

I think one of the first films that popularized the idea of the therapeutic miracle was Spellbound, released in 1945. This movie has it all, amnesia triggered by a possible murder. An amnesiac Gregory Peck assuming a false identity. A skilled European psychoanalyst played by Ingrid Bergman. Tons of plot twists, and a wildly inappropriate doctor-patient relationship. Hitchcock at his best, everything people love about his later movies was developed in Spellbound. 

The plot of the movie is ultimately resolved when Ingrid Bergman brings Peck to various layers of understanding about who he is, and that he’s not a murderer, that some misinterpreted childhood memory makes him think he’s a murderer.But then new evidence  suggests he really is a murderer. Only a Dream Sequence directed by Salvador Dali reveals the truth.

It’s never really this simple, is it? I have had many insights through interactions with others that I thought would change my life. But they didn’t really. I remember a drunken conversation with my brother that made me think my life would change. It didn’t. Getting a clearer perspective about how my family changed after my grandfather killed himself from my brother who was nine when it happened and had formed the stronger identity a nine year old has and had carried that with him seemed it would change the life of the five year old me who believed it was ever thus. I felt more alive for a week or two, but I was no different afterwards. Clarity is overrated and it’s not magic.

Please leave me comments with examples of therapeutic insights from media. And tell me if deep insights have ever helped you. I have made multiple small progresses, but hope to be transformed.


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