note: all star ratings have to do with whether I think the story told is a realistic portrayal. In fact, all reviews are about covering issues related to abuse, scapegoating, toxic family portrayal, alcoholic family portrayal, substance abuse family portrayal, children from abusive families and their experiences, and how effective that portrayal is, not about how effective the movie-making is, or the set design, or production, directing and acting. I leave those concerns to other writers and reviewers. I don't even cover whether I would recommend the movie to others based on my likes and dislikes; I only recommend movies that I think will open people's eyes as to how survivors of abuse live in the world.
This page contains reviews for:
Good Will Hunting
The Tudors (series)
The Tudors (series)
Good Will Hunting
(written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, directed by Gus Van Sant)
According to Wikipedia, "Good Will Hunting" is a:
a 1997 American drama film, directed by Gus Van Sant, and stars Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Minnie Driver and Stellan Skarsgård. Written by Affleck and Damon (and with Damon in the title role), the film follows 20-year-old South Boston laborer Will Hunting, an unrecognized genius who, as part of a deferred prosecution agreement after assaulting a police officer, becomes a client of a therapist and studies advanced mathematics with a renowned professor. Through his therapy sessions, Will re-evaluates his relationships with his best friend, his girlfriend and himself, facing the significant task of confronting his past and thinking about his future.
As Roger Ebert said in this movie review:
The movie was co-written by Damon and Affleck, who grew up in Boston, who are childhood friends, and who both took youthful natural talents and used them to find success as actors. It's tempting to find parallels between their lives and the characters--and tempting, too, to watch the scenes between Damon and Driver with the knowledge that they fell in love while making the movie.
The story is about a genius, Will Hunting (played by Matt Damon), and how he gradually works towards self actualization. This self actualization comes about in therapy with counselor Sean Mcguire (played by Robin Williams). That is the basis of the story, but it takes time to get there.
Will Hunting is a great example of learned helplessness (which I will discuss in a blog post, but the premise is that if you chain a child to a room and take the chains off and open the door, the child often stays in the room). Survivors of abuse typically struggle with it. He also has classic attachment disorder (again reserved for another post).
Will Hunting's childhood is marked with severe abuse and he is eventually abandoned to an orphanage. He is also a victim of poverty.
When the movie opens he is a janitor at M.I.T. and he solves mathematical problems that are left on a blackboard by professor Lambeau (played by Stellan Skarsgard) for students to solve. Will is the only one to solve them satisfactorily, and in fact, he proves to be more adept at math than the professor.
The professor takes an interest in Will just in the nick of time: when Will is spiraling down into a life of crime. The professor saves Will from that life, promising that he'll help Will by nurturing his mathematical skills and getting him therapy.
Will is highly resistant to therapy at first because he sees nothing wrong with his own perspectives and defenses. They worked for him most of his life in the rough-and-tumble world of South Boston. He sees nothing wrong with being a janitor and brick-layer, swigging beers with his friends, and getting into fights with other gangs.
But the problem is that he's a genius, and his four friends and the folks who are trying to help him at M.I.T. insist on him "graduating" from the life of blue collar work. He tries to resist as long as he can, and part of that resistance has to do with why he has a hard time rehabilitating from his old ways of coping emotionally and psychologically. He can't bring himself to say that he loves a woman that he is crazy about and can't stop thinking about (a Harvard student from England played by Minnie Driver). And when push comes to shove, he can't allow himself to love (and risk being hurt again), so he gives up on the relationship with her. It is a heartbreaking scene.
He also gives up on working for the NSA and other job offers he receives to cling to his attitudes, old blue collar occupations, and his old life as a tough guy from South Boston. He seems totally resistant to change his ways for anyone or anything.
It isn't until his best friend, Chuckie (played by Ben Affleck), says to Will: “You're sitting on a winning lottery ticket. It would be an insult to us if you're still around here in 20 years.” He also tells Will that he'll kill him if he insists on working at construction sites doing manual labor.
Giving up on relationships and intimacy when you have had a childhood of acute abuse, parental neglect and parental abandonment is common and "normal", considering the circumstances. So that is realistic and believable. It is also possible to become actualized and open to love through vulnerability in therapy, though for most children of abuse and abandonment the road is much, much longer and harder than is portrayed here, with many steps backwards. Some clients never quite make it because the learned helplessness is so ingrained.
The reliance on the therapist to provide what a parent should provide to his child (self esteem, appreciation of differences in others, acceptance, understanding, good coping abilities, ethics, empathy, morality, being a good citizen, being a good sibling, being a good husband or wife, and being a good parent) is all too common, and more or less missing in the movie. All of the missing pieces of "It's not your fault; you're lovable; you're acceptable -- and how about treating others with love and respect and opening yourself up to being vulnerable?") have to be "built" brick by brick, and year by year, by a therapist.
Will seems to bond with McGuire, but being able to wean oneself off of therapy is usually a lot more difficult than is portrayed here, just because the parents never taught anything beyond abuse and rejection, and therapists have a lot to teach that is compassionate, deep and transcendental. The only way to suspend disbelief about Will's ability to "get it" so early in the process is that he is a genius, able to learn fast (thus one reason for the 4 star rating; if Will wasn't a genius, my rating would be more like 3 and a half stars).
While this movie features healing from child abuse and parental abandonment, it isn't just about that. Half of the movie is about coming-of-age as a genius and how he deals with it: math problems are easy compared to manual labor, love comes by impressing through bull-shitting and great knowledge of facts (and beating out the competition, the competitor being a college student), smart girls are more interesting, and other kinds of messages. For a survivor these might dilute what is important here: how to survive and transcend childhood abuse and abandonment. If only geniuses can do it, it is a depressing message for the rest of survivors.
The feel-good ending of the movie was a little too "Hollywood" for me, but I can understand why it was done that way. Why would the audience want to be left in suspense, or go through more of a long drawn out process of therapy, or have a character who couldn't quite get his mind and emotions behind believing that his parent's abuse was never his fault (especially when the abuse was so severe, and the abandonment so "fixed"), or be left with an ending with a survivor who couldn't change? But sometimes that is the problem with Hollywood movies: the truth about these kinds of situations are often a lot more messy, without a real ending.
As I have suggested in so many other reviews I have done, the door is open for a longer look (perhaps a mini series) about a client who is not a genius, but still manages to transcend his upbringing anyway:
1. that abuse is never, and was never his fault
2. that recovery is a long process (all of the bad messages of abusive parents need reprogramming)
3. that having a relationship with an adult child who has endured child abuse and abandonment can be a difficult process of almost saintly compassion, understanding and on-going commitment. A survivor's ability to trust will be deeply compromised, especially if he is being "used" by other people again at work or other areas of his life
4. that being a child of parental abuse, neglect and abandonment is much more traumatic than most people realize, and it isn't just a matter of "Can't you just get over it??" (potential partners who have grown up with loving parents have the most difficult time understanding)
5. that chronic PTSD is most often the result of adult children who have been abused by parents, and that recovering from PTSD is also a long process, even under the most optimal calm conditions
What Good Will Hunting Teaches Us About Men, Shame, and Suicide -- A Good Men Project article by Makala Kozo Hattori
Supplemental Materials For Good Will Hunting, Attachment Theory Applied to "Good Will Hunting" -- from the Teach with Movies website
REVEALING YOUR HERO’S WOUND: Good Will Hunting -- by Michael Hauge
Roger Ebert's entire review
The Tudors (series)
(created by Michael Hirst)
I have chosen this series, and King Henry the Eighth as the best portrayal of an abuser because most portrayals (as in "Sleeping with the Enemy", "Thelma and Louise" and others) show perpetrators who are too one-dimensional for my tastes, and usually not-so-likable. The truth is that most abusers come off as even more charming and likable than your typical empath ... at first.
Furthermore, in these kinds of movies, abuse is levied almost all of the time at the victims, without showing how a victim gets sucked in, and the idealization stage, which can sometimes last years.
In fact, Henry VIII idealized Anne Boleyn for at least 7 years before he got sick of her and wanted her out of his life.
I did cover one other series about someone with antisocial personality disorder in the mirroring post (Malcolm Webster), which is the best portrayal I have seen with that particular disorder. But it still doesn't show how generous abusers can be, how ingratiating they can be, how they can turn on a dime, and who they generally surround themselves with in order to get the most out of others, thus Henry VIII.
According to Wikipedia:
The Tudors is a historical fiction television series set primarily in sixteenth-century England, created by Michael Hirst and produced for the American premium cable television channel Showtime. The series was a collaboration between American, British, and Canadian producers, and filmed mostly in Ireland. Although named after the Tudor dynasty as a whole, it is based specifically upon the reign of King Henry VIII of England.
A lot has been made about some of the inaccuracies of "The Tudors series" including costuming, distorting some of the history, speculative scenes, and so forth.
There is also too much eager sex, especially the women who give way to King Henry VIII's lust, and especially since pregnancy was too easy. I think the real situation was probably more along the lines of President Bill Clinton's sexual conquests where there were willing women and not-so-willing women. The unwilling ones might have included women who were scared out of their wits to say "no" to a powerful man who could incite his rage by denying him, women who were having their period, women who were pregnant, women who were repulsed by Henry, women who were in love with someone else and didn't want Henry's advances, and women who were devout Christians who found it unsuitable to be a King's mistress for a one night stand. All of the women act like heavy-breathing porn stars (with tight bodices or bare breasts: take your pick), so in that way the sexual scenes seem unbelievable and naive (the fantasy of producers).
There is also a lot more adultery by most of the characters in this series than what was probably going on at the time. However, adultery is typical in the social circles of narcissists and sociopaths.
Adulterers and other narcissists surrounded the king, and that is believable because they would be around the king helping him to carry out his narcissistic and sociopathic deeds of seduction, manipulating, torture, unprovoked wars, unprovoked witch hunts, achieving greatness and power with alter agendas (these are the jobs for other narcissists and sociopaths, after all, not empaths).
The reason I decided to cover The Tudors was not to talk about abuse survivors as I have with so many other movies, but to cover "The Life and Times of a Malignant Narcissist." If ever there was a good depiction of a person with a severe Cluster B personality disorder, it would be King Henry the VIII.
However, it has been argued that because of the historical context, Henry VIII could not be labeled with a Cluster B personality (i.e. that many kings and queens acted psychopathic/sociopathic too; they were brought up to do that after all). It was a "kill or be killed" time period for kings and queens, and more about "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
But, I don't particularly feel that siding with either theory is helpful to survivors of abuse, so I will not get in the middle of that argument except to say that there is evidence everywhere that Henry VIII had almost all of the traits of malignant narcissism. In many cases malignant narcissism emerges in childhood just because you feel "more special" than others, and others are in deference to you (you are taught that you are one step from God in terms of decision-making about other people's lives), and that would definitely apply to the feelings of princes and princesses who learn early how they rank relative to others.
It would be likely that Mary (King Henry's eldest daughter) and Elizabeth (King Henry's youngest daughter) would see their stations rise and fall as Henry annulled his marriages and alternately claimed one or the other to be bastard children, depending on his whim, and the advice of his advisers. These children would have been pitted against each other (even to the extent of representing religions: Catholic versus Reformation) as is seen in most narcissistic and sociopathic families.
If you have been reading my blog, you know that I have been saying in my posts that narcissists and sociopaths prefer to surround themselves with sycophants, as well as other narcissists and sociopaths. Even when they don't prefer it, other narcissists and sociopaths seem to find a way to ingratiate themselves to other narcissists and sociopaths that they feel they can exploit. They scheme, plot, manipulate, erroneously blame and victimize, betray and often end up as victims themselves. Almost all of the characters have agendas and they try to find dirt on people who they think will be of detriment to them in terms of the king's policies or favors.
That means that hardly anyone is likable in this story. Only a musician in the background of the story seems truly innocent of the "games" at court.
Jane Seymour is likable, but she doesn't live long.
Catherine Parr is likable in the same way that Jane Seymour is, except maybe not as much; she is shown to have an adulterous affair while her husband is dying.
In the series Henry will screw anything that walks (in terms of real history he had 3 mistresses that can be confirmed besides his six wives). He commands his subjects swear an oath of "allegiance and recognition of the king's supremacy" or be tried for high treason under punishment of death (disgusting in the context of who he is: not only repugnantly ego-maniacal, but also murderous if he feels at all slighted or not put first at all times).
Other ways he is a typical malignant narcissist:
* he gets tired of people, and especially female conquests, and practices "idealize, devalue, discard" in the most brutal way possible
* he believes he is more important than any religion and should be worshipped first and foremost
* he expects people to defer to him
* he demands alleigance and faithfulness from everyone he meets, but almost never returns it
* he talks over others and very rarely listens to others unless they agree with him
* he is rarely empathetic and enjoys watching the destruction he wreaks
* he expects everyone else to walk on eggshells
* he erroneously blames others if he isn't getting what he wants right away
* he murders people to clear the way for others he wants to seduce (whether that be with words or with his body)
* he has very little understanding of others (out of touch)
* he is surrounded with either sycophants or other narcissists and often can't tell the difference
* he is verbally, emotionally and physically abusive
* he is a bully
* he does not care how he impacts others, though he pretends to care during the idealization phase (the beginning)
* he feels others deserve him, whether they get the good side or bad side of him
* he uses blackmail to get what he wants
* he makes promises that he rarely keeps
* he pretends to enjoy the opinion and love of others during the idealize phase (later they aren't good enough)
* he treats everyone around him badly
* he fantasizs that those who are closest to him are his enemies
* he has temper tantrums
* he acts like a child
* trumped up punishments based on desires, heresay, beliefs, and not on facts
* the word "punishment" is used a lot in his vocabulary
* if something goes wrong, he always jumps to the conclusion that it is always someone else's fault (never his)
* in battle he never lets his soldiers retreat or rest or get over an illness, he most always insists on "attack, attack, attack"
* he is sadistic and enjoys the thought of torturing others
Almost all of the characters seem to be playing chess with each other. Their haughtiness, scheming, backstabbing and being agreeable to Henry either out of fear or because they want more promotion is sickening.
But Henry does not always get his way. Thomas More and Bishop Fisher stick to their beliefs even when threatened with severe torture as the final outcome. Surely this has to surprise Henry who always thinks that everyone will cave to his demands and bend to his will. He obviously thinks fear is a good motivator to keep everyone "in line" and at least pretending to worship him.
In this blog post, I discuss why ruling through fear does not work over the long term. Hearts and minds have a way of being recalcitrant even if fear caves into demands in the short term. But everyone has a breaking point where morality takes over (i.e. where fear cannot "win the day"). History often looks upon fearless whistle blowers (like Martin Luther King) with more reverence than the people in power during the time. Indeed America celebrates Martin Luther King Day, not Lyndon Johnson Day. Similarly More was "beatified in 1886 and canonized by the Catholic Church as a saint in 1935. He has also been deemed a 'Reformation martyr' by the Church of England." -- According to this Wikipedia article on Thomas More:
The steadfastness and courage with which More maintained his religious convictions, and his dignity during his imprisonment, trial, and execution, contributed much to More's posthumous reputation, particularly among Roman Catholics. His friend Erasmus defended More's character as "more pure than any snow" and described his genius as "such as England never had and never again will have." Upon learning of More's execution, Emperor Charles V said: "Had we been master of such a servant, we would rather have lost the best city of our dominions than such a worthy councillor." G. K. Chesterton, a Roman Catholic convert from the Church of England, predicted More "may come to be counted the greatest Englishman, or at least the greatest historical character in English history."
In the series, when Henry lets Thomas More go to the tower to be executed, he begins to feel tortured by it. Narcissists and sociopaths do not feel empathy, so the inner torture Henry feels probably comes down to knowing he will infuriate Rome and the Pope and that he risks being isolated and treated as a pariah by other European countries.
When Henry's "loyal servants" want a change, they figure out a way to frame Anne Boleyn and the many people around her. Some of it has to do with religious reasons: to reinstate Catholicism. In the series Henry goes along with framing Boleyn at a time when he has gotten to the devaluation stage with Anne, so he is willing to listen to anything more that will further devalue her even though it is clearly desperate hearsay built on confessions from people who are tortured into it. In fact, he is probably sick of her and wants an excuse to share his bed with his new love interest, Jane Seymour.
Henry VIII makes huge mistakes, and is hated, and his lusts and liaisons are a detriment, but he can't seem to help but be a raving murderous tyrant stuck between the nightmare of his past and a future of little hope and promise beyond more of the same except with the addition of ever more aging, a worsening infection in his leg, paranoia, wars and liaisons that seem to go nowhere, and madness mixed into the mix.
He requires sycophants at every turn, and yet he does come to the realization of how sycophants are a detriment to him, at least in his later years (in the series). At one point he says "You are all just a bunch of flatterers and I can't trust any of you!"
I am not sure many narcissists and sociopaths come to that conclusion unless they have absolute power as Henry VIII did. But I do think if narcissists didn't have the push-back they generally receive from their victims and/or the law, they would see it, just as Henry VIII saw it.
The reason why sychophantry is problematic is because it is largely phony behavior, plus it is ultra risky for the sycophant, as well as the king getting over-thrown (possible spies or enemies). Even the king's most loyal servants get executed with regularity. That is because sycophants can and do betray tyrants. They also have their own agendas (and that's the human part of them). People aren't meant to be agreeable 24-7 or mirroring a king's thoughts, beliefs, actions, desires and goals in every way. They aren't meant to say yes to everything. Human beings have differences from one another for a reason. And Henry finds out soon enough that absolute loyalty and trying to make humans into puppets is unattainable.
While the push-back is not about the sycophants seeking justice, it is still there none-the-less in terms of agendas (private thoughts, private ambitions, private conversations, private anger, private political and war strategy views which the king cannot hear -- and if he did want to hear them, his sychophants would lie anyway, just to keep safe from the wrath -- thus "just a bunch of flatterers").
If you listen to how many narcissists talk, they often refer to their spouses as "Knight in Shining Armour" or "Sir (insert name of person)-dad" -- after Sir Galahad -- or "the lady princess" or "my fairy queen" or "my angel" or "my benevolent King" or "MyLady". Unless they are SCA or Renaissance Faire enthusiasts, it can be a give-away that you are talking to a narcissist or sociopath. They want to be royalty and they want you treat them as such.
Of course, in this day and age, royalty fantasies are often derided and used for jokes, skits and cartoons, just as political satire is used to poke fun at the swaggering, assumptions, promises and pronouncements of our leaders. It keeps narcissism in check to some degree. Narcissists and sociopaths cringe at the thought of looking ridiculous. In modern times, freedom of speech keeps most narcissists and sociopaths getting to the "I am God" phase that they did in King Henry's time.
However, that doesn't mean that they won't continue to try over and over again, with different methods, or that they have given up entirely. Most narcissists and sociopaths main objective in life is to control and rule over others. If they can't have slaves, they will try to make others into servants. If they can't have servants, they will try to gaslight to manipulate others. If gaslighting doesn't work, they will try to fool the person in some other way.
Indeed many narcissists and sociopaths want some of the qualities of Henry the VIII in terms of absolute power. When they start acting like kings and queens, it is best to take cover, or to start a rebellion (or alternatively, to start a column, or to draw up a study, or to seek precautions, or to start lampooning, or cartooning, depending on your situation).
In the series Henry VIII's narcissism does not mellow with age. In fact, he has even more people put to death, executing Catholics alternating with sudden switches to "Protestant heretics" (as they are called). The executions seem arbitrary after awhile, and depend on his mood, or how much of an example he wants to make of others.
He does seem, after awhile, to get in touch with the fact that he is dying and that he needs to stop marginalizing his children and arresting his wives for high treason, but that is about it.
In effect, he never changes his ways, or his perceptions of anything. This is typical of malignant narcissists too. Most of them are totally incapable of "great awakenings". They just continue with their odious behavior, leaving a path of destruction, continually counting on endless sources of narcissistic supply to get them out of their periods of doldrums, or self-inflicted disillusionments and dissatisfactions.
Treason is all about disloyalty, and willfulness, and rebellion, and that is what all narcissists and sociopaths fear and hate, but they are always fine tuned to suspecting others of it. If they feel in the slightest that they do not come first place in another person's life, they are very eager to punish over it, even if it is all in their heads, and even if they practice disloyalty and willfulness with abandon themselves. Even the slightest feelings and possibilities of disloyalty are the excuses they use for getting rid of important people.
These aren't great thinkers: they rarely think about why people act the way they do. They resist enlightenment and replace it with superficial understandings or paranoia, with impulsive actions.
As I have said before in a different way, is that most narcissists and sociopaths never come to the realization that there is never (and I mean NEVER) a perfect loyal servant. The "angel servant" won't come down from heaven and say "yes" to everything, even though the narcissist or sociopath may keep trying for it. If they are lucky (which most of them are not) they will find what Henry found: that the "yes, I'll do anything you want" kinds of people are just a bunch of flatterers and backstabbers who cannot be trusted.
If you want trusting people around you, it requires the opposite of threats (i.e. compassion, empathy, understanding, and wanting to understand others). Trust and loyalty will never, and can never, be built on threats, bullying, executions and abuse.
This series shows best how a malignant narcissist with a bunch of surrounding narcissists and sociopaths playing servant roles really function. There are few movies or series that cover that aspect of the narcissist's relationships, but it is an integral part of most malignant narcissists' lives. It is one that needs to be explored if the human race is ever going to stop bullying and perpetrating child abuse effectively, other than the usual minimal school detections and domestic violence shelters.
an excerpt from the book description:
Have you heard that Catherine the Great died having sex with her horse? Or perhaps you prefer the story that Anne Boleyn had six fingers and slept with her brother? Or that Katheryn Howard slept with so many members of the Tudor court that they couldn’t keep track of them all? As juicy and titillating as the tales might be, they are all, patently untrue ...
... Slut shaming has its roots in our earliest history, but it continues to flourish in our supposedly post-feminist, equal-rights world. It is used to punish women for transgressions against gender norms, threatening the security of their place in society and warning that they’d better be “good girls” and not rock the patriarchal boat, or they, too could end up with people believing they’ve slept with everything from farm animals to relatives.
This is The Jezebel Effect.
The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success by renowned psychologist Kevin Dutton -- includes discussion of King Henry VIII
A rebuttal to Kevin Dutton's book by Kyra Kramer, author of Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation for the Tyranny of Henry VIII.
Was Henry VIII a sociopath? (a forum discussion)
I thought Stacey (who majored in psychology) had an interesting perspective:
*Warning* I majored in psychology and I could go on and on about this!!
Some of his behavior definitely points towards sociopathy IMHO (what is now generally called "Antisocial Personality Disorder"). He certainly could be cold, calculating, cruel and callous, even towards people who had long considered him a close friend.
But I think we have to consider him in the context of his life and times. Even his daughter Queen Elizabeth I, who most definitely was not a sociopath, had people executed when she considered it necessary--most famously in the case of her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots. Back then, when monarchs had virtually unlimited power and people were constantly scheming against you, it was pretty much the law of the jungle: kill or be killed.
Henry was ruthless and extremely narcissistic, and a man who callously tosses one wife aside (Katherine of Aragon), and murders two others (Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard) is not what anyone would call a nice guy. I think he may have had some sociopathic traits, but he is a vivid reminder to me of that old saying:
"Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
I think that definitely happened in Henry's case!! I'd love to hear other people's opinions on this, since I've wondered about it myself.
The Life andDeath of Anne Boleyn: 'The Most Happy' by Professor Eric Ives --
Henry VIII’s Health – Guest Post by Kyra Kramer
Did Henry VIII have a personality disorder? -- from Incorruptible Crown website
The Psychology of Henry the Eighth (Tudor scholars discussion):
Henry VIII: love sex and marriage (Tudor scholars discussion):
from curator Brett Dolman on Henry VIII's wives:
"King Henry the VIII: The Mind of a Tyrant, Part I"