I saw Greenberg because I love Ben Stiller. Shockingly, his acting was riveting. His character was annoying, angry, hateful and odd-ball, along with being being lonely, sorrowful, guilt-ridden and lost. The layers of his personality unfolded bit by bit, paralleling a psychoanalytic process. At first, we hear that he is coming out of the hospital, a mental hospital, so we do not know what to expect. Then, we see him writing an angry articulate letter to the airline for not getting the right seat. Most pitifully, we see him trying to reconnect with an old friend, but being too self-centered to understand his friend’s tortured journey from addiction to recovery. At the same time we see him trying to encapsulate his life of simplicity by attempting to justify his painful lack of ambition. The story goes back and forth between seeing Roger Greenberg alienate those closest to him, and then seeing him struggle with his internal demons of regret and lost opportunity.
Herbert Rosenfeld, a psychoanalyst, following Freud, would describe Greenberg by saying that he is after the ”silent pull of the death instinct,” which promises a Nirvana-like state of freedom from desire, disturbance and dependence. This conflict, as acted so well by Ben Stiller, is described by Hanna Segal, another psychoanalyst, as the “voluptuous lure of withdrawing into despair, masochism and perversion. “
Roger Greenberg wants to be loved and he wants to love. He cannot grab hold of either. When he tries and fails, we are not surprised; we understand. He is stifled by his inability to forgive himself for past mistakes; he is stifled by his inability to see himself from another point of view. His obstacles are clear, yet somehow I found myself hoping that he could get past them. Luckily, the movie was not that simple. I still love Ben Stiller. Now, I also appreciate him.