Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire-psychoanalysis comes to the movies

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 23, 2010

Life is hard. Life is short. Life is painful. Life is rich. Life is…..Precious (tagline)

Precious, a major motion picture based on the novel by Sapphire, directed by Lee Daniels is a movie that makes psychoanalysis come alive. As the New York Times reviewer Lynn Hirschberg says, “at its heart is a spirit of understanding.” We see Precious have an inner life that saves her from the despair of her circumstances. While Precious is getting raped, she imagines herself at a movie premiere. These scenes remind us of how much our inner life can help us cope with our outer life. We begin to see Precious as both a victim and a survivor. Her ability to access her inner life makes her a sweet, thoughtful and poetic young woman. I am  troubled when she has to return to her reality, in a similar way that I am troubled by seeing my patients needing to return to their reality after having the opportunity in my office to explore their inner world.

Precious, despite all of her struggles, is an adolescent who in an age-appropriate way wants to draw attention to herself. There is a touching scene where she carefully matches her headband to her t-shirt in order to look good. It is in that scene where one can appreciate that despite overwhelming adversity, the push towards normal development still happens.

Most touching of all, and most reinforcing of psychoanalytic concepts, is that the hope in the film comes in the form of two critical relationships. One with her school teacher Blu Rain (Paula Patton) and the other from her social worker Mrs. Weiss (Mariah Carey), both of whom want to help her. Ms. Rain takes an interest in Precious. She teaches her to read and write. She teaches her that she can use language to help her deal with her emotional interior. Ms. Rain responds to Precious’ journal entry in a thoughtful and caring way. She provides for Precious a caring hand which eventually pulls her out of one life and into another. As psychoanalysts, we know that relationships are trans-formative. Seeing Precious, based on a true story, demonstrates this beautifully.

Mrs. Weiss’ interviews with Precious and then her mother show powerfully how psychoanalytic inquiry creates a picture which helps us to begin to understand the complexity of childhood adversity. In a breathtaking scene Mrs. Weiss provides an environment where Mary (Precious’s mother) explains her own paucity of loving relationships, and so we are enlightened about the inter-generational transmission of trauma. There are multiple victims here. Breaking the cycle is not easy, but it begins with a first step-curiosity.

The movie ends in a messy way, just like psychotherapy. There is good news and there is bad news. In my mind the good news wins. Precious is determined to raise her son in a loving environment. The cycle may have indeed ended. What a wonderful advertisement for how psychoanalytic ideas can make this world a better place.

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