– Yalom’s Cure is a biography/documentary on the life of Irvin D. Yalom, Existential Psychotherapist, Emeritus Professor and Writer; living Giant of Existential Psychotherapy. The film is a combination of his biography and his existential therapy philosophy and practice. It is the culmination of all his works both fiction and non-fiction and Yalom attempts to impart the wisdom of his eighty plus years combined with his many years of experience as an Existential Therapist. By Sandi Baker
Yalom and his wife and their relationship dominate the film as we trace Yalom’s life and experiences that lead him to be, as he terms it “a guide on self awareness” as he deals with what he identifies as the issues of existential angst: fear of death; the meaning or purpose of life and fear of isolation. The film is an open and honest account of his personal journey in dealing with these issues. The director, Sabine Gisiger uses
excerpts from his books and re-enacts scenes from his individual and group therapy sessions to explore these issues further. Whilst this is a documentary /biography certain cinematic conventions are used such as water; ships on water are shown at the beginning and at strategic points in the narrative for example, the start when Yalom’s voice over says that he often asks patients to draw a line of their lives from birth to death and to try to imagine where they are now on that line. It is quite a strong metaphor of the fluidity of life and he builds from there on. Scuba divers diving in deep water are used when he talks about the subconscious. Family times are portrayed at the beach and holiday house in the south of France.
It is not clear at first what the purpose of the documentary is; whether it is to show case Yalom’s life, his works or whether he intends to convey his message of acceptance and that we are all the same with the same existential fears that manifest in different ways. He definitely punts a very active involvement by the therapist which is far removed from the notion of a distanced, detached Freudian Psychotherapist. Yalom wants to be involved and this yearning reaches out from the film to the audience. It is as if he wants to be involved in giving you a life lesson.
Whilst watching the documentary, I got the feeling that I was privileged to learn about one of the pioneering Existential Psychotherapists and to see him in action through the re-enactment of the therapy sessions. But I also kept on questioning his reasons for doing this documentary. He has written so many books and by his own admission always wanted to be a writer and thought he could accomplish this through psychiatry. With the documentary he is reaching beyond being a writer and of course his motivations and so forth would probably be a rich seam of discussion in a therapy session. This sadly is not dealt with although he does admit to having therapy which he accepts as a natural part of his life. Interestingly his wife claims to no longer feel the need for therapy having had so much in her own life.
The incredible openness of his life where he admits having had issues with his mother and the influence of his parents on him through to where his children and grandchildren speak about their family relationships, is remarkable and superseded only by the frankness which he and his wife describe their relationship. He is open without giving the feeling of having given too much information. His openness if given to highlight points that he makes, I imagine him to do the same in the therapy sessions.
Whilst I felt privileged to watch Yalom in action, I simultaneously felt as if I was being given a lesson in life, sort of almost as if I was in a therapy session where I had to determine what my issues were and then sift through the session to take from it what I needed. This was done in a very transparent and direct way, with no hint of subtlety about it. But then, as Yalom says in his book “Love’s Executioner” that self-knowledge is not compatible with the notions of romantic love. Self-knowledge needs openness and light to explore and gain further knowledge, romantic love thrives on mystique and that is why he calls himself Love’s Executioner. In the same way, he provides this knowledge about himself and removes any mystique that may be ascribed to him. While Yalom may have mentioned the issues that he has dealt with earlier in his life, he also mentions where he is right now in his life and that he takes comfort at this stage of his life from the German Philosopher, Schopenhauer, who said that desires and passions were for him like the bright burning sun and that as he (Schopenhauer) got older so the sun dimmed and he could see the stars better. The analogy is rich and I trust does not need to be explained too deeply, suffice to say that life is more than just desire and passion and appreciation can be found in the not so obvious.
In short, Yalom’s Cure is a therapy session combined with biography of one of the giants of Existential Psychotherapy and also a way, no doubt, for his family, friends, patients and his readers to get to know him better and for them to be helped on the way to dealing with their existential angst that may come about by his and other people’s deaths. It is a strange biography in that a message is conveyed. But I do not know if I was supposed to walk away feeling happy or not. I have a read his books. I suspect the point is not to feel happy but rather to have more insight into myself. I am not sure that having watched the documentary I have, although maybe I have more knowledge about the people around me and perhaps that too is the message. Although it seems somewhat ironic that in order to come to terms with being alone in the world and other existential angst crises I can take comfort in the fact that others are going through similar existential angst issues.
Yalom’s Cure (2014). Documentary/Biography. Director: Sabine Gisiger. Lead Actors: Irvin D. Yalom; Marilyn Yalom. Mehr hier.