Hope Springs…A Therapist’s Take

I got the chance to see Hope Springs today…first chance I had to see it.  This was a movie I could hardly wait to see…the movie is about a couple engaging in intense couple counselling.  How would my field, my chosen practice that I’m so passionate about, and that I take so seriously…how would Hollywood play it?

Kay, played by Meryl Streep…well, she’s the “dragger” to marriage therapy.  Tommy Lee Jones’ character, Arnold, is the “dragee”. He resents it…he doesn’t want it.  He uses every chance to get out of it, or leave early…but he’s a friendly guy who acts painfully like a shmuck. He is actually very likeable. That part is quite real…often one is much more eager than the other to go (and statistically, the dragger is often the female in the relationship, though not nearly always).

This is a great “couple” movie. It’s entertaining, warm, funny and engaging in a “walk in a beautiful park on a Sunday afternoon” kind of way. And–it will create some great discussion.

However, be warned.

Steve Carrell, as the marriage therapist. He’s not like the trained therapists I know and work with.  He’s a “bull in a china shop” kind of therapist. He pushes hard, asking Arnold and Kay questions waaaaay out of their comfort zone, without working to be supportive as they endeavour to stretch as far as he asks them. There isn’t a lot of sound theory behind what he says, and he chooses to focus heavily on their sexuality.  While sex is certainly an issue for them, the larger and more apparent issue is one of connection. There is the difficulty in being vulnerable and intimate with each other. I think he misses the boat. (Though to focus specifically on the boat, may not have made for a Hollywood profitable movie…sex sells, I get that.)

Please know that the therapist character that Steve Carrell plays and I, as a real life marriage therapist, don’t have a lot in common with our approaches.

However, although the therapist isn’t very believable, the main characters are excruciatingly believable.

She wanting a closer connection, and achingly taking halting steps towards it with hesitation. She sends out ambivalent messages though finding profound courage to peruse a relationship that is more life giving.  One gets the sense that to continue living in a housemate arrangement would about do her in. She pursues him, and he either ignores her, or rather swats her advances off like a fly dismissively. She’s finding it harder and harder to try.  One senses that the thought of giving up is beginning to cross her mind.

He’s shut down.  Has been for a long time.  Hasn’t let her know, and maybe hasn’t even let himself know how much he might want something more. He gave up and withdrew years ago, and she didn’t even notice at the time. He’s been hurt, and has numbed himself off from every being hurt by her again.

He’s scared.  His marriage therapist sees it, (and rather untactfully) tells him so.  He denies it (as don’t we all). We as movie-watchers can see this big tough gruff guy is frightened and hesitant, and clumsy. He finds it safer to stay shut down. But when he senses his approach could cost him his wife, he digs deep and finds ways to risk engaging with her. When he realizes that counselling isn’t about what happens in the room, but what happens outside of the room–he starts to come alive.  He discovers within himself how much he still cares about her

It’s beautiful to see what happens when they both risk.  There’s some falter, sure…and it sets them back to be disappointed yet again. But when there is fun and silliness and joy and creativity and goofiness–then friendship and caring is found–and intimacy follows.

Go see the movie.

Don’t see it to learn about therapy (oh heavens, please) but to learn about the painful dance of intimacy. It may put words to what you do.

I hope what the film says to audiences is that it’s worth it…and yes, sometimes it’s a struggle, sometimes you have to work at it, but there’s always a reason two people got married in the first place.

David Frankel
from the video

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *