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This blog curates the voices of the Division of Psychoanalysis (39) of the American Psychological Association. Margaret Kim Peterson, associate professor of Theology at
Eastern University submits this review of the movie, "I’ll See You in My Dreams", directed by Brett Haley, starring Blythe Danner with Martin Starr and Sam Elliott.

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At first glance, Carol Petersen (Blythe Danner) appears to be living the dream. A gracefully aging widow in her 70s, she lives in a beautiful home with a beautiful pool, down the street from a beautiful retirement community where she golfs and plays cards with three friends who are, tactfully, not quite as beautiful as she. A nightly glass of wine beside the pool, periodic telephone calls and visits from her adult daughter, and the faithful companionship of her elderly golden retriever round out what looks like a peacefully idyllic existence.

At second glance, it looks like Carol is not so much living a dream as she is sleepwalking through life. Widowed twenty years ago after a happy marriage, she has neither had nor even considered another relationship since then. After early success as a singer and then a low-key career as a teacher, she retired on her husband’s life insurance and hasn’t worked since. Her relationship with her daughter is cordial but constrained. And when her dog dies, her evident sorrow collides with a longstanding habit of feeling, well, not much.

Enter Lloyd (Martin Starr), Carol’s twenty-something swimming pool maintenance man. Lloyd used to sing, too, but (he says) he wasn’t much good. He studied poetry in college, but hasn’t found any vocational success there, either. (Hence the job cleaning swimming pools.) In an effort to be a dutiful son he recently moved back home to live with his widowed mother, but it’s not clear she’s really all that glad to have him around. It’s hard to say whether Lloyd seems more sad or numb, but either way he, like Carol, appears to be sleepwalking through life.

Into these half-dazed, somnolent lives comes a nightmare, in the form of a rat. Carol is alone in her home when she sees it skittering across her kitchen floor on its revolting little feet. She flees the house, and ends up spending the night outside on a poolside chaise lounge. Lloyd discovers her there in the morning, and after a testy exchange (“You thought I was dead?” Carol asks, tartly) she asks a favor of him: will he go into her house and find the rat? Dutifully, Lloyd looks for the rat; predictably, he fails to find it.

Thus are Carol’s and Lloyd’s characteristic neuroses encapsulated in one rodent. Carol is wary of anything that might evoke strong feeling, whether of disgust (the rat), or grief (the loss of her dog), or passion (the second husband she swears repeatedly she is not looking for). Lloyd seems wearily resigned to a life that consists of little more than a series of nondescript non-events, and his failure to find the rat only reinforces what he already knows: he is not the kind of man who is ever going to rescue a damsel in distress.

Carol calls an exterminator, who looks for the rat, fails to find it, and pronounces it “an isolated incident.” Perhaps Carol can stop worrying about overwhelming emotion. And yet…and yet. Is something missing? Carol goes to the drugstore, poking about among the bottles of supplements, murmuring her concern: “I just want to be sure I’m getting enough of everything.” And then there he is: a tall, rugged man of her own age, an unlit cigar clenched firmly between his teeth, offering his unsolicited opinion: “You don’t need all that stuff. You’re just right the way you are.”

Bill (Sam Elliott, whose voice has been described as “the sound testosterone would make if it could”) is everything Carol and Lloyd both want and are afraid to want, whether in a partner (Carol) or in himself (Lloyd): a strong, sexy man who is not afraid to live life to the fullest, whose self-confidence evokes the confidence of others, who says what he feels and asks for what he wants, who plays the cards life deals him and comes through adversity sadder, perhaps, but wiser too, and with his ability to dream intact.

Dreaming, it turns out, is as essential to waking as it is to sleep. It allows men and women to live lives, not of quiet desperation, but of courage and of hope and of vibrant connection  to self, to others, to experience. As Carol begins, tentatively, to dream again, her daughter comes to visit, and immediately senses a change. (“Mom. What’s going on?”)  And then life deals a potentially crushing blow. Can Carol stay connected enough—to herself, to those who care for her—to continue to dream? What might happen if she did?

About the Author

Kristi Pikiewicz

Kristi Pikiewicz, Ph.D., is managing editor of the American Psychological Association's Division of Psychotherapy DIVISION/Review.

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