Sunday, August 20, 2006

Tikkun at the Movies: Analyzing Mrs. Doubtfire

***spoiler alert***
if you haven’t seen the movie “Mrs. Doubtfire” then don’t read this post because it will probably ruin it for you. Instead rent this excellent movie.
***spoiler alert***

I never was a great moviegoer, until I got married. But my wife is a passionate film fan and as her loving spouse I have learned to accommodate her – who said marriage was easy? I mean, sometimes you just have to sacrifice, and watch a movie. Turns out that this not such a horrible thing to do, and over the years I have watched dozens of great movies. The most interesting thing about them was the manner in which the movies, like all art, reflect back to us the human condition. The movie we watched yesterday, Mrs. Doubtfire is just such a movie, and even better – it shows us tikkun in action. How is that possible? Let me explain.

The plot
The movie is about a couple: Daniel (played superbly by Robin Williams) and Miranda Hillard (Sally field) who have three adorable kids. Daniel is a happy go lucky actor, always between jobs, whose passion is life is his children. He’s funny, outgoing and very emotional and spontaneous. His wife is the exact opposite – serious, uptight, and disciplined to a fault she is the steady partner, the breadwinner, and the rock in the relationship. But she is really sick of it, and one day when Daniel quits his job and throws a surprise birthday party for his son, which includes hosting the mobile petting zoo and trashing the house - she demands a divorce. The court rules that Daniel, with no income and no house can see his children only once a week. Daniel is devastated – his raison d’etre, his children will not be available to him. If he wants them back – he has to get a steady job, and turn his new bachelors cove into a nice, tidy haven, or else he has no chance of seeing his children more than once a week for a few hours.
But Daniel comes up with a clever ruse and he manages to secure the position of nanny to his own children, beautifully disguised as an old, reliable British codge named Mrs. Doubtfire, who claims that she can cook, clean, and do everything that Miranda could ever hope for, everything that he himself never was able to do, and never even wanted to, which was also everything that his wife yearned for and wanted from him
As the movie unfolds we see Daniel, heavily disguised, rise to the challenge. He is beloved by the children and he quickly gains the trust of his unsuspecting former wife, who confides in Mrs. Doubtfire frequently, including this important dialogue, describing the fourteen-year marriage she had, that recently broke up:
(Transcription from Drew’s Script – O-Rama)

Miranda: You can't imagine what it was like being married to Daniel.
Mrs,Doubtfire: Tell me, dear. What was so horrible about this man you lived with for years?

Miranda : Well, at first, nothing. He was so... romantic. - So passionate.

Mrs,Doubtfire - Really? He sounds like an absolute stud, dear. I hope you don't mind me being a tad rude, but...How was he... you know...on a scale of 1 to 10 ?

Miranda :Oh, well. That part was always...OK.

Mrs,Doubtfire:Just OK?He was probably a Casanova compared to poor old Winston.

Miranda :- What was the matter with Winston?

Mrs,Doubtfire: - Oh, dear.Winston's idea of foreplay was "Effie, brace yourself."

Miranda :-It was Daniel's spontaneity and energy I fell in love with.


Miranda :Everyone else I knew was so organized, so scheduled. Like me, I guess. But Daniel was so wonderfully different. And funny. He could always make me laugh.

Mrs,Doubtfire:I always say: the key to a solid marriage is laughter.

Miranda :But after a few years,everything just stopped being funny.

Mrs,Doubtfire - Why?

Miranda :- I was working all the time.And he was always between jobs.I hardly ever got to see the kids. If I got home early to be with them, something would go wrong.
The house would be wrecked and I'd have to clean it up.He never knew, but so many nights I just...cried myself to sleep.

Mrs,Doubtfire: Really? (Mrs. Doubtfire is devastated. For the first time, Daniel is hearing out his wife)

Miranda :-The truth is, I didn't like who I was when I was with him. I would turn into this horrible person. I didn't want my kids growing up with a mother like that. When I'm not with Daniel, I'm better.And... I'm sure he's better when he's not with me.

Mrs,Doubtfire: Well, you never...I mean... Did you ever say anything to him, dear?

Miranda :Daniel never liked to talk about anything serious. I used to think Daniel could do anything.Except be serious.But then, I was serious enough for everybody.

Analyzing Mrs. Doubtfire: Imago Theory and T.A.
This is a very good example of Imago theory, and also of Transactional Analysis. I will use both theories to explain what is going on here. In future posts I would like to present these theories in their full detail, but for now I’ll just explain as I go along, just enough for my purposes here.
Imago theory (short introduction here) states that as children we are born complete and whole, in a state of bliss. As we grow up and are fashioned mainly by our parents into social human beings, we learn to adapt in order survive. Many parts of our personalities and abilities are “trimmed off” by our caretakers. We lose our natural connection with the life force that we were born with and all our lives we yearn to get it back. To do that we must reclaim all the parts of our personality that were shorn away in our childhood.
This can be done, according to Imago theory, with the help of one person – our spouse. Our marriage partner necessarily embodies all the good and bad traits of our primary caretakers. This means that he or she will represent to us all the traits that we lack, and so dearly wish to possess. Unfortunately, because of this they will hurt us and wound us just as our parents did, but they will also, if the situation is handled correctly, heal our wounds and give us the love we so desperately need. The opposite is also true – we represent, for our partners, everything that they need to reclaim in their own personalities, but were denied in their childhood by their parents.
In Jewish terms this means that almost every marriage is a chance for Tikkun Olam for both partners, a chance to become whole again, and to reconnect with the life force – which is nothing if not - God.

The second relevant theory here is Transactional analysis (good wiki here), made famous by the best selling “I’m O.K you’re O.K” (buy here). This theory describes, among many other ideas three basic parts of the personality: The Parent, which is that constant voice in our head that endlessly drones on and on, mostly evaluating everything we do, think and feel, and generally prying us away from what is happening now. The Adult element is responsible for, well, being an adult – it has no emotions and displays none, but rather like a computer gathers all available and necessary information and arrives at the appropriate decision and acts upon it efficiently. In fact, the adult functions very similar to the way robots are depicted in many Science fiction movies (the Terminator for example). The Child possesses all the emotions, the creativity and spontaneity. These can be utilized to appease the Parent – this is the Adaptive Child, to rebel against the Parent as The Rebel Child, or they can be used freely, with no constraints, with boundless energy as the Free Child will do.

Applying the Theory to Mrs. Doubtfire:
According to the Imago theory, the two partners in the marriage will have adopted in their lives exactly the opposite traits of each other. In this movie it is clear that Daniel is a Free Child. He’s spontaneous, endlessly creative, bursting with energy; he’s a fun guy all the time. But that is all he is. He lacks an Adult so he cannot hold a job, he just quits whenever he wants to, he has no conception of how he is affecting his environment and he couldn’t really care less – because he also lacks the Parent who gives us Moral values. All he is interested in is himself, Now!!
To compensate for this horrible lack, Daniels finds a spouse who is the exact opposite – serious, responsible, and judgmental – a spouse with a very strong Adult and Parent, who is all business and no play. Together, they would make one whole very happy human being. They need each other for the personality parts they lack, but , tragically, these same traits are exactly what was forbidden to each of them – on pain of death – in their childhood. In the beginning, in what the Imago theory calls the Romantic Stage, they , like all new couples, felt fascinated by these traits, and felt that at last bliss is at hand. But sooner or later this boundless energy abates, and doubts creep in, The Parent is heard louder and louder, and he is telling Miranda that Daniel is rash, irresponsible, rude, and even dangerous. The same physical parent that taught Miranda that emotions are dangerous is now telling her, embodied as the mental Parent, that Daniel is dangerous.
Daniel on the other hand is stuck. He knows only one way to get along in life, and he uses it as much as he can. When Miranda’s Parent admonishes him, he can only respond, automatically, with his Rebel child. Miranda can’t talk to him as an Adult to an Adult, and he cannot listen – he was not trained to, so this goes on until disaster strikes, and they get a divorce.
But this disaster is exactly what Daniel requires to finally get a grip on himself, and from then on, he does everything in his power to change and grow himself an Adult who can deal effectively with the real world, and a Parent who is able to raise children in a responsible manner. Looked at it this way, we can see that the divorce was in Daniel’s best interest, and therefore most likely engineered by him, unconsciously. This was done firstly by not allowing any serious discussion, and second, by his outrageous behavior, which, eventually, was the straw that broke his wife’s back.
In an ideal marriage the partners realize that their mission is to heal each other’s wounds. In this case that means that Miranda must help Daniel grow an Adult and a stronger Parent. For Daniel this means that he must help Miranda loosen up, and regain her childish joy of life. For most people this is extremely difficult. Miranda, in all likelihood (we are not shown this) could not bring herself to trust Daniel enough to let him actually do things. I guess that her thinking would be that she could do it better and faster anyway, and he will just forget or mess around. On the other hand Daniel knows in his heart that unless he is funny and vibrant, unless he is the life of the party, there will be no party, and no life. He learnt growing up that the only way he is worth something is to be funny. Therefore he cannot allow anybody else to take that role, and so Miranda never gets the chance to learn from Daniel how to be a Free Child. They are stuck in a futile power struggle, without the ability to solve it, and hence, eventually the divorce. When Daniel is alone, he finally has the opportunity to develop his missing parts, since he is no longer hindered by his wife’s criticism on the one hand, and on the other he is spurred on by his need to be with his children. (who actually are the physical embodiment of his own inner Free Child.)

Miranda at the same time and throughout the movie does not experience any change. Theoretically she would now have the chance to be with her children and start developing, maybe with their help, her Free Child. But in the movie she is wooed by her old-time boy friend, a rich, stiff –shirted British millionaire. She is not in love with him, nor is she swept away, but for the time being she enjoys the attention and the stability that this new man gives her.

The Children
It is interesting to note the behavior of the children who throughout the movie enjoy playing with Daniel, but also play the part of his Parent – judging and evaluating his behavior. This is what happens when the parent is lacking parts of his personality – someone around him – his spouse or his children, or both, will have to compensate for this lack. The minute he regains the missing parts – the children can resume their childhood, and stop moonlighting as Daniel’s parent. As Daniel develops, his children start treating him like an authority figure that they can trust and rely on. Their collective relief was, to me, quite clear.
I would also note that in real life children of such a marriage would in no way be so polite and restrained. At least one of them would express the children’s anger, despair and anguish in an unmistakable manner, most likely a violent one. But I guess that showing the development of all the characters would have turned this movie into a 5-hour saga.

The Court
One last note about the court’s behavior. We see the court in session twice with the sole judge giving his verdict each time. Both judgments were ruled against Daniel. The first time, as we said, because he lacked the physical conditions deemed necessary by the court for proper care of the children, and the second time, after his masquerade was discovered, he is judged mentally unstable.
This kind of behavior is typical of our courts. In my view this behavior completely disregards the psychological situation of the family. Basically, husband and wife are locked in a power struggle. The battle for custody is just another part of it. The question is, why does the court not recognize this situation and work to resolve the power struggle? Instead, in the present circumstances, the courts have become unwitting participants in the marital power struggles.
In a Jewish state, in a Jewish court of law, I would like to see the judges working together with the married couple to advance Tikkun. This means rewarding the couple for taking upon themselves to Repair themselves within the relationship, and punishing them for continuing their power struggles which inevitably come at the expense of their children. This means that the couple will be directed to participate in a treatment of their choosing which is known to lead to Repair, and if they do not wish to do so they will be punished in such a way that will bond them together – let's say joint community service with people less fortunate than they are. I don’t know – I’m just tossing out some ideas. I do know this – the courts should be working for Tikkun in every possible situation.

As the British nanny, Daniel manages to circumvent the court order and be with his kids each day. The charade eventually is put to an end, but finally, Miranda, under pressure of her kids, and the fond memories of her nanny/husband (who she has learned to trust!), decides to let Daniel take care of the kids everyday.
So after a harrowing and extremely difficult adventure, Daniel finds himself in exactly the same place that he was before, possessing everything that he already had and wanted so dearly – time with his children.
But this time,the new improved Daniel, the responsible, competent authority figure (who can still laugh!) is able to experience them from a more mature, confident viewpoint.
The wiser, fulfilling viewpoint of a man who has undergone Tikkun.

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