I’m known to go to a movie I think I’m going to like very much, and within the first few minutes, I’m nodding off. Woman in Gold is the most recent movie in which I found myself in this soporific state; but at some point, I was able to keep my eyes open long enough to get hooked by this powerful movie about redemption, justice, and human transformation.
David Putnam, producer and Oscar winner of Chariots of Fire and The Mission, said that, “If movies were what they might be, there’d be no need to go to church.” Such is the power of stories that tap into the depths of our souls. We recognize instantly stories that reflect the highest of human values in the characters depicted on the screen. Stories told well tap into our own personal longings for what matters most to us. They lift our spirits, or they challenge us, or they give us hope to live lives of courage and determination in the face of daunting odds.
Such is the story depicted in Woman in Gold. As a psychotherapist trained in the art and science of depth psychology, I find many themes related to Jungian concepts: both the personal and cultural shadow, the struggle between conventional paths of life and vocation versus living from the deeper collective roots of personal and societal callings, and the nature of conventional religion in tension with an authentic living out of spirituality that enriches ones life in relationship to both self and community.
Maria is cast as an adult living the golden years of her life in Los Angeles, far removed from her Austrian and Jewish roots in Nazi occupied Vienna. Having left her family behind at the pained request of her father, she also left behind her aunt Adele who was the subject of Klimt’s famous painting ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I.’ The gorgeous and also priceless painting hung in Maria’s home until confiscated by the Nazis along with thousands of other wonderful works of art during WWII. The plot of Woman in Gold hinges around Maria’s desire to reclaim what belongs to her family; but more importantly the story hinges on Maria’s need to face her traumatic losses and the losses suffered as a central aspect of her Jewish heritage. Randy, her young inexperienced attorney, destined for a successful career in line with his father and grandfather before him, becomes Maria’s hero – her knight in shining armor. But Randy, unbeknownst to himself, is also on a journey of facing his personal shadow as he encounters the not so repressed unconscious of Austrian political power. In a moment of defeat and recognition, Randy repents of his desire for status and financial reward, opting for a second chance to reclaim the stolen work of art through passion, personal sacrifice, and commitment to a higher calling. In the process, Randy discovers his place in the great story of our shared yearning for redemption and justice, while Maria is afforded an opportunity to confront and to grieve the losses of hers and her family’s past.
Movies like Woman in Gold, in my humble opinion, do not come along often enough. So, I’ll continue going to church, but will also relish these wonderful opportunities to encounter the sacred through cinema and story. What movies have you seen recently that capture the yearnings of our souls?