Jimmy P. – Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian
A film directed by Andre Desplechin
Premiered at Cannes 2013 due for U.S. release Jan 2014.
Andre Desplechin is considered to be one of the new voices in French cinema with an international reputation secured by basedhis touching and witty film “A Christmas Tale”.(2012) He belongs to a generation of French film directors who have been strongly influenced by psychoanalysis and his most recent film the blandly titled “Jimmy P” (which he both wrote and directed ) testifies to the sophistication of his interest in analysis as well as the continued interest amongst French film in films that are imbued with a sense of the unconscious.
As with so many French films that have explored the narrative and cinematic potential of the enigma or transference love – “An Apartment in New York”, “Indiscreet Treatment”, “Jimmy P” relies for its emotional impact on the emergence of a transference love, a love that appears to come from nowhere but is the consequence of the work that two people are doing, one in the position of the analysand the other the analyst – the one who the analysand feels knows something about they don’t.
The screen play for “Jimmy PO. – Psychotherapy of a plains Indian is based on the first book of brilliant Hungarian- French jew ish American George Devereaux who was one of the founding figures of enthno-psychoanalysis. In 1951 he published a remarkable and largely forgotten account of his treatment of a a plains indian who he treated at the Menninger clinic in Topeka Kansas.
Devereaux who had begun his analytic studies in France (after leaving Romania where he was born in 1896) was given a grant by the Rockefeller foundation to do anthropological research in the U.S. This work with the Mohave Indians who pay considerable attention to their dreams led him he later wrote “to Freud”. He continued to train at the Philadelphia Institute for Psychoanalysis but when he was invited to Menninger’s clinic in order to work with Native American patients he was treated with considerable suspicion because he was not American and did not have a medical degree.
As the film excellently portray his passion for the culture of the indigenous people of North America enabled him to see when beyond his patients symptoms. Avoiding the pit falls of further pathologizing a patient , who was being treated for brain damage and as schizophrenic Devereaux was able to become for his patient an analyst who recognized the symptoms as the record of both subjective and injury . It was through his work with Jimmy P. that he discovered himself as an analyst and he applied his insights into the relation between analyst and analysand in his ethnographical research. Writing about one of his mentors Claude Levi-Strauss he wrote that he was one of the few scientists who wrote about the effect the data had on the scientist himself not the field of knowledge.
Without a film maker of Despchin’ stature it is unlikely that the story of George Devereaux would have generated another scholarly article let alone reached the screen. The film belongs to the wonderful Benicio del Toro who brings to the film the kind of intimate and complex performance that made “Che” such a remarkable achievement. Rather disappointingly the film is burdened by two rather predictable cinematic tropes – Devereux’s loneliness is presented through the brevity of the visits of his lover from New York and Jimmy P’s recovery from the torments of war trauma is evoked through his growing relationship with a local woman.
Reviewers of the film after its premiere at Cannes pointed out the film is also burdened by a rather melodramatic score which also contributes to the sense that somehow despite a wonderful team of collaborators the director could not quite bring the beauty and truth of this story to the screen. The irony perhaps lies in the fact that it is not the biography of Jimmy P that made the film worth making but rather that of the clinician.
An anecdotal review of my psychoanalytic colleagues revealed that even to those who are aware of the remarkable tradition of the Hungarian school of psychoanalysis are unaware of his achievements. An early student of Geza Roheim and also of Marcel Mauss he impressed Claude Levi-Strauss who helped him get an appointment at the Ecole Haute Etudes upon his return to France after the second world war. Not only did he publish a remarkable series of books on native american’s, but he also published a study of dreams in ancient greek theatre. His final masterpiece which remains unpublished in English yet you can find in mass market paperback editions in France is “Myth et Femme” – a crucial contribution to the study of representations of feminity. The summation of a life’s work that had begun amongst the desert Indians of the U.S, within whose territories his ashes were buried upon his death. A relatively forgotten figure but one whom we should be grateful to Desplechin for reminding us of.