Review of Yalom’s Cure: Examining the Existentialist
Yalom’s Cure is a film about the life and work of acclaimed American psychotherapist and writer Dr. Irwin Yalom. The documentary was written and directed by Zurich-born filmmaker Sabine Gisiger and explores the famed existentialist’s personal history as well as his influential theories on subjects such as the intricacies of the human mind, self awareness, suffering, aging, and death.
The film reveals that Yalom’s parents were Russian Jews who came to America in search of a better life. Irwin Yalom was born in 1931 in Washington, D.C. The documentary chronicles his early years struggling to cope with the demands, irritable moods, and criticism doled out by his difficult mother, to his experience attending medical school, and the story behind his longterm marriage to wife and fellow scholar Marilyn Yalom.
Throughout the course of the film, Gisiger affords Dr. Yalom the opportunity to personally relate his experiences, thoughts, and insights at the center of his professional career and psychotherapy practice. The documentary also provides viewers with valuable insight into the author’s most successful works including The Schopenhauer Cure, Love’s Executioner, and his 1992 novel When Nietzsche Wept.
Throughout the documentary, the Swiss filmmaker uses her camera to give viewers the opportunity to quietly consider the meaning of Yalom’s philosophy, narratives, and research. The director devotes a great deal of screen time to lingering on picturesque shots featuring ships traveling across the water, rushing waves, and sequences depicting underwater scuba diving. The filmmaker’s reliance on water imagery could be perceived as both a strength and a weakness in terms of the documentary as a cohesive whole. The positive aspect of these shots is how the director is able to use water as a powerful metaphor for a number of psychological concepts including the progression of life (as symbolized by the container ship sailing across the screen), inner personal turmoil (crashing waves), and the subconscious (the underwater shots). On the negative side, however, the continual use of water imagery comes across as somewhat heavy-handed and slows down the pace of the film.
Yalom’s Cure provides a great deal of personal insight into the doctor’s life as well as many of the concepts that have made him such an important figure in modern psychotherapy. Central to his teachings is Yalom’s focus on the importance of self-awareness and getting to know your inner self. Yalom stresses that only through self-examination can the core roots and causes of reoccurring neuroses, fears, and compulsions be revealed. Central to his theories is the renowned scholar’s acknowledgement that suffering is a universal (and unavoidable) condition. The key to understanding and coping with such feelings can only be achieved through extensive self-exploration.
Yalom’s Cure reveals Irwin Yalom to be an interesting and active character. Even in his early 80s the film shows him delivering academic speeches, counseling patients, walking arm in arm with his wife, and zipping around on his bicycle. Clearly Yalom is someone who practices what he preaches and a key element of this is that keeping engaged and busy – both physically and mentally – is vital to maintaining a healthy lifestyle through each phase of life.
Yalom’s Cure is now available on DVD.