Movie Night: Nightmare Alley

Let’s discuss a nightmare that’s not our own for a change!

Freud on ambition?

I feel that your ambitions should always exceed the budget. That no matter what budget you’re doing, you should be dreaming bigger than the budget you have, and then it’s a matter of reigning it in to the reality. You try to make things count.

—Guillermo del Toro, Director

The Big Picture

Join us to see how Bradley Cooper as Stanton Carlisle schemes and cons his way through the wealthy elite of 1940s New York society. See how he has the ability to read people well enough to fool them. What happens as his false identity unfolds? A story of adventure, wit, and a protagonist that makes us question right vs. wrong.

Deception is at the core of Guillermo del Toro’s new thriller Nightmare Alley, but the Oscar-winning filmmaker actually wants to be completely honest with audiences: This movie is not what you might think it is. Nightmare Alley is actually his take on classic film noir. 

There are still monsters in this film, but these are all human beings: glamorous, elegant, and more alluring than off-putting. Maybe that makes them even more dangerous. Bradley Cooper stars as Stanton Carlisle, a former carnival worker who becomes a big-city star as a nightclub performer, using cold-reading tricks he picked up in the sideshow to create the impression he is a powerful mind reader. Now the marks and rubes he targets are millionaires. Cate Blanchett plays Dr. Lilith Ritter, a psychiatrist, who becomes embroiled in his schemes. 

Nightmare Alley is based on a 1946 novel by William Lindsay Gresham, made previously into a gritty 1947 film starring Tyrone Power. Director Del Toro says, “from the beginning, our interest was to go for the novel, but it’s almost impossible to adapt because it has a very kaleidoscopic, very peculiar voice. – From Vanity Fair 


The Motivation

Neuroscience is a very reductionist analysis, yet it underlies most of our modern understanding of the brain. But is it enough? The pondering of this question raises another. What is the modern day relevance for Freudian psychology? Is psychoanalysis obsolete or does it meet a need that our understanding of neurons misfires on?

What kinds of explanations really satisfy people? As psychologists and in psychoanalysis, how do we understand people, their thoughts and behaviors? How does that differ from the explanations we give to them?

Nightmare Alley is a fabulous jumping off point for not only these issues, but also some of the darker components of the human psyche.


The Analysis

What is the psychanalytic term superego lacunae? 

How does Superego Lacunae represent a gap in or hole in conscience? 

What is the relationship between Superego Lacunae with psychopaths and antisocial personality traits? 

How does narcissism impact characters in the movie and interact with Freudian views? 

What does it mean to be a Geek? Is it in the cards? 

Do you relate more to carnie culture and tarot card readings OR the elite NYC 40s society life? Why or why not?  

What is the Freudian conception of libido, and how is that totally different from our modern understanding of the term? 

What is the “return of the repressed?” How does it connote power? 

How does libido play into the movie and motivations of the characters? 

How does Freud’s “unconscious determinism” interact with some of America’s founding ideals of rational thought and individualism?  

What is good or evil, and do we judge this differently based on class? 

Is Freudian psychoanalysis still relevant, given how much our understanding of neuroscience has evolved? 


How To Participate

It’s as easy as 1-2-3-4!

1. Watch the movie in advance, why not with a group of friends?

2. Meet us in the Community, where we will discuss the movie together. NOTE: We will NOT watch the movie during our meeting, so be sure to catch it in advance.

3. Use coupon code: POPCORN to join the Community with your first month FREE!

4. Enjoy the psychological insights of a modern take on a film noir classic in a discussion led by a Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Britt. Share your own take-aways and also have the opportunity to ask questions!