A quote from Nancy Easterlin – about psychoanalysis – from a chapter in Evolution, Literature, Film: A Reader (2010).

Freud was apparently a big fan of cocaine. (So – no wonder he wrote so much.) But there are also big problems with what he wrote. Mainly they are due to his unexamined assumptions. He had read Charles Darwin’s work, so it’s odd that he had so many wild-and-crazy ideas. (Then again, I guess, cocaine is good for that.)

Sigmund Freud by Max Halberstadt, 1921

Sigmund Freud getting sky-high before sitting down to work, by Max Halberstadt, 1921

This PBS story about Freud and his misadventures with coke is interesting:

In ELF: A Reader, Nancy Easterlin does a great job of examining some of Freud’s unexamined assumptions – and showing where they are deeply flawed. (For even more, see

(For even more, see this post, with quotes from Sugiyama on why The Oedipus Complex is another example of what I now like to think of as: Freud’s coked-up imaginings.)

Easterlin writes:

`In the past three decades, psychological approaches to literature, including feminist interpretations, have been overwhelmingly psychoanalytic, and this is still the case, even as cognitive psychology emerges as a relevant and fruitful secondary field for literary scholars.

The dominance of psychoanalysis holds true for Wordsworth scholarship, an area in which, given the poet’s developmental concerns, psychological orientations seem particularly apropos.

Unfortunately, Freud’s most basic assumptions about infant experience, still credited in various forms by Lacanian and many feminist scholars, are no longer accepted by developmental psychologists, who regard the infant as a self-organizing system engaged in a fundamentally productive and social relationship with his primary caregiver, usually his mother.

By contrast, psychoanalysis, which opposes union with the mother in the state of primary narcissism to separation and individuation, envisions the mother-infant relationship as primarily conflicted…

In misconstruing infant psychology and growth along the lines suggested by Freud and his followers, many of Wordsworth’s interpreters unintentionally misrepresent and devalue both the poet’s conscious understanding of that interaction as well as the unconscious motivations for the poet’s attachment to nature…

Whereas Freud posits that the infant’s attachment to the mother is a byproduct of nursing, a secondary drive derived from a sexualized primary drive for food, developmentalists have long considered these views in error (Bowlby, Attachment).

First, studies of animal behaviour consistently demonstrate across a wide variety of species that there is no causal relationship between food and attachment, the most important research in this respect being Harlow’s 1961 experiments with infant rhesus monkeys who were isolated in cages and who would cling to a cloth and chickenwire “mother” rather than eat, and who later manifested severe emotional and social disturbances.

These findings are supported by Konrad Lorenz’s studies in the 1930s of imprinting behaviour, which demonstrate that even chicks attach to a parent-figure independent of food availability.

Indeed, primates and humans characteristically develop strong attachments to those who do not meet their physiological needs, a fact which psychoanalytic theory is poorly equipped to explain.

Secondly, Freud’s assumption that incestuous desire is natural and normative should have struck a discordant note even in the nineteenth century, for before the theory of natural selection and the discovery of genetics, breeders had long known of the damaging effects of inbreeding depression.

This alone makes it improbable that attachment to the mother is mobilized by a sexual drive.

An alternative hypothesis known as the Westermarck effect, which holds that those with whom one associates closely in early childhood are avoided as sexual objects, was an early rival to Freudianism and seems more plausible in the face of all subsequent evidence (Brown, Human Universals 118-29; Darwin, Origin; Wilson, Consilience 173-80).’

(Easterlin in Boyd, Carroll & Gottschall 2010, pp. 348-52)

In other words – we all should stop using Freudian and Lacanian theory to analyze films.

Bordwell also rightly criticizes “Grand Theorists” or the “SLAB” (`Saussurian semiotics, Lacanian psychoanalysis, Althusserian Marxism, and Barthesian textual’) “grand” theories of movie analysis:

`During the 1970s Grand Theorists took individual agency out of film history; since then they have been struggling to put it back. The problem/solution model faces no such difficulty… Once films are supposed to tell stories, filmmakers must try out ways to tell them clearly. How do you ensure that viewers recognize the main characters on each appearance? How do you delineate cause and effect in unambiguous ways? How do you portray psychological states that propel the action? …Later solutions to the problem of clarity, such as cutting in to a closer view, will yield different benefits (as well as different costs).’

(Bordwell 1997, pp. 150-1).

As Bordwell notes here (in Bordwell 2012, online) a much better approach is the consilient biocultural approach.

Bordwell (2012) writes:

`Academics praise interdisciplinarity, of the cooperation of the humanities and the sciences. Too often, though, that cooperation involves only interpretations.

Humanists join with social scientists in producing readings but not explanations.

The engagement of film studies with empirical psychology and cognitive science over the last three decades has come closer to providing the sort of “consilience” that Edward O. Wilson proposed: unified explanations that bring art, humanistic inquiry, and scientific inquiry together (Wilson 1998).

Film researchers invoke naturalistic models and findings from psychology in order to understand more fully how cinema works, and works with our minds.’

(Bordwell 2012, online)

So here is a simple diagram, of sets of things that should be considered in understanding movies and how they work.


Bio- Psycho-Socio-Cultur-ology!

And – for more detail on the evolutionary systems (or, complexity) view of narrative and bioculture in general, see, this book chapter:

StoryAlity #132The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture – and the narreme, or unit of story – book chapter (Velikovsky 2016)

And for a great consilience & creativity & evolution reading list, see:

StoryAlity #71On Consilience in the Arts / Humanities / Communication

Comments, always welcome.


JT Velikovsky

High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher

The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky

JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild. For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/



David Bordwell reprinted in Boyd, B., Carroll, J., & Gottschall, J. (2010). Evolution, Literature and Film: A Reader. New York: Columbia University Press.

Nancy Easterlin, reprinted in Boyd, B., Carroll, J., & Gottschall, J. (2010). Evolution, Literature and Film: A Reader. New York: Columbia University Press.

Bordwell, D. (1997). On the History of Film Style. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Bordwell, D. (2012). The Viewer’s Share: Models of Mind in Explaining Film  Retrieved Nov 9th, 2015, from http://www.davidbordwell.net/essays/viewersshare.php

Castle, A. (2005). The Stanley Kubrick Archives. Köln; London: Taschen.

Quart, A. (2000). `The Insider: David Bordwell Blows the Whistle on Film Studies’. Lingua Franca, 10(2), 34-43.

Velikovsky, J. T. (2016). `The Holon/Parton Theory of the Unit of Culture (or the Meme, and Narreme): In Science, Media, Entertainment and the Arts.‘ In A. Connor & S. Marks (Eds.), Creative Technologies for Multidisciplinary Applications. New York: IGI Global.

4 thoughts on “StoryAlity #94 – Freud was wrong (Easterlin)

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