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‘Oh Rose, thou art sick!’ Anti-individuation forces in the film American Beauty



Abstract:  The film American Beauty is used as a vehicle to explore difficulties in the individuation process, to look at a particular aspect of couple relationships in which mourning is avoided, and to make a general comment about the relationship between film and psychological experience. The thesis of the paper is that the individuation process is both an intra-psychic experience and an inter-psychic one which relies on relationships with external figures to enable development. The adult couple relationship is taken as one of the key areas of emotional life for the individuation process and as an area that can best show up false starts, successes, or even retreats in psychological development. Using the poetry of William Blake and the work of Michael Fordham, I show a process of anti-individuation going on in the relationship between the characters of Lester and Carolyn Burnham in the film.