Thursday, January 21, 2010

Masochism: The Deleted Scenes

My favorite section of a DVD film is the deleted scenes. Well, I take that back. If there's a blooper reel, that's my most favorite part, then come deleted scenes. I always want to know what might have been in the film had the makers more time. That's what this post is, the things that would have been in yesterday's if there had been more space.

For starters, let's go "back" to Back to the Future. No one really knows, definitively, why a person develops one type of personality over another. Genetics is a factor, family upbringing, peer interactions, and our own unique way of blending them all together, are others. As a way of coping with social pressures, George McFly had become masochistic. The irony is, it wasn't working for him. His desire to avoid pain left him wide open to it. In one scene, for example, we see him being kicked repeatedly because someone has played a prank and taped a "Kick Me" sign to his back.

Masochism does not equal pathology. George didn't have a personality disorder; he'd simply come to the unconscious conclusion over time that he was acceptable only if he wasn't a bother. I'm guessing we could trace this to early family influences in which he experienced his parents as unable to cope with the stress of child-rearing, and as children are prone to do, blamed himself. There's something about me that is too demanding; if I'm invisible, things will be okay. This self-perception eventually colored his way of relating to people outside the family.

Enter his son, Marty. Although not a carbon copy of the old man, Marty nevertheless has some of his own masochism to deal with. He's reticent about sending a demo tape of his music to a record producer. Why? Because, he says, "I don't think I could handle that kind of rejection." But he's also developed in his own way and has a friend and role model in Doc Brown who is anything but risk-avoidant. The "Doc" has helped, and will help (in the past and future) Marty overcome a great deal.

Psychologically speaking, Marty's task is to make a man of his father. His plan involves a scenario in which George can pretend to rescue Lorraine (whom George admires) from Marty's inappropriate advances (Freud would love this). Instead, George actually confronts Biff, the narcissistic bully who has mercilessly abused him. This is a critical moment. Biff has rape on his mind and tries to intimidate George, a strategy that's always worked previously. This time, however, George has had enough, and tapping into the rage and resentment he's long held within, slugs Biff, saves Lorraine, and also himself.

I'm not at all suggesting masochistic types need to resort to violence in order to resolve issues like this. Keep in mind, film is metaphorical. Slugging Biff represents George claiming his own power over situations that have dominated him in the past. It represents one small step toward becoming assertive. And to his surprise, it doesn't lead to being rejected by his peers, but rather earns their respect and encouragement to run for class president. (As an aside, Biff isn't assertive; he's terribly insecure, as is George, but he's learned to use domination for his coping style.)

George doesn't "get rid of" his masochism -- he transforms it. And that's the take-home message. His proclivity for self-effacement turns into genuine modesty. At the end of the film, when he has become a published author, we notice that success hasn't "gone to his head." He's a nice guy, loving husband, nurturing father, someone you'd like to know. But now he's confident and capable of standing up for himself because the lessons he learned from his son have had an enduring effect. It's what can happen when we incorporate the "deleted scenes" into the final version of the person we'd like to be.

(Creative Commons Image of Back to the Future poster by Ralph Hogaboom via Flickr)

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