Guilt — in the psychoanalytic tradition — is both a form of self-punishment and a key obstacle to therapeutic improvement. In The Ego and the Id, Freud wrote that the patient finds “satisfaction in the illness and refuses to give up the punishment of suffering.” In a paradoxical way, obsessive guilt becomes a masochistic attempt at an unreliable cure.
The Company You Keep, starring and directed by Robert Redford, is a film awash in guilt. Redford’s character, Jim Grant, an ex radical still “hiding” in plain sight, feels guilt about his past and about the secrets he has to withhold from his daughter. A reporter, played by Shia Labeouf, eventually feels guilty about the impact his bulldog reporting might have on the people he’s writing about. A tenured radical professor feels guilty about not keeping up “the struggle,” unable to inspire his students beyond a round of applause at the end of his stories. Another ex-member of the movement (played by Susan Sarandon) tells a reporter that it’s the “kids that change you,” the guilt of abandoning her family audible in her voice. Then there is Mimi, the hard-core hold out, who wants her former revolutionary comrades to feel guilty for easing into adulthood while U.S. Imperialism still runs rampant.
In recent years there has been a kind of nostalgia for the supposedly tough, adventurous, radical critique the Weather Underground supplied a wishy-washy “white left” during the crucible of the struggle. Memoirs have been written, documentaries have been made, and a presidential candidate attended a fund-raiser at the home of ex-Weathermen. Redford insists, of course, that The Company You Keep is not about the Weathermen, but simply about people who are trapped by their past, by small offenses they committed that they have to pay for — for the rest of their lives. The director made this assertion (twice) in an on-line discussion with New York Times reporter David Carr, during which the director was joined by Labeouf, who pointed out that Redford had given him some books to read in preparation for the role. Labeouf also said that he had talked to his parents who were familiar with the Weathermen, concluding, “These were the Billy the Kids of the time and my dad was rooting for them.” (Proof that you can be a successful actor while still thinking from hand to mouth about politics and history.)
To read the full article go to The Los Angeles Review of Books at the link below:
Book References for the article include:
Todd Gitlin - The Sixties – Years of Hope, Days of Rage
Sigmund Freud – The Ego and the Id and New Lectures In Psychoanalysis
Peter Gay – Freud, A Life In Our Times
Irving Howe – Leon Trotsky
Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin - America Divided – The Civil War of the 1960s
Baruch Knei-Paz - The Social and Political Thought of Leon Trotsky
James Miller - Democracy Is In The Streets – From Port Huron to the Siege of Chicago
Adam Phillips – On Flirtation – Psychoanalytic Essays on the Un-Committed Life
Leon Trotsky – Their Morals and Ours
Robert B. Westbrook – John Dewey and American Democracy