DVD Jimmy P.

DVD Jimmy P.
DVD Jimmy P.
Run time: 117 min
Rating: 6.0
Genres: Drama
Director: Arnaud Desplechin
Writers: Sherman Alexie, Arnaud Desplechin
Stars: Benicio Del Toro, Mathieu Amalric, Gina McKee
A Native American Veteran suffering from a series of psychological issues develops a deeply powerful friendship with his progressive French psychoanalyst as they discover and attempt to understand the source of his illness.
Country: USA, France
Release Date: 11 September 2013 (France)
Box Office
Budget: $10,000,000 (estimated)
Opening Weekend: $9,324 (USA) (14 February 2014)
Gross: $23,220 (USA) (7 March 2014)


  1. An intellectual labor of love in which the director tries to recreate the psychotherapeutic relationship between a French psychoanalyst (in reality a Hungarian-German Jew who converted to Christianity) and a Blackfoot Indian vet suffering from inexplicable symptoms in the late 1940s in a VA hospital in Topeka, Kansas.

    Played by Benicio del Toro (who is Puerto Rican) and Mathieu Almaric (who is half-French half-Polish Jewish), the film drags at times but does delve into some interesting psychological (although of course it goes *much* more seamlessly/painlessly than most analyses in reality).

    Almaric's character wins over Del Toro's with his initial knowledge of Native American cultures (actually Mojave but there are parallels to the Blackfoot). From there he tries to synthesize his anthropological knowledge with what seem to be a pretty standard fare of sexualized Freudian clichés (witnessing the primal scene, explicit discussions of vaginas (which I thought Del Toro's character spoke about far too easily for the mores of that day and age)).

    The relationship between the two men are supposed to be a life-changing event but I felt the film fell a little short in depicting that reality (also a film review (for which I know the director is not responsible) described their friendship as resulting from their both being outsiders, but Almaric's character never reveals his true background (his lover mentions at one point the fact that he changed his name but that is it, perhaps there were other scenes that didn't make it past the editor (I went to the premiere in NYC with the director and main actors and they said there are a lot of scenes that got cut)).

    In the latter part of the movie there are strong hints that Jimmy's (Del Toro's character) headaches, fits of rage and alcoholic binges are the result of systematic sociopolitical mistreatment of native Americans but the subject is only strongly hinted at, not really discussed explicitly by Jimmy in any deep or meaningful way. This was to me perhaps more interesting than the anthropological Freudianism of the first 90 minutes of the film, but the director was trying to adhere to a book on the subject and real-life events (psychology back then was even more grossly unaware of psychopolitical factors compared to now).

    Perhaps subtly discourages the notion that Jimmy is suffering from PTSD (a diagnosis which did not exist at the time, but the phrase "shell shock" is not used either) because he never saw combat or killed anyone (he was involved in mine-clearing operations after the German retreat). Also interesting insofar as his injury was to his head, thus perhaps implicitly challenging the often presumed relationship nowadays in vets between TBI (traumatic brain injury) and PTSD? (Then again the director was following real-life events so I don't know his intentionality.)

    A worthwhile film but a little odd insofar as it (to me) underemphasizes the ethnocultural forces in the characters in favor of a "special friendship" (in a universalized way) despite the fact that it is the decultured nature of American psychiatry which was at the root of doctors' inability to help Jimmy in the first place. Also couldn't stand the way a couple of actors (thinking of Almaric and Joseph Cross specifically) who think that acting means being as anxious and/or intense as possible in every scene.

    P.S. The film does drag a bit (114 minutes) (I'm not someone who normally complains about "art-house" films with slower (French) pacing either.)

  2. Based on a true story, this film is a documentary fiction. A Blackfoot Indian who has fought in France in the Second World War and had had an accident there that let him comatose for a couple of days experiences great behavior disorder when back I n the USA. He is treated in Topeka, Kansas, as a veteran and they come to the conclusion that there is nothing physiologically wrong with him and at the same time the diagnosis that comes next, that of schizophrenia, does not accommodate all the symptoms. The boss of this military hospital knows a French anthropologist, trained as a psychoanalyst, in New York and he invites him for a couple of consultations with the patient. From a couple it will lead to a few dozens if not more, one a day for a rather long period.

    At the time psychoanalysis could only look for personal disorders at the sexual level having to do with parents, infancy, childhood, and then women (for men). The case concentrates on women and the patient finds some relief in that approach. This is very interesting how the anthropologist who is a specialist of come North American Indians, the Mojave actually, uses his knowledge of Indian culture and one language to build some trust between him and the Indian and on the basis of that trust he is able to penetrate the private life and mind of the Indian. But he does not really use the understanding of Indian culture to see what is shown in the film but not exploited at all, the fact that the Indians are systematically negated in their culture by all kinds of institutions. We can see in the film the fact that this military hospital for veterans does not have one Indian nurse or doctor able to understand the alienation of Indians in white society. Then you have the daughter of the Indian who is in the hands of catholic nuns for her education. Then you could speak of the way these Indians dress in the most white American way possible, with ties, shirts, suits, and the girls the very same way with scarves, dresses, etc. Hair cuts are standard north American.

    At the same time this Indian cannot get money at the post office or the bank without a good Caucasian (not North American since the French doctor is able to do it) signing for him. A white nurse tells the Indian a tall tale one day in another hospital where he is supposed to go through special tests, and she cannot in any way ignore that what she is telling him is B.S. And even the French doctor who was called in because he was an anthropologist who had spent two years with the Mojave Indians, at the end, asserts that he did not help the Indian because he was an Indian but because he was suffering. In other words he negates his own expertise. And that is justified in his mind because he did think his expertise was not with Indian culture (that was only a means to build trust) but psychoanalysis. He even, early in the film, creates some blurred situation when he advocates the typically French godless secular philosophy to an Indian who declares himself a Catholic though he knows about old Indian religions that he has "rejected" under the influence of course, but not of alcohol this time. It is also called duress.

    The problem we are dealing with here is Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome of American Indians who have been vastly exterminated, then locked up in reservations under rules that forced them to drop their cultures, their dances and their languages, to get educated and integrated in the American society, language, culture and all. What is the intention of Arnaud Desplechin? To remain as close as possible to the way the case was treated at the time? Maybe but naïve since the audience cannot sort out the real stake here. Yet it is surprising he does not use what has become standard today over the last ten years. It is called the decolonization of the mind. He only shows how the Indian mind is colonized and never questions his psychoanalytical approach that makes the syndrome the result of personal sexual problems.

    Dr Jacques COULARDEAU

  3. The visuals in Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian are almost, almost worth the price of admission. The opening scene of the film beautifully articulates setting and irony by showing the grassy plains of America while Native American flute music is played in the backdrop. It's a comforting, soft opening to a film that is erected predominately off of complex discussion and ideology.

    The film stars Benicio Del Toro in a role he clearly embraced and enjoyed, playing Jimmy Picard, a Blackfoot Indian, who has returned from war with seriously debilitating symptoms, most specifically, a crippling headache. Jimmy is placed under the care of George Devereux (Mathieu Amalric), a real-life French doctor and anthropologist, who specializes in ethnology and psychoanalysis. The two meet together and form a quaint bond between their lengthy discussions about Native American history and culture, stemming from Devereux's desire to learn about the culture, as an anthropologist often does and Jimmy's checkered past, which involves troubled love and a teenage daughter that another man is raising.

    With the right directorial methods and smooth, engaging writing, Jimmy P. could easily be a film that one can effortlessly sink into, investing in its characters and learning a thing or two about psychological methods. It just so happens that my semester of high school psychology delved into Freudian ideas and psychoanalysis quite extensively, both principles are based on three key ideas: the inner conscious and unconscious act as dueling forces in the mind, the discussion and population of defense mechanisms in order for people to cope or estrange themselves from their past, and the idea that dreaming means more than disjointed shows that play in your head while you sleep.

    Making a film centered around often complex and occasionally droning material, especially when that film is about the founding days of a division in psychology, is unbelievably challenging, so based on that, it's surprising to say Jimmy P. succeeds as well as it does. French director and co-writer Arnaud Desplechin (who wrote the film with Julie Peyr and Kent Jones, respectively) does all he can to make the film as absorbing as possible, and for the first hour or so, his efforts are effective, as we watch Jimmy and Devereux invest in some great conversational banter that is geared more towards cultural relativism than it is in trying to structure cheap and expected payoffs. However, the film runs out of gas when you realize just how stiff and frequently dull the material gets. Perhaps it really is no fault of the trio of writers, nor Desplechin himself, but the fact that the ideas presented in the film are difficult to make engaging on an entertainment level.

    Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian works for a little while because it's interesting to see how a significant subsector of psychology was born by a doctor who was clearly interested in learning about different walks of life and the makeup of cultures and people of groups he didn't belong to. Amalric embodies the mindset of an anthropologist/psychologist quite nicely here, effectively making for a character we can appreciate. However, the stiffness of the film catches up to it, with the film's discussions in its second and third act becoming greatly long-winded and the entire project slowly running out of steam before reaching the conclusion. Rather than rewarding and captivating, the ending comes off a long-awaited conclusion to a film that was so close to making a film about psychology absorbing for two hours.

    Starring: Benicio Del Toro and Mathieu Amalric. Directed by: Arnaud Desplechin.

  4. Each of us springs from cultures that form our worldview, guide our behavior, create our sensibilities. But non-whites, especially, are coerced into discarding that identity and, through acculturation, becoming someone that they really aren't, someone who, over time, can no longer understand why they dream of a bear, a fox, and a baby and what in the world those images mean. An early scene in Jimmy P shows a white doctor asking Jimmy to respond to a picture he's shown of some white demonic guy with a knife in what looks like an operating room. Jimmy can't free associate anything from that picture. Not because he's crazy, but because it's meaningless to him. But later he can uncover meaning in a dream that includes a bear, a fox, and a baby.

    Over a generation or two, Jimmy has lost many connections to his own past and cultural traditions. Although he can still sense them, he can't interpret them as they relate to his own psychological issues. He's broken laws that the dominant cultural doesn't regard as criminal at all. Not understanding this, he punishes himself even though freed by a white court of law.

    Although Thunderheart may have been more entertaining, Jimmy P is enlightening about the psychic damage that happens when cultural and ethnic peoples are punished for who they are and made to ape other cultures to become accepted.

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