Monday, September 27, 2010
Tony Soprano: Ethics vs Psychoanalysis
Tony’s analyst has an analyst herself, and he always keeps bringing the subject back to Tony. She accuses her analyst of having a tabloid interest in Tony, and she is right, but he won’t admit it.
Tony acquires some self-understanding through the analysis (which goes on for years) but he becomes no less brutal, no less of a murderer. He can’t, for legal reasons, tell his analyst much of what he does. At one point he refers to a ‘manpower’ problem involving a member of his gang who he is related to. Tony’s analyst helps him see the feelings of guilt and sentimental attachment which are clouding his ability to think clearly and do what is necessary. The next thing you see is Tony heading off and despatching the guy, who has become a liability. This series of events seems quite plausible to me, and forcefully makes the point that successful psycho-analysis doesn’t necessarily make you more moral.
This theme arises earlier in the series when Tony’s wife Carmela goes to see an analyst because she is having problems with his serial infidelities (Tony has a strong desire nature which he never restrains – Scorpio again). This analyst is again Jewish, but of a very different cut. He speaks like an Old Testament prophet, taking a clear moral stance and denouncing the self-centred nature of modern analysis.
This scene only lasted a few minutes, but I felt relief flooding through me as I heard it. The basis for personal transformation, according to this more old-fashioned viewpoint, is ethics, is considering the effects your actions have on others. Without that, you are just refining your own self-centredness. This point comes up again at the end when Tony’s analyst reads a study that describes psychopaths like Tony, and how the effect of psychoanalysis on such people is often to give them more tools with which to manipulate people and get their own way. (This study is for real: I have read it elsewhere.) At this point she finally gives up on Tony, and you are left with the realisation that for all his charm and his feelings for his wife and kids, and his attempts at understanding himself, Tony remains an unreformed monster.