Is hysteria at the root of comedy in the same way sex is at the root of hysteria? Or has fear of being a bad father replaced sexual repression as the self-exposing terror at the heart of the modern persona? Has the removal of spanking as an acceptable from of behavioral correction in our current era of overprotective rod-sparing in fact altered parenting and childhood to such an extent that the neurosis at the heart of repression is no longer a sublimated sadomasochistic incestuous taboo but fear of being branded a bad father? In other words without the threat of spanking to anchor the authority of the father he has essentially become the child, living in mortal terror of being accused of spanking, and going to jail or, at a more acceptable Hollywood plot level, being branded a bad dad and thus spanked by the ex-wife and her lawyer with the rod of child visitation rights.
Watch A DANGEROUS METHOD and LIAR LIAR in the same day and the whole crazy charade comes clear: Cronenberg's 2011 film chronicles a passionate lapse of ethics on the part of Jung (Michael Fassbender) with his sexually unhinged masochist patient, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) in and around the early years of the 20th century. As Freud, Viggo Mortenson smokes cigars and feigns shock at his mentee's weakness but is he maybe jealous? Even though with her hysterical symptoms including a frightening distending of her jaw she's still super hot and spankable. As she gets 'cured' her madness abates and she is "allowed" to go to medical school and become a psychoanalyst herself, but hot mess-wise it's like she dries back into the scenery.
Jim Carrey's 1997 film by contrast follows two days in the life of a high-powered lawyer who makes a living by unscrupulous larger-than-life lying. He's never around for his son and he's divorced, for pretty much the same reason --putting work first. When Jim does show up for junior he's a riot, apparently: Carrey's emotionally arrested spastic antics make him the ultimate in 'fun' dads -- albeit useless as an actual parent or presumably as a lover. His is the opposite of the suffocatingly masculine sexual presence of Sabina's unseen father and his corporal punishments. One is far too rigid a suffocating authority figure, the other far too genial and mostly absent. When Carrey's son's birthday wish comes true it means his dad can't lie for 24 hours, but unfortunately within that frame he has to do just that to win a big important divorce case that's a handy mirror to his own life. When it all goes to shit he's forced to beg his son try and undo the 'curse' via another birthday ritual.
But of course his inability to lie is where the comedy is since giving statements to the court, he gets to twist and spazz impressively in a textbook example of Jung's autonomous complex, wherein the subject is emotionally arrested, unable to cope with adult reality and so:
"... the significance of archetypal defenses is relatively greater. When the ego is not developed, the damage is more catastrophic. The psychic defenses are more primitive and archaic, such as splitting and projective identification. The inner world is full of rage and violent aggression, which is split off or dissociated into fantasies or autonomous archetypal forms, which threaten to turn against the self and others. There is not an adequate ego to deal with the rage or with the split off forms which are invested with aggressive, destructive energies. (Singer, Kimbles, p. 160)
The differentiation of Carrey's post and pre-epiphany persona (for these comedies always end with the dad realizing what's 'important' in life) hinges merely on the sublimation "for good" of the autonomous complex Jung describes. Carrey's performance of "the claw" keeps his son amused (and is thus good) while his spastic herky jerky in the courtroom endangers the sanctity of the legal profession (and thus is bad). By ultimately leading Carrey to a self-realization (he quits his job to spend more time at home with his son) the autonomous complex 'wins' and forces Carrey to relocate to a place where said complex has its approved outlet -- forever amusing the son in the seclusion of the home -- and so Carrey remains unable to actually eliminate the complex, he merely finds its correct outlet, just as Sabina eventually finds hers in her own doctoral practice, in addition to but not hinging on the kinky sex. But once Sabine steps out of her ascribed domestic sphere and enters psychiatry school she's cured of her spastic antics, while Carrey steps into the domestic sphere to cure his.
As it's a love story we root for the forbidden passion of Sabina and Jung in METHOD; as with the 'curse' Carrey suffers, their affair is an autonomous complex that cures each of its victims of all sorts of positive traits, such as doctor-patient bonds and professional ethics-- and leaves them wiser and complex-free, and perhaps unemployed. In the end, Jung and Sabina keep their jobs: Sabina marries someone else and Jung pops out more kids still with his long-suffering wife, all while Freud looks on, askance. Luck for them, neither Jung's nor Sabina's issues involves the trials of parenting. Jung avoids his kids at least in the film (and lives in a time when such remote parenting was accepted) and yet childhood parental relations are at the core of his secret affair, as in the whipping and spanking of Sabina during their trysts.
So while Carrey finds an outlet for his undeveloped ego's hysteric split in amusing his son with an autonomous hand 'claw,' which only pretend-threatens corporal punishment (triggering jouissance in the child), Sabina and Jung find an outlet for their own jouissance by not sparing the rod with themselves. Jung's claw, the whip, becomes a surrogate for Sabina's father's spanking hand, while Jung himself gets to escape the crushing guilt over his own real-time absentee fathering through this re-enactment of a role as Sabina's corporal pater. Just as the hand of her father is on Sabina's ass, if you'll forgive the expression, Carrey's mark is of the claw on his own neck. Perhaps when Carrey's son grows up his girlfriend in college will deliver her own version of 'the claw' on him, by his own kinky request, and the cycle will be complete.
Back in the day I dismissed Carrey, along with 'idiot savant' film stars like Adam Sandler and Jerry Lewis, as lowbrow buffoons strictly for the kids and the French. But armed by DANGEROUS METHOD, Carrey's schtick glows with archetypal dementia that explains my overall reticence, my fear of squirming on the gender-based guilt hook. Now that I've made the leap, these spastic males I used to hate can join the pantheon modern apocalypse dads I wrote of awhile back for Bright Lights (See: Dads of Great Adventure) wherein I suggested that the hook of modern disaster movies is no longer fear of dying but "having it be your fault if your children die or are horribly maimed, kidnapped, or molested while you have them for the weekend." Why this change? As a child in the far more permissive 1970s, it was the child who freaked out and cried, not the father, if the child wound up lost at the department store. Dad just finished shopping, then went and got you at the lost and found. Now the father is more of a large child himself, eyes bugging, screaming his kid's name, pulling on the lapels of passing shoppers like a drowning victim: "Have you seen my child!!? His name is Adam! ADAM!!" While his kid, over in the toy section, just shakes his head sadly.
The screaming for the lost child is just replaced in comedies like LIAR with spastic airport chases, or other last minute declarations of castrative fidelity to the tedious parameters of mom-governed parenting. We never see the real connection between the child and father, only the declaration that from now on there will be a connection, after or under the credits. This is the last minute voluntary castration and re-entrance into the domestic sphere, back to the realm of the wife where any amount of family unity is ever-measured against the displays of same on the TV, and inevitably found wanting. The comedic dad, unable to maintain his fragile ego against TV's injunction, flees into the realm of the infantile, which is where we usually find him when the film begins. Having received his karmic lesson after the climax, Carrey goes racing back to share his 'changed man' status with his son, who is imminently departing for a new life with a bland and simple 'perfect' soon-to-be stepdad. This new guy usually has a good supportive job and is 'there' for the son in ways the actual guilt-ridden dad is not (a step-dad isn't expected to be perfect, thus he's free from guilt and can actually be present). This is the fall-out of an ego ideal indentured to purveying the illusion of perfect harmony seen in TV father-son relationships.
No one in LIAR sees a shrink but they should, in order to see that it is the unbearable pressure of being a perfect TV dad that drives the 'real' dad away; the 'new' bland dad is just the castrated version, the pod person, who has trimmed away the excess jouissance that has no place inside the bland confines of the ascribed nuclear family. The new dad is useless as a father because of his perfection. What the real dad does have, eventually, hopefully, is a way to incorporate some of the wildness that drove him from the family in the first place. The dad must bring the wild back into the family, bring in his boots of eccentricity rather than leaving them at the door (because the wife says they're too muddy, for example). He needs to 'take 'er easy' as a dad and not hover over the boy, terrified any moment some fathering challenge may erupt and expose the nonexistent commitment the dad fears is/isn't there underneath his shaky, undifferentiated persona. Even the phrase 'undifferentiated' bears him out, for the dad hasn't learned to split himself off properly - whatever's going on in front of him, or whatever spastic pleas for adoration consume him at the moment invariably makes him late for whatever's next on his agenda; prior commitments are forgotten in the rapture of the moment.
A differentiated psyche internalizes the split, so instead of one hand doing something (say strangling himself) against the rest of the body's will, the subject can go ahead and act like a lunatic with his whole body while all the while he has 'one eye on the time.'
Unfortunately in METHOD we're not allowed to stop at the moment of true blissful union between Sabina and Jung the way we stop with LIAR. Instead there's Jung's bitter mishandling of rumors about him (which it turns out were spread by Jung's wife), his insistence the passion he and Sabina have found must be internalized, cut-off due to peer pressure. Eventually Sabina finds a way to split the hysteric masochist off into her other sexual encounters, while Jung finds the moxy to challenge Freud and follow his own drummer into the realms of the mystic - even terrorizing Freud intentionally with displays of telepathy. That's what Carrey is so afraid of in LIAR, that even if he parents with all his heart he may still be found wanting, but that is supposed to happen. The dad must inevitably be found wanting to be a true dad, otherwise he just suffocates with his cardboard perfection. It's something Freud realizes with a heavy heart while on a ship to America with Jung, wherein Jung brings him a dream that predicts Freud's own passing into history rather than remaining at the cutting edge, and Freud accepts it with the understanding grace of a true psychoanalyst.
It's necessary, it's the final lesson, this surpassing and renouncement. No one can stop time from stepping on Freud's or Jim Carrey's faces until all that's left is a graying portrait on the wall. The difference is Freud knows it, and can thus can play his part and then get on with his smoking. The Carreys of our world refuse to accept this, so never get to the level where they finally learn the truth, which is that the only good father, in the end, is a bad father. The wise and differentiated father knows when it's time for the son to be disillusioned and move on. Instead of learning the obscene lyrics of all the music his son likes, or overstaying his appearance at all his son's basement parties, the good dad stays upstairs, lost in Handel. Having raised a great son he cuts him loose like a painting he's spent decades working on and now must sell to a private owner and forget about. Freud may cling to his boilerplates and rant against the new kids, but perhaps it is just an act. An artist may cry and stamp his foot but he knows when it's time to sell the painting, to let the prodigal wander, and to take comfort in his sixth cigar of the day. And that's why there can be no self realization without tobacco, Anna.