Based on a true story about an Indian soldier admitted to the Meninger Clinic after World War 11 for treatment of symptoms which we now call PTSD, ”Jimmy P” is an absorbing blend of psychotherapy and cultural anthropology. Jimmy’s malady has stumped the staff and an unusual man named George Devereux has been summoned from New York to treat him. The French actor Matthieu Amalric plays the expatriated European doctor with the same panache older viewers will associate with Paul Henreid; he is charming, innovative and though well versed in Freudian precepts, equally familiar with Indian tribal lore and customs. Through a relationship that borders as much on friendship as doctor/patient status, Devereux encourages Jimmy, persuasively embodied by Benicio del Toro, to strip away the layers of time and denial in order to confront his primal fears and learn to successfully manage them. Devereux is a brilliant and insightful man, reluctant to rely on pat categories and always ready to apply his knowledge of Indian culture to understand this specific patient and his background influences.
What is strangely missing from a movie dwelling so intensely on the significance of the past, is any examination of Devereux’ own cataclysmic experiences in the holocaust. We get many clues to his identity but they are elliptical: the camera focuses on a forearm scar where a tattooed concentration camp number would have been surgically excised; we learn from his French lover that his real name was Gyorgy Dobo and that he was Rumanian, still lying about that. Though all of this is understandable and even familiar as the reactions of some survivors, it is completely antithetical to George’s dedication to the search for psychological truth. This cognitive dissonance is actually the most fascinating aspect of this complicated character and leaves us feeling that the story of these two men is incomplete.
In a movie where the boundaries between doctor and patient are purposely blurred - George introduces Jimmy to his own lover and drives him into town to do him a favor - this refusal of George to do the very thing he insists that Jimmy do seems like a betrayal. By failing to admit that he understands the Indian experience of persecution from his own life experience as a Jew in Europe, he masks the kinship and scars that he and Jimmy share and the spark for his devotion to the study of another scapegoated group of people. In a movie that is both serious and compelling, a rare opportunity was missed to examine both George’s traumatic denial of his own identity and the ties that bind him to his unusual patient.
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