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At the Movies: Twisted Representation

So it's the weekend and I'm being an adult: the appliances are rumbling, the dog is napping after an early walk, and I'm tackling the mountain of required home maintenance I'm somehow able to accumulate all by myself.

One way I sometimes stave off the boredom of a chore day is to have a movie playing, preferably something familiar that doesn't demand close attention and can really just be listened to as I go from room to room forgetting what I'm doing.

90's action/sci-fi-disaster flicks are usually a good choice, and this last weekend I saw that Twister was available to stream, and that sounded just right.

I remember when this one came out. I was in high school. It was Helen Hunt's big leap from TV to Silver Screen, paired with a soundtrack that was frequently in my disc-man, and boasted special effects that inspired a tourist attraction at Universal Studios.

Twister co-stars the late great Bill Paxton as Hunt's tornado-chasing ex-husband, and also also features Cary Elwes because everything does. But as the years go by we watch the same movies with different eyes (or listen through different ears, if we're engrossed in laundry or kitchen-scrubbing), and the character that stood out to late-thirties counselor me this weekend was Paxton's fidgety fiancee played by Jami Gertz of "can't spare a square" fame.

The love-triangle subplot underlying the main storyline of trying to throw a robot into a tornado involves Bill (Paxton) pleading with Jo (Hunt) to finally sign their divorce papers so he can marry his girlfriend (Gertz)--who just happens to be a therapist.

Gertz as the uptight mental health provider serves as some of the film's comic relief. She's way out of her element among the storm-chasers--who are clearly still meant to be together. One of the film's gags involves her awkwardly consoling a client over the phone as he processes some hangup about his genitalia, all while speeding toward a twister in an SUV full of hooting and hollering meteorologists.

Now, I'm not making the case that this is super offensive or harmful, despite my catchy title graphic. But the joke does reflect a cultural narrative that more than 20 years later we still find inhibiting people from benefiting from counseling: that it's ridiculous, it's for weirdos with weird problems, and it's a mark of shame to be in therapy.

Bill and Jo even reflect this a little in one of their arguments, "You saying I need therapy? What could I possibly need therapy for?"

To be fair, the counselor is a smart and caring character, and she's the one who finally makes the much-needed decision about the romantic piece of the plot, and she does it pretty well.

And it's interesting that, despite casting psychotherapy as sort of a joke, the film underlines the importance of working on yourself, as the overarching story revolves around Jo processing through her childhood trauma and breaking out of unhealthy, obsessive patterns so she can embrace the life she has in front of her.

So all in all, Twister is pretty decent therapy.


Mike Ensley, MA, LPCC, is a nationally certified counselor in Loveland, CO.


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