by Jane Reingold, MFT, Impulse Staff Writer


A young couple frolics, intertwined and consumed as they revel in each others' bodies. We are thus introduced to Alex and Nica's adventure in Julia Loktev's (2011) film, The Loneliest Planet: a pre-wedding backpacking trip in the Caucasus mountains in Georgia.  Transfixed by their interactions and yet kept on the periphery, we listen to barely audible characters, un-subtitled Georgian, and stories with no context. We are left to muddle through the terrain voyeuristically as the young couple unabashedly "cross the boundaries of the self, merging with the other" (Kernberg, 1995).

A headstand competition ensues. A tightly held shot of a tendril of hair on Nica's neck provides a prolonged feeling of closeness, intimacy; the moment is palpably felt, as if we could smell her or reach out and curl the tendril around a finger. In other, grander scenes, awe-inspiring nature dwarfs the couple and their guide, a local Georgian. Watched from afar, almost in real time, they traverse the majestic terrain, so small and inconsequential, alone together.

Inevitably we are jarred from this dream-like haze by a sudden, fractious moment. In this single moment, their idealistic illusions of each other and the relationship are shattered. Their symbiotic spell is broken as they contend with their separate experiences of the rupture. In silence, with only non-verbal cues of their experiences, they continue hiking together in the rocky terrain, still accompanied by their guide. Reality has encroached upon their desire and illusions, bringing awareness of the other's separateness, which "results in loneliness and longing and fear for the frailty of all relations" (Kernberg, ibid.).

Perhaps this rupture underscores the abrupt reality of both their difference and the need for integration of one another. As Kernberg writes, "the beloved presents himself or herself simultaneously as a body that can be penetrated and a consciousness which is impenetrable." When the fantasy of a symbiotic merger is shattered, there is a loss of innocence, of a regressive gratification of oneness, that must be grieved. Only then can the consolidation of differences in both oneself and the other be integrated toward a more mature love relationship.

Left to navigate the crevasse now between them, Alex and Nica continue to trek through uncharted terrain together, hopefully toward something deeper and more authentic. In our consulting rooms, immersed in the gestural, foreign world of our patients -- often without subtitles -- we strive to guide our couples through this rocky internal and interpersonal landscape.

Kernberg, O. (1995) Love relations: Normality and pathology. Yale University Press: New Haven.