The President's Analyst
Coburn, James, Flicker, Theodore, Cambridge, Godfrey
Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video
- Henderson, Schuyler
- Date of entry: Jun-17-2008
- Last revised: Jun-16-2008
James Coburn turns in a startling comic performance as a psychiatrist with a Cheshire Cat grin, called upon to provide a listening ear to the President. Somewhat flattered to get the job, he accepts, and soon becomes caught up in intrigues as all the other major players in the Cold War want to capture the man who knows the President's secrets.
Films or television shows involving psychiatrists can be littered dull moments where psychological explanations or contrived interpretations are offered as if the role of the psychiatrist is simply to provide a quick connection between X and Y, and this film certainly has one similar moment (when Coburn, as Dr. Sidney Shaefer, explains to a KGB agent why the agent chose spying over becoming a sailor). But in general 'The President's Analyst' is a whimsical, fresh film. Indeed, the fact that the analysis of the President occurs offscreen is itself delightful: all we know of it is the expression on Dr. Shaefer's face as he leaves the President's office, increasingly worn out and ragged.
The issues of confidentiality, paranoia, the roles of psychiatry and psychotherapy, and supervision are all dealt with in a vividly satirical and enjoyably surreal way (such as the scene where Shaefer sees his own psychiatrist/supervisor to discuss whether he should take on the job as the President's analyst: they meet in the Whitney Museum in New York and the supervision jumps from room to room necessitating a commentary on modern art). The surrealism of the film and the sight of Dr. Sidney Shaefer playing the gong in a psychedelic rock band while they're all tripping on LSD blend in with powerful social satire, and even break from the satirical thread altogether. Of note, Godfrey Cambridge plays the CIA agent who has vetted Dr. Shaefer by undergoing an analysis with him; during an early scene, he tells an extraordinary story about racism from his youth.
Overall, this is one of the more effective psychedelic-era comedies. It is generally viewed as a satire, and as such has two rather unexpected themes: one, its representation of the KGB and the CIA is far more sympathetic than its representation of the FBI; two, its view seems to be that liberalism, or an American liberalism, is conquering America and that conservativism is on its last legs. These themes may be naïve, or satirical themselves, and in the latter case, are certainly ironized by the pending decades--long conservative backlash that would see figures like Nixon, Reagan, and Gingrich crush the druggy, sexual optimism of The President's Analyst.