Mind Matters — Hope Springs?

Given that the title of this movie is “Hope Springs”—not “Hope Springs Eternal”—we already wonder if perhaps there is a question mark about how much hope there will be here.

Several clients recommended that I see this film not only because there was a psychotherapist in it, Dr. Bernie Feld (played by Steve Corell), but because it touched them emotionally.

Meryl Streep plays Kay, a mid-western housewife who works part-time in an apparel store. Tommy Lee Jones, as Arnold, portrays her accountant husband of thirty-one years. They are empty nesters whose life together has become arid. They sleep in separate bedrooms—because of his snoring at first. But that has developed into a loss both of sexual intimacy and physical closeness. They can no longer touch each other.

Arnold has become the grumpy old man who falls asleep watching the golf channel. Timid Kay has apparently never asked for what she has wanted in the relationship and has always been the accommodator.

However, she has become so frustrated in her solitary and isolated life that she seeks solace in a couples therapy book. When she discovers that the author, Dr. Bernie Feld, offers an intensive week of sessions, she signs up and informs Arnold of her plan. He balks and refuses. Reluctantly, at the last moment, we see him enter the plane for the trip to Great Hope Springs, Maine.

What is refreshing about this movie is that it is not Hollywood glib and that it portrays well the rifts that can occur in a decades long relationship.

Realistically, the transformation in these partners does not come magically, effortlessly or linearly. The therapist patiently and compassionately continues to probe and guide their movement into the sexual and emotional terrain that is feared, especially by Arnold.

This is a poignant portrayal of life for anyone to see: young couples for what pitfalls to stave off, older couples for a glimpse at repairing what once was.

After a setback—and, in life, as in therapy, there are many—Dr. Feld tells Arnold and Kay: “Even great marriages have terrible years, so bad that you’re just tempted to give up. But don’t. Hold on. There will come a time when you’ll look back on this moment as the prelude to something fuller and richer than you’ve ever experienced.”

Wise advice for all of us.