This ‘Treatment’ Quite a Cure

Just where does a Jewish boomer brooding with angst and an appetite for self-denigration go for a nosh when he's left his therapist's sofa feeling like a lumpy couch potato?

To the psyche-deli?

Maybe. Or, perhaps, to see "The Treatment," a treat of a treasure opening this Friday, in which mind over matter matters much to the main despondent, a down-on-his-luck louche of a lug whose role as high school teacher has taught him little about himself. He even shrinks from the words of wisdom offered by his off-the-wall and seemingly somewhat demented Freudian analyst, whose advice and $50 a session will get you a cup of confidence.

Or so it's supposed to work. But Jake Singer, a flat-note of a self-doubter, is a rebel in a Prozac nation, eschewing medication for musings by his possibly self-deluded doctor. It's only when he meets a wealthy, wonderful widow with a heart full of healing, that he feels the zing of an emotional Zoloft without benefit of prescription.

It is to this life apart that a parvenu of a feature director brings the talent that has helped him document the human condition in a series of three-dimensional documentaries ("A Life Apart: Hasidism in America," "Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance After the Holocaust," "Saying Kaddish") that often bespoke his fascination and facility of feeling with the Jewish experience.

Is "The Treatment," then, just a different treatment of those real-life reel takes he's had on life? A documentary of the broken-hearted that breaks with the director's past only in its scripted dialogue?

"It's certainly a portrait of a person I could make a documentary about," muses Oren Rudavsky.

Life's rude awakenings — especially those that send Singer (Chris Eigeman) springing from his somnambulant state of mind on his therapist's couch — are handled delicately and deliciously by Rudavsky, whose treatment of self-doubt belies a confidence he must feel behind the camera.

If not being behind life's eight ball. "Originally, I wanted to make a film about what it's like in my therapist's office, that unique perspective," he says of his own vision of the walls that could occasionally close in on him.

Rudavsky's not one to couch commitment to self-improvement in delusional diatribes, however. He knows what it means to have the chair pulled out from under him. "Actually," he says, "my therapist has a chair and a couch in the office. I started out in the chair and moved to the couch."

But a movie? "I thought how interesting it would be — or boring," he said before directing himself to a novel idea: Adapt Daniel Menaker's book of The Treatment, about a New Yorker whose idea of Sunday brunch is a bumpy bagel with lox and loathing with a schmeared self-image.

It is all as if Woody Allen has flipped his id, but the characters are warmer and less wooden than those who "neuroticize" Allen's New York noodnicks.

Analyze this: The only doubt a viewer could have of their worth is whether the therapist (Ian Holm) is real or Memorex, an imaginary tape playing over and over in Jake's jaded mind or a doctored vision of healer with his own hell?

A comment on commitment? A shock therapist to jolt Jake out of his sedentary social life? Maybe, but one thing's for sure: It's no rap on shrinks.

"I believe in the world of New York and the world of therapy," says the director. "I think of therapy as a Jewish art."

Framed as it in in "The Treatment," it is also science faction, the stuff dreams are made of.

Well, the doctor is Freudian. But there's no fraud in what Rudavsky is pulling here; "The Treatment" is a precis, a precise examination of, as the director himself says, "a certain rarefied community."

One of social insecurities? Living a life apart is familiar ground for the director. "I'm the child of a rabbi and a Polish immigrant," amid a family of Holocaust survivors, leaving him with a scintilla of that survivor instinct and urge to ask: "How American am I?"

Because of his background, he feels a certain bent to what he portrays, since he was broken into the lifestyle of an outsider early on. "Which is why I always feel drawn to stories about outsiders," he says.

Certainly, his Jewish documentaries are germane, especially "A Life Apart," about Chasids clustered under the chupah of social segregation. "Ironically," notes the filmmaker, "the Chasidim may feel comfortable in their own" isolation.

"They don't want to fit in. But I do."

Movies and the man who makes them — it's a perfect match! But, says Rudavsky, so is his sense of Judaism. "Many filmmakers refer to me as 'the Jewish filmmaker,' even though many of them are Jewish themselves."

Freeze frame: That's a smile on his face. "I like that, because I have a real sense of Jewish identity."

Fitting in
On the one hand is that Jewish ID bracelet … and what's on the other hand of this Tevye with technicolor? A ring of truth that bands him with others.

"I am also a member of the mainstream New York film world, " he proudly asserts.

The happily wed dad isn't kidding himself. As an erstwhile member of the know-it-all afflicted MAS ("Males with all the Answers Syndrome"), he's had the panacea that only painful truths can inject into life. "I've learned over time how little I know," he muses.

In a way, he has cleared up his innate conflicts by becoming a closet case. "When I was a little boy, the closet door in my bedroom had to be closed at night; I was afraid of what was in there."

"The Treatment" has helped shed light so that this straight-arrow of a family man can open the door without fear that the demons of daily life will ease through the cracks to spook him, leaving the hangers-on inside left to deal with their own hang-ups and insecurities.

"Now," says Rudavsky, "I can leave that door open."  




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