Superhero movies are no strangers to the human psyche. Dark Phoenix, the final film in Fox’s X-Men franchise, deals with Jean Grey, a mutant with telekinetic and telepathic powers, and her yet unrealized ability to be the most powerful and potentially devastating mutant in the world. But rather than being embraced and harnessed, Jean’s mysterious power manifests in an uncontrollable inner entity, named “the Phoenix” in the comic books, presenting as a dissociated split identity.
You don’t need to be a psychoanalyst to get the heavy-handed message in Jean Grey’s conflict with her inner destructive power. The film serves as a cautionary tale about what happens when you suppress your rage, something we’re constantly trying to help patients and trauma survivors to understand. But unlike most superheroes of comic and filmic fame, Jean Grey is a woman, which allows the filmmakers of Dark Phoenix to underscore, even inadvertently, the archaic beliefs around female “hysteria”—that a misbehaving woman is dangerous, unruly, and must be corralled. It would be difficult to fathom the Avengers telling The Hulk that he should maybe get a handle on that anger issue.
A chief grievance with Dark Phoenix is the film’s need to explain away Jean’s conflict and power by (*spoiler alert*) infecting Jean with an alien life form. What this unnecessary choice emphasizes is the damaging idea that anger is not a part of us. It perpetuates the belief that anger is something outside of us to be feared – it can never be our own.
Pallavi Yetur, MA LMHC completed the KHC-AIP post-graduate psychodynamic psychotherapy program. She practices in New York City and provides supervision in the psychodynamic program of the AIP’s Karen Horney Psychotherapy and Psychoanalytic Institute in China.