A Psychoanalytic Criticism of Satin Chau in the made-for-TV-movie “Based on an Untrue Story” (1993)

“Based on an Untrue Story” chronicles a woman’s search for a cure to her rare disease and, in the process, her reconciliation with a family she never knew she had. The film also plays with as many made-for-TV-movie tropes as it can find.

From http://tatparade.blogspot.com/2007/01/based-on-untrue-story.html
A popular made-for-TV-movie trope.

Main character Satin Chau exhibits well-meaning cluelessness and self-centeredness with her interpersonal relationships. This is in concurrence with her denial and/or willful ignorance of reality. Satin Chau acts as the biggest trope in the movie, played out to extremes.

Satin’s well-meaning actions also sometimes translate into impulsive behavior. Despite being impulsive, she can also be obsessive to a fault. Her mission is to find a cure for her anosemia, and she is consumed by this mission to the exclusion of almost everything else.

From http://tatparade.blogspot.com/2007/01/based-on-untrue-story.html
Grief and horror at the discovery of their mother’s cause of death.

Her swooning is something that Freud would have had hysterics over, though. The first instance of it in the film, at the hospital, was due to shock and a subsequent possible attempt at repression. Her following fainting sessions all appear to be convenient for her in the situations she finds herself in, which are also instances of denial/manipulation.

The first fainting session.

During her mission, she also takes it upon herself to rescue the people she encounters, but problematically she only takes their biggest problems as the ones they acknowledge to her despite the glaring signs pointing to their other, more important problems. By doing this, she seems to be expressing signs of a white knight/messianic complex. However, she only solves the problems that concern her and the cure to her anosemia. Her “saving” of other people is only in so far as they are complicit towards her goal. Her overwhelming ego and overwhelming ignorance erases the identity and personality of everyone else around her, leading her to see only what relates to herself.

Though her denial could have been exacerbated by the discovery of her illness and the urgency of finding a transplant donor, we do see that even in the before the discovery of illness Satin already had a tendency to dismiss the world around her even when something was glaringly wrong.

Something is terribly wrong, TV movie style.

For instance, her husband is quite obviously having an affair when he is going to “work”, but Satin simply accepts his unclear explanations despite not knowing what exactly he does at this job of his. In another instance, she passes by the grieving mother of the child in the recycling bin and attempts consoling the woman by giving her a perfume sample of the perfume she made.

Obliviousness with a soundtrack.

In both cases, Satin is oblivious to the main issue and only pays attention to ways of interacting with situations that will make her feel better about herself, the course of action that will prove to keep things harmonious in the world of Satin Chau. Such a powerful denial of the world might be comparable to the state of mind of someone on mind-altering drugs, or perhaps a little child. On the other hand, this pattern of conscious avoidance could also be a symptom of sustained psychic trauma that manifests in actively maintaining a perfect environment.

Problematically, her peers are complicit in maintaining the fiction, the “untruth” that Satin persists in living with. The cracks in the facade are but minor bumps that she steamrolls over, but no one bothers to tell her that she can’t—mostly because they are also cognizant of her all-encompassing capabilities for denial. Explaining reasonably would be futile unless they could first break through the walls of blindness she has set up. Thus, the end result of a reluctant consensus is something like a shared hysteria/mass hallucination, like a minor-scale Truman show but without the self-realization.

Even at the end, despite everything, Satin has seemingly learned nothing at all. No personal growth has been gained whatsoever, and the only thing that seems to have changed is her increased sense of self-righteousness—which is as it should be in the world of the made-for-TV-movie.

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