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Home > The Instructive Symbols in The Patient

The Instructive Symbols in The Patient

Symbols

The Doctor Is In & The Patient is in Control

Limitless symbols are woven throughout FX’s The Patient, creating endless nightmares for the doctor day and night. From relationships between characters to realistic dreams and nightmares to food to individual characters to Kenny Chesney, there are so many symbols it would be impossible to discuss them all in one article. 

Steve Carell plays Dr. Alan Strauss, and Domhnall Gleeson plays serial killer/patient Sam Fortner in stunning performances and a story like no other. Layer upon layer of emotion and meaning create something beautiful and unforgettable. The story goes from calm and almost friendly to violent in the slice of a knife.

Dr. Strauss is the ultimate psychiatric professional, as he is given no choice but to treat a patient many of us would be terrified of. Sam Fortner, is a complete enigma as he is amiable one minute and can turn without notice. It is not difficult to imagine how much fear the doctor holds in as he tries to navigate the treatment of his patient, tries to stay professional as a defense mechanism, and his need to continue to fight and hope for the future he wants to have.  

Other themes conveyed within the series were regret, grief, how specific characters react within a culture they may or may not feel a part of, the sadness of the human condition, and the difference between living and just surviving. One thing is clear: The creators were innovative and genuine when they made a thought-provoking commentary on the human condition. 

Serial Characters & Serial Killers Wanted for the Nightmare 

Steve Carell, often known as a successful comedian, demonstrates method acting at its best.  Serial killer, Fortner, played by Gleeson, is a potent character who knows there is probably knows situation could not go any way but down. Even so, Dr. Strauss makes a legitimate attempt to help Fortner. Fortner is spectacular in creating an entirely honest character while still an archetype of a serial killer. With the success of true crime lately, it’s easy to look at serial killers as ideas from a book. In this series, that is not a problem. 

At least some part of Fortner wants to stop killing. This is equal to the experience of Dr. Strauss in that the doctor was experiencing the humanizing of Fortner. As a prisoner, the doctor would be habitually dehumanized. He would find it essential to remember that this is one way in which he and Fortner are alike. Dr. Stauss can find the strength to treat him throughout his fear, sadness, and inexperience in treating a serial killer. 

In addition, Fortner shackles Dr. Strauss to a deadbolt on the floor in the series. Carell wants to make that experience as genuine as possible, so he had the prop master come in every day and lock him into real shackles that were very much bolted to the floor. His character, Dr. Strauss knows he isn’t going anywhere. 

For his part, Fortner cannot conceive that the doctor might need to be with his family or that making a psychiatrist feel unsafe as he treats his patients is not good. Just as with the concentration camp prisoners, he has no hope of living his life unless his captor agrees to let him go. . 

Humanity & The No Shoes Nation 

One of the most compelling suggestions within the context of the series is the juxtaposition of personality traits within the serial killer or patient. Fortner seems to have hints of conscience, but at the same time, he cannot control his extreme anger and need to kill. Fortner is pragmatic about his killing. Also, his protective mother is fully aware that he is a serial killer. 

Furthermore, it has not escaped the characters, the series creators, the audience, or anyone that the patient is violently demanding that the doctor help him to decrease his violent tendencies. Not only that, but surprising contrasts are everywhere. For one, a sweet cloud lamp hangs out behind the bed in Fortner’s basement, where Dr. Strauss is held captive. It is an entirely jarring detail. 

Too, Fortner appears to love his ex-wife sincerely, so the audience is never sure if he can feel love. Is it love, or is it the appearance of love? The patient and serial killer loves food. He knows the best restaurants and feeds the doctor well, even while denying Dr. Strauss every other joy. The patient references the song “Jack and Diane” by singer John Cougar Mellencamp. This song was considered a portrait of everyday American teenage love. Is this what Fortner wished for? Did he wish for the typical American love and the typical American life?  

Fortner enjoys being a part of the No Shoes Nation. This group is a community of Kenny Chesney fans that follow his concert tour all across the nation. The patient is proud to have seen Chesney 27 times and tells the doctor that he enjoys the group’s fellowship. How does a killer with what the DSM V calls antisocial personality disorder enjoy a connection with others? 

We All Need Someone to Love

The relationships between characters are destructive, and viewers must interpret whether either member, the doctor or the patient, can fix the problems they want to improve. This sends each character into deep contemplation about what is best and necessary in their lives. The relationship between the doctor and the patient is strained because of Dr. Strauss’s captivity. They both must face issues they don’t want to address; there is no choice.

The relationship between Fortner and his mother is sometimes creepy. In some scenes, it appears that the abuse Fortner endured may have come from her and his father. The odd relationship is further demonstrated when the mother tries to stop him from a destructive action. She claps three times and takes on a solid tone to her voice. The serial killer stops the hostile activity and appears teary-eyed. He respects his mother enough to do what she asks of him, but somehow, the mood is dark and unsure. 

Besides his mother, the patient has rage towards his father and the abuse he suffered at his father’s hands. Fortner’s rage is one of the main reasons he kills. Whenever he feels someone has mistreated or disrespected him, he obsesses over killing them. Still,  he can’t kill his father when given a chance. 

It is even more surprising to learn that he and his wife began the proceedings to adopt a child from a foreign country. They divorce before the child comes to the United States, but the killer asks his wife about her as though he regrets the consequences of divorce.

Symbols

The Sins of the Doctor Visited Upon the Son 

A universal theme of this series is intolerance. Each character demonstrates intolerance to the world, whether he or she realizes it or not. One of the most obvious relationships in the series to exhibit this is between Dr. Strauss and his son, Ezra. 

We see this because Ezra rebels against his parents and changes from the Reform sect of the Jewish faith to the Orthodox. After the son’s marriage, it is obvious to the audience that Dr. Strauss had not protected his son and had been too harsh with him while blaming others for the father and son’s problems. The flip side of the coin is that it is challenging to be a parent and to see your child want to be so different from you or what you imagined for him. Intolerance can be problematic in the best of circumstances, but between loving familial relationships, it is exponentially more onerous. 

As another example of the intolerance theme, Dr. Strauss’s family members within the same family are intolerant of each other’s differences. Since Dr. Strauss’s wife, the cantor, gave her reform grandchildren treats that Ezra’s children could not have, the doctor has an excuse to believe that Ezra’s relationship with his mom is the most considerable intolerance within the family. Still, by the last couple of episodes, it is obvious that Dr. Strauss has been more intolerant of Ezra than he believed. The doctor realizes he probably won’t make it out of his circumstances alive, and will never have the chance to make amends.     

The Jewish Doctor, a Famous Author, & the Nazi Holocaust 

The Holocaust is a common thread throughout the series. Still, the most profound scenes referencing the Holocaust are closer to the end. The idea of a Jewish man being chained up and unable to escape a painful and dangerous situation helped the series creators to communicate the doctor’s connection to the concentration camps. 

Many of the problematic scenes show emaciated men sleeping on beds made of wood. These scenes squeeze a tender part of the heart, but all of these clues fit together to help create an entire picture of emblematical film art. 

However, the most symbolic and meaningful aspects relate to Viktor Frankl. Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist who survived a Nazi concentration camp. Along with his survival, Frankl created the theory of logotherapy. Logotherapy champions the idea of needing meaning in life to survive these kinds of waking nightmares. To have meaning, one needs three things: purposeful work, love, and courage in the face of difficulty. 

In a scene featuring Frankl, Dr. Strauss is dreaming as he walks through a concentration camp. He comes upon Frankl having a nightmare, and Dr. Strauss wakes him up. As Frankl wakes, he asks Dr. Strauss, “Didn’t you read my book? I said don’t wake the person up.” This quote references his belief that “reality is worse than a nightmare in Auschwitz.” He is trying to bring courage to his life as a captive. He draws the courage to survive from his family and work. Considering all of this, he has what he needs to survive. 

Is this the Expected Ending or Just the Inevitable Beginning?

In the end, infinite symbols, archetypes, and unique characteristics exist within The Patient series. One could make myriad connections about this story, which makes this series great. This adds to the realism since Dr. Strauss has so much time to spend in his head. Dr. Strauss uses humor in ways to get through long hours. It is said that humor is a part of Frankl’s logotherapy. All of this meaning makes the story sobering, but the humor adds moments of levity. So, is reality worse than a nightmare in Auschwitz?

This series is brilliant in its execution. Not only is there a lot to think about, but It also has evocative cinematography, thought-provoking psychology, and completely relatable emotions. All of the episodes are brief, so it is a binge-worthy series. Not only that but relating to Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning makes this series even more compelling.

There have been some criticisms of the series, including the ideas that the creators cast Steve Carell, a non-Jewish actor, in a serious Jewish, role and that they included the Holocaust portions at all. Some people feel the messages could have been effectively communicated by excluding the Holocaust scenes. 

These complaints are not wholly unfounded; however, the two leading creators were Jewish and felt these features necessary. Whatever the answer, this series is sharp and oozing talent from all directions.

Make sure to catch FX’s The Patient streaming on Hulu now. The Patient is not a series you want to miss. 

Symbols

The Patient (2022) Official Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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Author

Elke Simmons' writing portfolio includes contributions to The Laredo Morning Times, Walt Disney World Eyes and Ears, Extinction Rebellion (XR) News/Blog, and Dead Talk News.