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Cinema and Drama

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Student Question

In I Am Sam, how is the lawyer's relationship with her son unhealthy?

Quick answer:

Rita is an extremely driven attorney who neglects her son's emotional needs. She places work at a high premium, which alienates her son. Additionally, she has a misguided perception of her own self-worth and fails to develop a healthy relationship with him.

Expert Answers

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It should be noted that the lawyer, Rita, ends up solidifying her relationship with her son.  However, prior to her interactions with Sam, Rita's relationship with her son is unhealthy for a couple of reasons.  The first would be that Rita does not devote enough time to cultivating it.  Work and her professional life drives Rita.  She is shown to be an ultra intense attorney who cares for her work more than anything else. Rita places more stock in being able to use voice-activated technology and her sports car as a means of transportation than in her emotional compass. Her ambition takes priority over emotional nurturing. Neglecting her own emotional condition results in alienating her son.  This marginalization contributes to the unhealthy relationship. 

As the film progresses, it is clear that Rita really doesn't have a firm grasp on her emotional condition.  It helps to explain why she has focused so much energy on the professional aspect of her being.  The lack of emotional control is evident when she speaks about how she has her own place in the market of emotional pain:

"Let me tell you something about people like me. People like me feel lost, and little, and ugly, and dispensable. People like me have husbands, screwing other people far more perfect than me."

It is clear that this lack of self-confidence on an emotional level contributes to her frayed relationship with her son:

People like me have sons who hate them. And I've screamed, I've screamed horrible things at him, at a 7 year old because he doesn't want to get in the car at the end of the day! And then he looks at me with such anger and I hate him then! I know I'm failing you! I know I'm disappointing you! I know you deserve better but get in the fucking car! It's like every morning I wake up and, I fail... Somehow, I'll never be enough. 

It is evident that Rita has transferred intensely negative emotions to the relationship with her son.  The relationship is unhealthy because it is rooted in Rita's self-hate.  When she indicates that she "hates" her son, it is indicative of her own feelings projected onto her son.  This is reflected in how she believes she is "failing" him, contributing to another layer of unhealthiness in their relationship.  Rita sincerely believes in her own insufficiency.  As a result, she is incapable of developing an emotionally healthy relationship with her son because of her own self-doubt and self-disdain.  

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