Risky Business (1983) and Home Alone (1990) are strikingly similar popular American films, family comedies. In both, the family conveniently vanishes and the son is left home alone, presented with the temptations of a newfound freedom which he promptly abuses, and then with seemingly overwhelming problems which he solves through ingenuity and risk-taking. Both are fantasies of the wise child in which adults are unsympathetic (Risky Business) or incompetent (Home Alone) and the child becomes the real adult. If we consider the superego as the internalized voice of the parents and of the culture, then both young protagonists are in revolt against the superego. In both films, we see the paradox of the child hero trashing his home in order to defend it. The two films present a rebellion against superego, home, and family not as an assault but as a defense of superego, home, and family. Both films represent the divided societal superego of America in the 1980s.
The Book of Daniel is a fictionalized version of the case of the Rosenbergs, Jewish-American Communists electrocuted by the American government as atomic spies in 1953. It is told by Daniel Isaacson, child of executed spies, in the form of his doctoral dissertation, but the structure of the narrative reflects Daniel’s self-therapy. It mimics a psychoanalytic session, in which the analysand may relate family history, recent events, and dreams, all kinds of material in no apparent order, sometimes with radical shifts in tone, including laughter, anger, and tears. The patient may go off on tangents and free-associate to the material he brings up. In that case, the reader plays the role of the listening analyst, and Daniel’s occasional aggression against the reader can be considered a form of transference. What takes place in the narrative is the long-delayed process of Daniel’s mourning. Like a Holocaust survivor, Daniel is consumed by survivor guilt. Daniel’s self-reproaches and his making the reader complicit are part of his unfinished mourning; they are disguised reproaches against his parents, whom he cannot forgive for abandoning him and his sister Susan.