by Dr. Patti Feuereisen
Aile translated to ‘Family’ is written by Hakan Bonomo along with a team of 4 male writers and one female writer, and is directed by Ahmet Katiksiz. It stars Serenay Sarıkaya and Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ in the leads and premiered on Show TV in March of 2023. Since then, it has broken records at Cannes Film Festival 2023, with 80 countries buying the foreign rights, and has been up for several awards including best actor, actress, and director.
Aile is described as an action crime story about a major Izmir mafia family, their trials and tribulations, the son who takes over for his father after his father’s death, and a love story. Yet I see Aile as a graduate psychology course in family dysfunction, codependency, enmeshment, personality disorders, addiction, trauma, and abuse, with a backdrop of a compelling story. Brilliant ensemble acting, and a spectacular soundtrack curated perfectly by Toygar Işıklı adds to the atmospheric moods.
The Psychological Feast – The Family Pathologies
Bipolar Disorder: a disorder which can cause severe mood swings from very high to very low, sometimes suicidal ideation, grandiosity, possible self-harming, various moods lasting for weeks and months.
Borderline Personality Disorder: a personality disorder often accompanied by a severe mood disorder with possible suicidal ideation, possible addiction, attention seeking, rarely satisfied, difficult demands on all relationships.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder: a personality disorder encompassing entitlement, distortion of self-worth, arrogance, self-focus, self-absorption, grandiosity, lacking empathy, criticism adverse, potential abuser.
Sociopathy: lack of empathy, controlling for self needs, proclivity to lying, addiction prone, impulsivity, lack of responsibility for actions towards others. All the above diagnoses may embody sociopathy at times.
The Gastronomical Feast – The Family Table
The family table is the anchor holding the Soykan family together, orchestrated by Huyla the family matriarch. Everyone is expected to show up on time and sit through meals together, with the dinner meal being the strictest where no-one is allowed to be late or not show up. This consistently showcases the family and all their various roles, personalities and relationships. Everyone has a name plate on their chair, all family members have their designated places at the table.
When Aslan, the precious son and the head of the family, brings Devin his new girlfriend home to the family dinner feast at the family table, Aslan’s mother challengingly asks Devin about her family. She already knows about Devin’s problematic family but asks her to humiliate her assuming Devin will shrink and not really answer. Instead, Devin looks right at her and the rest of the family and flatly says: “My mom who is bi-polar doesn’t work; she’s not ok lately. My father, a narcissist, is a pediatrician, who doesn’t particularly like children. Right after my parents’ divorce, he got married and has a son – maybe he loves him; he couldn’t love me and my sister Yagmur who also has problems. She is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. She recently tried to commit suicide, but now she is fine and lives with me for now.”
Thus begins the psychological feast.
Devin Akin is beautiful, strong, bright, stylish, confident, nurturing and radiating agency. Devin is a skilled Psychologist in private practice.
Aslan Soykan is handsome, disarming, confident, conflicted, in denial, and now the head of a notorious Izmir mafia family. He also owns and runs a large nightclub-restaurant as he attempts to go legal for the five years since his father’s death.
Hulya Soykan is ruthless, passive-aggressive, abusive, vicious and queen of sociopathy. She is the wife of the deceased Yusuf Sokan, mother to Aslan, Leila, Ceylan, and Cihan. She is the matriarch of the family. Besides running her family, she runs a charity organization.
Cihan Soykan is deep, conflicted,compelling, heartbreaking and the rejected unloved son of Huyla, the older brother of all the Soykan children, considered the black sheep of the family. Cihan owns abarbecue restaurant.
Ibrahim Soykan is the prefect mafioso in personality, appearance, cadence and as an enemy of Aslan. He is the brother of Yusuf Soykan, uncle to all the Soykan children. He has always wanted to be the head of the crime family, and always wanted Hulya. He continues the family trade and is involved in illegal activities.
Yusuf Soykan was a sociopath who could look into the eyes of an innocent woman and kill her. He was cold and strict and never told his children he loved them. He suffered from deep depressive episodes, going off on drinking binges. He is the deceased husband of Hulya, father of all the Soykan children, brother of Ibrahim. He committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. He ruthlessly ran the family mafia business.
Yağmur Akin is Devin’s younger sister and is needy, addicted, careless, selfish, insecure, engaging in risk taking behaviors, diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. She is often the reason for deep distress, worry and trouble for Devin. Yağmur is unemployed and lives with Devin.
Nese Akin is Devin’s mother, although Devin mothers her more than she has ever been a mother to Devin. Nese is bipolar and extremely selfish, needy financially, supported by her ex-husband and Devin. During her manic episodes, she recklessly spends on accessories. During her depressive episodes she is nonfunctional and needs full emotional support. She is unemployed.
There are many characters, all intertwining in various ways. There is the patriarch grandmother Seher Soykan who has Alzheimer’s, yet at times is totally spot on with her observations. Hulya has two daughters, Leyla and Ceylan. Leyla has two children Zeynab and Kaya and a loveless marriage with a good for nothing husband Tolga, which is a forced marriage facilitated by Hulya. There is Devin’s father Ergun Akin, who is totally rejecting and cruel. And considered family are Aslan’s three close cohorts Eko, Turgut, and Iskoç who do much of Aslan’s dirty work beating up anyone who they need information from.
Devin and Aslan the Beginnings
Aslan meets Devin on a plane to Istanbul, and then gives her a ride to the hospital where her sister Yağmur is. Wanting to just drop her off and leave, he is compelled to turn back and watch her. Devin has come to the hospital to find her sister Yağmur who tried to commit suicide, yet her sister laughs at her and says she was just testing Devin’s love. Aslan is intrigued and drawn to Devin and spends the afternoon with her until she gets a text from someone showing her sister lying flat down in her vomit looking as if she is dead. What ensues is Aslan and Devin saving Yağmur’s life, Aslan staying overnight with Devin in her sister’s hospital room.
Days later, their first date is epic and feels as if they have been connected all their lives. They are intensely attracted to each other, finding common ground in their psychology as Aslan tells Devin “You and I have the same wounds; we were both wrongly loved.” They eat and dance together at a wedding they crash. They share the same sense of humor, the same physical attraction, their conversation flows from lighthearted to serious, when they touch, they each get an electric shock. By the end of the evening things get very real between them and they go from physical intimacy to verbal intimacy, openly admitting what they know about each other’s family. Devin tells him she knows he is from a mafia family; she knows he lied saying he is from a normal family. He tells her she is crossing the line and then verbally strikes back and tells her he knows about her father Ergun Akin who has a new wife and son, and seems happy. He then accuses her of being the cause of her broken home. Her response: she head butts him… hard.
Aslan comes to her the very next day and tells her. “If my father were alive and I told him you beat me on the very first date he would say ‘son, what are you waiting for’?” Aslan really wants to be with Devin and she is fighting her desire and pull to be with him as he tells her “I don’t know if we can help each other, we may harm each other, we may poison each other, but I know one thing you… will be the best fight I can’t win. Please give us a chance.” That night he brings Devin to his family dinner. And thus begins the family psychological feast.
Devin and Aslan and Hulya
Psychological triangulation is when one person in the relationship of three tries to divide the other two, and bond with one. Hulya wants Aslan all to herself. She is inside Devin and Aslan’s relationship, not only through her machinations but, as a shadow of threat for their unity as a narcissistic mother who is in love with her son. In clinical terms this is called the Jocasta Complex which is the reversal of the Oedipus complex where the male child is sexually attracted to the mother. The Jocasta Complex is when an overpowering mother chooses a favorite son who she adores and is jealous and threatened by any female that her son bonds with and thus tries to separate them; hence triangulation.
Often this occurs with a narcissistic mother whose husband is emotionally distant and/or the couple is divorced, or husband is deceased. We watch Hulya be coquettish with Aslan, she openly flirts with him, telling him she knows her husband didn’t love her, but Aslan always will. And Aslan is in denial about his mother’s obsession with him. He often acquiesces to Hulya and doesn’t understand the dynamics of his codependency and enmeshment with her.
In this case, enmeshment is a psychological term referring to when a child is overly enmeshed with a mother’s needs where autonomy is blurred. In Aslan’s case, this is accompanied by his need for his mother’s love and approval with the absence of his father during his life and after his father’s death. He is oblivious that he plays into her obsession at times by being overly solicitous with his affection as he reassures her that nothing will change between them because he loves Devin.
He is completely ineffective in changing any of Hulya’s behavior. He yells and threatens her with his leaving the home for good if she continues to interfere; yet Huyla continues viciously in her narcissistic quest to separate Aslan from Devin. Beginning with the first family dinner, Hulya is determined on driving a wedge between Aslan and Devin as she realizes that his womanizing days are finished, and he is deeply in love. As the story continues, she consistently tries to sabotage their relationship, needing him to love her only. When she unexpectedly and uninvited visits Devin in her office knowing that this is Devin’s place of power, she sits in the therapist chair.
Constantly trying to degrade Devin, she puts private incriminating videos of Devin’s sister on the internet, she instructs journalists to discuss Aslan’s many past relationships, she composes an insulting prenup, and much more. Then she becomes overt and just tells Devin that she is not worthy of her son. Devin does not skip a beat and responds: “We live in a country where in unhealthy relationships mothers are fixated on their sons, investigating every woman their son is involved with. Some mothers don’t sleep at night afraid their sons will be taken away from them. But luckily you are not that kind of mom.”
Devin the Clinician
Devin’s father abandoned the family when Devin was a young girl. By the time she was eight years old and her sister five, she knew her mother could not take care of them; Nese is bipolar, one moment she is depressed with the curtains drawn and in her bed all day, and the next she is hoarding and purchasing out of control. She was not emotionally accessible.
One early evening Devin steps into the kitchen she sees her mother laying on the floor in a pool of blood as she has just sliced her wrists. Devin calls the ambulance and her mother’s life is saved. From that day forward Devin feels responsible for her sister and mother. She could not save her mother, she could not save her sister, she could not receive love from her father, she could not bring any harmony between her parents, so she chooses to be a psychologist and save everyone she can. Devin sits in her therapist chair and breathes in others’ problems, others’ traumas. Does this help her not focus on her own trauma? We see many sessions in the therapy room, and we watch Devin’s precision as a clinician. She is in control, yet she is warm; she is direct, yet she is compassionate; she listens with total attention and knows when and what questions to ask.
Devin is a healer, and she grapples with her inner demons as a clinician and wonders does she heal other families because she can’t heal hers? Or does Devin save others from their abusive dysfunctional families? Does she help them detach because she can’t detach? Devin keeps clear boundaries with her clients, she is very professional, compassionate and clinically astute.
Until Cihan Soykan shows up in her office.
Devin the Clinician – Cihan the Patient
Cihan was an adult when his father shot himself in the head a few feet away from Cihan when Cihan was asleep on the couch in his father’s office, awakened by the thundering sound of his father’s gun. Since then, Cihan is considered a pariah to the Soykan family.
Aslan has told Devin about the brother that no one speaks to for the past five years, because he did not save their father and he did not tell the family their father was severely depressed. Aslan has warned Cihan not to go near Devin and told Devin to let him know if Cihan approaches her. Hulya knows any connection between Devin and Cihan could destroy Aslan and Devin’s relationship; thus she sends Cihan to Devin.
At first Devin tells Cihan that there are professional rules and boundaries, and she cannot work with him. Cihan is raw and true and compelling and tells Devin he will die soon and only then will he be happy. She cannot help but to ask why, and he proceeds to tell her the story of when he was ten years old and his brother Aslan was five and they spent too much time in the woods. Finally when it was dark and their mother found them, she rushed to Aslan and hugged him; she slapped Cihan hard, and then again. The other children pushed him and he fell to the ground, hitting his head on a rock. Cihan thought he had died, and he looked up and saw his mother holding him lovingly. He wanted to die so that she could keep looking at him like this, the first time he felt his mother’s love.
Devin became compelled to work with Cihan and told him he will not want to die. He questioned her rules, and Devin said, “I said there are rules, I did not say I am a therapist who follows all the rules!”
Devin listens intently and compassionately to Cihan and he tells her for years he never sleeps, afraid someone he loves will die. After their first session, it is the first night he has slept in years. He tells her that no-one has ever listened to him and championed him. He shares that at age seven he became his father’s black box of secrets. Through therapy sessions Devin helps him shed that burden. Yet as sessions go further it becomes difficult to differentiate who is helping who the most.
Devin is experiencing countertransference, a clinical term coined by Sigmund Freud describing when a therapist is over relating to a client and her own issues are being triggered, and she loses clear boundaries. In this case, although she is helping Cihan, his insights into what she is going through are striking. Cihan really sees Devin; in some ways it seems more than Aslan does or has the depth to. Cihan understands her and wants to protect her with psychological insights into his family. He tells her he knows that Hulya is a nightmare for her, and he tells her the only thing to lighten her burden is courage. He also gives her insight into her husband and Aslan’s fear of facing his father’s legacy. And finally, Cihan tells Devin to be careful with Aslan. He tells her “You are about to fall from high up to the ground but don’t worry, your parachute is Aslan, he will save you, right? It will not happen Doctor, you won’t know which rope to pull”.
Devin and Aslan: The Endings…
Although Aslan translates to lion, Devin is a lioness throughout the story. We witness her fortitude constantly as she protects her sister, her mother, even Aslan’s grandmother, sisters and Aslan’s niece and nephew. Aslan uses violence to solve his problems, while Devin uses compassion. All the while we see the complexity of Devin and Aslan’s relationship. Devin is vibrant, open and forthright. Aslan is tormented and holds his secrets and anxieties until he almost passes out from the pain of his migraine headaches. And then he curls into Devin at his most vulnerable. There is noone that can make Devin laugh as Aslan can, noone that can hurt her as deeply and yet noone that she rather be with. She knows that she cannot leave him, but she also realizes she cannot stay with him. Her life has been turned upside down, she is surrounded by danger, illegal activities, her practice has disintegrated, her closest friends are afraid to be near her fearing for their safety. Her mother and sister are still fairly dysfunctional, her father is still cruel and rejecting. She has gone through some serious medical issues and by the end of the season Devin has become a shell of who she knows she is.
Although he makes some progress, Aslan remains emotionally blocked in many ways; he is still enmeshed with Hulya and has very little insight into this codependency as he remains crazy in love with Devin. He also battles with his violent tendencies, what to reveal to Devin, and how to hold onto her as he grabs onto her, he also begs her to leave him for her own good. Does she leave him? Will Aslan block her from leaving him? Where is Devin now? Has she finally had a nervous breakdown? Will Hulya be doing a victory dance?
There is a shocking end of the Season One which reverberates into Season Two with more characters, more stories, more developments and much more intricacies and insight into the depth of pathologies and survival. With a planned 30 episodes about to conclude in the next few weeks, Aile has been riveting. Get ready to dig into this psychological, gastronomical wonderful feast!
Article copyright (c) North America TEN & Dr. Patti Feuereisen
Patti Feuereisen Ph.D is a psychologist in private practice in Brooklyn, N.Y., founder of Girlthrive a nonprofit honoring girls and young women who are sexual abuse survivors with thriverships. She is also author of three editions of Invisible Girls: Speaking the Truth About Sexual Abuse. She remains obsessed with Turkish Dizis.
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