"The Prince of Tides" is a portrayal of the roller coaster of emotions that an occurrence can throw someone into. It is also a representation of what obvious or concealed reactions can be produced by these emotions.
Because communication is a fundamental building block for relationships, it is no surprise that Tom Wingo built a barricade which restricted any connection with his parents, siblings and his significant other. He is distant and frigid with his partner and doubts his own parenting abilities. The factors which instigate the obstruction of communication in Tom's life are not evident to the viewer until the later part of the film.
Upon introduction, Tom appears to be a loving father who appears to be having difficulty dealing with his issue of unemployment. As we get to know and understand his character, and experience what he does, we discover that there are much deeper rooted concerns that are affecting his psyche.
Due to his sister's attempted suicide and his mother's inability to cope, Tom must go to New York and take care of matters with his sister and her psychiatrist. Tom doesn't fully understand what he is taking on or what his expected responsibilities are, but he leaves his wife and children and heads to the Big Apple where he meets with Dr. Susan Lowenstein.
In the beginning, like most, he is apprehensive to release any recollections, ideas, thoughts or feelings to this woman, she is a stranger, they do not have common ground and he feels that it is his sister that needs the psychiatrist, not he. Tom is dry and sarcastic and masks any sentiment with cynicism or a joke. Lowenstein immediately sees through this front and begins to create an environment where the pretenses can dissolve and she can help Tom...