Movies have a set language they use to discuss issues. Short of a few outliers here or there, movies about mental health conditions use the same visual language to explain mental health to the audience. They use similar shortcuts to describe everything else. It took a master filmmaker like Alfred Hitchcock to subvert them so completely, and inPsycho, he fundamentally changed the way shortcuts about mental health in movies were depicted.
Crime is usually connected to mental health in fiction. What that really means and what that looks like in fiction may vary a bit, with some stories showing empathy for the person and others favoring lock them up and throw away the key scenarios. Often the interactions are cheap and over simplified and cater to the lowest common denominator. A perfect example of this is Primal Fear.
It’s October, so I thought I’d use this month’s blog posts to go back to where we started, with horror. (I’m not reviewing this season’s American Horror Story.) The perfect place to start is with Fatal Attraction, with one of the most obvious villains with mental health conditions in film history.
The ‘90s don’t seem like that long ago, certainly not 20 years. But having watched a bunch of ‘90s movies for this blog, I’ve come away with the thought that things really have changed. Nell brought that point home very clearly.
Tender is the Night is one of those books that has been on my to read list for as long as I can remember. Considered one of the classics of American literature, its reputation precedes it, to the point of obscuring what the novel is actually about. A scathing review of the idle rich and mental health in the 1920s and 1930s, the novel illuminates one ugly, persuasive view of psychiatry.
Sybil is the mother of all multiple personality disorder movies. It was the first one to really catch the public’s imagination (except Jekyll and Hyde). It helped solidify what dissociative identity disorder looked like to the general public, and how they should feel about people with the illness. My question in watching it is whether it’s any good. As it turns out, it’s very good.
Trauma has come up a lot in this blog. Movies use it, and grief, as a quick way to create tension and conflict in plots. Some works handle it better than others (in particular, Iron Man 3), and others mention it in passing. However, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the first time I’ve seen it used so effectively.
The movie A Dangerous Method focuses on one specific aspect of psychology, the early years of psychoanalysis. The interaction between the well-known psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung was seminal in the creation of the new discipline. What the movie looks at is the importance of two other, less famous colleagues, Sabrina Spielrein and Otto Gross, who were influential at the beginning of the movement.
We’ve talked about how grief translates to film well, and how it dominates the discussion of mental health in American pop culture. The cinematic qualities of loss were easy to define and understand, so the emotion took hold as an appropriate topic for important movies. Many of those movies don’t have anything new to say about it. However, every so often, one does, and Ordinary People is one of those movies. By focusing on one family member’s grief and showing how it ripples through the other family members, the movie says something really powerful.