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Beatriz Vera Posek

J Med Mov 2 (2006): 80-88

Insanity and Cinema: Keys to understand a complicated affair Beatriz Vera Poseck
Psicología Clínica. Universidad Complutense de Madrid (Spain). Correspondence: Beatriz Vera Poseck. Psicología Clínica. Universidad Complutense de Madrid (Spain). e-mail:

Received 16 July 2006; accepted 24 July 2006

Psychopathology and mental disturbances have always been prevalent in cinema because they add an element of drama and mystery. Films portraying mentally disturbed characters like Dr. Dippy´s Sanitarium (1906) or Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari (1919) by Robert Wiener were released only a short time after the Lumière brothers had invented the cinematographer. Since then, there are a large number of films whose plot and intrigue are based on insanity and its manifestations. The list grows steadily every year. This article is a review of some of the mental disturbances that have been portrayed in films. Its main purpose is to establish sensible choices and mistakes that have been committed while attempting to address the bottomless world of madness. Keywords: Mental Disturbances, Prejudice, Dissociative Identity Disorder, Amnesia, Psychopathy, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Mental Retardation, Autism.

Of all the disturbances being listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR)1 only a few of them have not yet been portrayed in films. Cinema has certainly been fascinated by insanity and its manifestations, and psychiatric disorders have provided film directors and scriptwriters with a stream of material for their scripts, action, and themes. Taking that interest into account, it is necessary to reflect on the vision of mental disturbances that has been transmitted by cinema to the public in general. For most average citizens the only contact they may have with the psychiatric reality is through cinema; hence, films are their one - yet strong - reference. The extensive reviews of hundreds of films of all times raises anew the question of how erroneously the cinema has portrayed insanity thus leading to a stigmatized vision, full of false myths and prejudice. However, this is not the whole truth since cinema has also supplied plenty of ideas to tackle this problem. There are many positive aspects about the Seventh Art that can be used as introductory elements into Psychiatry. If movie-goers are aware of the details and

key elements, they may be able to discover and learn about the disturbances that are being dealt with in films. From a general perspective, when depicting mental disturbances, two trends have been followed by cinema2. Some films seem to portray a diluted and mellifluous view of mental disturbances. Some even consider it as a trait worth achieving. Other films, however, have presented some of these disturbances as being related to crime, delinquency, and terror, an extreme that has contributed to perpetuate myths that tend to link violence to mental diseases. The first trend can clearly be observed in films dealing with mental retardation or autism where characters are depicted as having an extremely sweet and affectionate personality. The second trend is usually related to psychotic disturbances, mainly schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorders, depicting evil and frightening characters who commit murders and crimes. Cinema exhibits a prevailing trend towards mistaking disturbances and mixing up symptoms thus making it difficult to analyze films from a psychopathological point of view. Among these disturbances, schizophrenia and the dissociative identity disorder

80 © Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca

Beatriz Vera Posek

J Med Mov 2 (2006): 80-88

are two of the diseases most commonly confused and mixed in films. If we consider, for instance, the mythical film Psychosis (1960) by Alfred Hitchcock, the main character Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is being depicted as...
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