Insight Into the Human Psyche

         Movies, as we all know, usually have an agenda for the audience to perceive and take action upon, whether it be simply to "buy our merchandise," as is the case of films such as Spider-Man and Harry Potter movies, or to teach a social lesson, as in Girl Interrupted or Lord of the Rings. As a future educator, I feel that if I were to have to teach a class like English 213, I would want to use the psychological studies agenda. This rather broad agenda can deal with anything from parent-child relationships and their future outcome (The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood) to the mad ravings of a professional cannibal (the Hannibal Lecter series). In my lineup of movies I would show Psycho, The Innocents, The Silence of the Lambs, Girl, Interrupted, and The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.

         Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1960, is a perfect display of schizophrenia at its finest. Though I personally have never seen the movie before, the basic plot is known by most every American that Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is completely crazy in it and thinks his mother is still alive. He fears her completely, probably due to a poor childhood living alone with her. The fact that he fears her even after she is dead suggests one of two things is going on: He truly is a schizo, and his mind cannot comprehend that she is dead; or he was beaten as a child, and in that he fears her. I personally believe it is a combination of both. It also shows how out of control people can get when no one in their community cares about them or notices them, teaching that the community should care for all its people.

         The Innocents, directed in 1961 by Jack Clayton, would be my next film. Based on Henry James's 1898 book, The Turn of the Screw, this film shows how one's mind can take an idea that may not really exist and distort it to the point of complete hysteria. This hysteria may be instinctual due to the fact that, though man is considered by some to be the smartest of God's creatures, we cannot run very fast, we have extremely poor senses in comparison to the rest of nature, and we normally live in packs. The governess, Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) in the film, on the other hand is in a new place, with a couple of strangers in the country with nothing really around it in the way of people. Psychologically, the governess suffers a severe mental breakdown, which results in the death of one of her charges, Miles (Martin Stephens). This film gives an excellent view into the world of someone quite literally going stark raving mad. I feel high schoolers should see this film to show how silly it really is to think someone is talking about one or watching one all the time.

         Another excellent psychological thriller is The Silence of the Lambs, directed in 1991 by Jonathan Demme. I am picking this Hannibal Lecter tale over Hannibal and Red Dragon because, let us face it, the other two just do not touch Jodie Foster's performance of Clarice. Plus, as an art major, I am powerfully disturbed by the fact the killer eats the 200-year-old William Blake watercolor. The Silence of the Lambs is a perfect view into three different psychological disorders. One is Hannibal (Anthony Hopkins), of course, who can function perfectly well in society but has no remorse for the pain he causes. Actually he revels in it, though cannibalism is not really a psychological disorder. The fact that he is fascinated about the killings and the way they are done through torture shows us Hannibal is a sadist to the sickest degree. Plus, he only eats the people he likes as opposed to the "trash of the earth," which he only tortures and sometimes kills. The second is the actual killer (Ted Levine), the one Clariceis looking for. He also is psychotic to the nth degree, yet he does not really torture his victims physically, but psychologically. He sticks them in a hole almost completely naked and makes them use skin-care products, treating them as if they were cattle as opposed to human beings. He also is, or at least wishes to be, a transsexual, which could be related again to childhood trauma. The third is not so obvious as the first two, and that is Clarice herself. She has the drive to prove herself or do her dead father proud, which in society is an excellent quality, yet she has no social life, no family to care for, and no inkling of relationships. So is she "all right in the head" after all? I think not. These three characters make this movie an excellent addition to my psychological agenda.

         Next is Girl, Interrupted, directed in 1999 by James Mangold, a thrilling drama starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie. This movie is obviously about psychological issues because it takes place in an insane asylum. Yet while this movie discusses a variety of psychological disorders, it also shows the audience what it was like to be in such a place around the middle of the last century. It was not until right around that time that asylums began to change from just a place to put people who could not cope with society to a place where the dysfunctional can go to be cared for and helped. The vast majority of Americans do not have to deal with a severe mental disorder, so I feel this movie would be an excellent insight into the treatment of such people.

         The last movie I would choose would be The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, directed by Callie Khouri in 2002. Though this film is obviously a comedy and melodrama, it also points out a very common psychological disorder in American mothers, postpartum depression. This disorder affects new mothers and can, if untreated, lead to worse traumas to both child and mother, as can be viewed in Sidda (Sandra Bullock) and her relationship with her mother (Ellen Burstyn). I feel it is important to show students this form of depression because I have both seen it occur in similar situations as Sidda's and experienced it. Divine Secrets shows what can happen when the mother has no support, stressing to the audience how very important it is for mothers in this depression to seek out help, preferably professional help.

         So as a teacher, I would show movies that deal with a psychological agenda to promote a better understanding of the insane, show the treatment of said people, and promote a healthy lifestyle in my students, or at least prove to them that there are other people crazier than me out there.

Lynn Schentrup

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