Educational Role of the Film Industry

The Educational Role of the Film Industry on the Issue of Psychological Disorders

Even though mental diseases have been characterized by human beings throughout history, any scientific substantiation of their occurrence, course, symptoms, and treatment has appeared relatively recently. It is worth noting that the majority of mental disorders studied in detail by modern science were an inexplicable riddle in the last century. In the Middle Ages, no one could rationally explain the occurrence of manifestations of mental instability, so the church took the responsibility upon itself to deal with “unhealthy” people under the pretext of the intervention of demonic forces.

MiniCalc with vip services

People who manifest symptoms of various mental illnesses or who demonstrate any signs of the paranormal often received a disappointing diagnosis: the devil's obsession (Byrne). Of course, the treatment methods for such diseases were, at best, ineffective, and, at worst, lethal to a patient. As a rule, rituals of exorcism or the use of holy water, which, of course, did not lead to a positive result, were considered a panacea for seizures of epilepsy or schizophrenia. In the end, after all the priests' attempts were ineffective, it was believed that the victim could not be freed from the devil's captivity, and often enough, the only means of salvation was the deprivation of life (Byrne). History recorded hundreds of deaths as a result of exorcism sessions. All of this suggests that ignorance in the field of mental disorders can cause far more painful consequences than the disease itself. Currently, the film industry has a powerful informational impact on society performing both entertainment and educational functions. The younger generation of people is especially active in watching new films appearing in cinemas, which means a huge information impact on a significant part of the world's population. In addition to the entertaining function, the vast majority of films carry various messages and ideas that later settle in people's minds (Byrne). It is therefore worth assuming that the film industry can be considered an effective medium between psychology and publicity, namely, to familiarize viewers with various mental disorders and their frequent symptoms, which, in turn, can have a positive effect on carriers of such illnesses and their social life.

Mental disorders have always been a popular topic for filmmakers for several reasons. First, most people perceive mental disorders as mysterious, unexplainable, or even mystical. Despite the hard work of thousands of scientists, and psychotherapists who have collected dozens of volumes of data regarding many mental diseases known today, many people on the planet have at best superficial understanding of them. It is unlikely that many people who are not associated with science will be interested in studying scientific literature telling about hundreds of different types of mental illness (Morris). Thus, film directors are actively using the things the audience does not understand or fear. Secondly, psychiatry presents a myriad of pathologies that are of great interest to the cinema industry because of their rarity.

A movie that conceivably depicts the above-mentioned fact is An Angel at My Table by Jane Campion. This was a New Zealand-Australian-British film that was first aired in 1990 (Whitehead). The film was directed by Jane Campion and it was based on the three autobiographies written by Janet Frame. The three autobiographies were released in the years before the release of the film, and they were: To the Island, An Angel at My Table, and The Envoy from Mirror City (Whitehead). The film, therefore, is about Janet Frame and her journey in life from the time she is a young girl to the time she is a grown-up. In the film, the character of Janet Frame is depicted by three actresses of different ages to depict her growth and age. The film is about Jane Frame, who is a child growing up in a harsh environment. She witnesses many tragedies, one of them being her experience of losing two siblings who died. Other than living with an impoverished family, Janet is also afflicted with a mental illness that causes her to be admitted to a mental health facility (Whitehead). She is labeled as a schizophrenic and, as a result, she is forced to undergo 200 electroshock treatments. It is worth noting that these stories are an accurate recollection of Janet’s real life. She is also scheduled to undergo a lobotomy to treat her condition, but she is saved at the last minute when one of the short stories she had written is published and awarded the National Literacy Prize (Whitehead). Before the vast evidence and research that has been made to prove the presence of mental illness and better ways to cope with and treat them, the patients often suffered a lot at the hand of others who did it in the name of ‘treatment.’

Thus, it is necessary to assume that the films can show little-known mental conditions in such a way that the mass audience will be interested in learning more about them. This can be especially useful because dry scientific data are written for scientists themselves using highly specialized terminology incomprehensible to most ordinary people (Livingston 128). Traditionally, the press acted as a medium between the world of science and the public translating the results of scientific research and discoveries into a simple language accessible to everyone. However, in recent years, the press is rapidly losing its audience. Firstly, there are many examples when distorted scientific information is presented as a more sensational and colorful means for a reader. Such an example gives the news that mobile phones are supposedly capable of causing brain cancer. Such a study was indeed carried out, but the results said only that the probability is exceptionally insignificant and requires further investigation. Despite this, the news has spread in all the newspapers of the world, causing real panic among many people. In addition, many publications began to suspect the promotion of certain political ideologies. For example, many publishers said that global warming or the harm of smoking were just myths. All the evidence reduced the popularity of newspapers among critically-minded people. This niche is increasingly filled with cinema, which introduces the viewers to previously unseen phenomena, diseases, and scientific ideas.

Due to the strong influence of religion in the XVIII-XIX century, many mental illnesses are still perceived as signs of otherworldly forces. As a result of this, thousands of people with mental abnormalities seek salvation in churches and mosques, among clergymen, and in holy scriptures, being sure that such a state is a consequence of their sinfulness. Such people turn to psychics, exorcists, visionaries, healers, medicine men, and astrologers, but not to psychiatrists because they do not see the real cause of their illness. As a result of the lack of specialized treatment, a mental disorder is exacerbated causing irreparable harm to a patient. Nevertheless, a lot of modern films are aimed at showing the true causes of such conditions.

A great example is a film called Aval. It is an Indian movie that was first aired in 2017 and was interestingly shot in three separate languages, that is, Telugu, Hindi, and Tamil (IMDB). The film is therefore titled in different languages. In Hindi, it is known as The House Next door, in Telugu it is Gruham, and Aval in Tamil. The film was co-written and produced by Milind Rau. In the movie, the main theme is demonic possession, the presence of both benevolent and malevolent spirits, and the intersection of science and spiritual warfare (IMDB). The main characters in the film are Krishnakanth or Krish (depicted by Siddharth), and Lakshmi (depicted by Andrea Jeremiah). The story is that these two characters are a happily married couple that one day realizes that they have new neighbors. The moment the new neighbors move in, a lot of chaos begins to happen, when they meet a child called Jenny, who is troublesome from the beginning. Krish is a neurosurgeon and he closely works with a psychiatrist called Paul. They are forced to battle the spirits who not only possess Jenny, but also Krish and Lakshmi (IMDB). The battle against this condition not only includes the use of priests who attempt to pry for Jenny ad exorcise her demons, but also a psychiatrist who at first assumes the mental disorder but then changes his mind after witnessing the behavior of Jenny. A neuroscientist is also unable to understand the condition and only calls it a spiritual possession. From the film, it is easy to see how a mental disorder is easily termed as a demonic possession the moment those who witness the abnormal behavior cannot explain it or the cause behind it.

Illustrating mental disorders, many films help viewers learn about their conditions. Quite often, people do not seek the help of psychiatrists because they do not understand the nature of their symptoms or misinterpret them. For example, the symptoms of diseases such as depression, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder can have particular symptoms, which patients often confuse with frequent mood changes. In an even more difficult situation are people who have a congenital mild mental illness that progresses with age (Jackson). In such cases, people may not even guess about their diseases, which can lead to extremely negative consequences for the psyche. Many films quite accurately demonstrate the various symptoms of a variety of mental states. Professional actors often consult with psychiatrists or even contact patients in mental hospitals to study the characteristics of their behavior (Wedding). Naturally, in some instances, the actor may not cope with this mission qualitatively enough. For this reason, in some films, especially those that were filmed in the last century, the actors often portrayed the symptoms of mental illness with significant exaggerations or distortions (Time to Change 4). However, the development trends of cinema are seeking to solve this problem. Thus, modern actors sometimes spend months and even years in the preparation for such roles.

An accurate film representing the many causes of mental illness is called Suicide Room. This is a drama film created in Poland and was first aired in the same country in 2011 (Packer). The film primarily focuses on the issue of depression among the youth of this modern-day society. Many people were big fans of the film, especially across Europe and it ended up being critically acclaimed and winning several awards. The main actor, Jakub Giersza?, also came to be titled as the best actor followed by the supporting character Roma G? Piotrowska, who was titled as the best actress. Jakub depicts the main character called Dominik Santorsk, who is a sensitive teenager of rich unbothered parents attending a private school. Roma acts as the character called Sylwia. In the movie, Dominik is a disturbed child, and this is both mental and emotional (Packer). First and foremost, he is affected by the way his parents live, where they are never bothered about him. Instead, they only provide for him and are never home to support or be a part of his life. He attends a private school just like all high schools pressures the students to conform to the ‘normal’ ones.

Another issue brought up in the film is Dominik being gay. He struggles with this fact and finds it hard to confront it even with his friends and parents. He is often ashamed of it, and because both his friends and his parents are not supportive, he ends up feeling alone and left out. This leads him to stumble upon an online social media platform called the suicide Room. This is where he meets Sylwia, a suicidal girl who tries to use him to get some drugs so that she can commit suicide. The result is that Dominik is swayed enough to also commit suicide, and since he is depressed with no support system, he takes the pills meant for Sylwia which end up killing him. The research shows that depression has much to do with a person’s cognitive processes as it does with the external environment of the individual (Packer). This film accurately depicted these facts and shows how Dominik’s external environment contributed to his internal struggles and depression thereby killing him in the end.

Scientists often present a lot of research and evidence about mental conditions and illnesses. However, it is difficult to say how great their chances are to attract the attention of the general public for educational purposes. The availability of information about something is not always a guarantee that most people will know about it. In the digital age, the Internet contains a colossal amount of information that a person is not physically able to perceive entirely (Jackson). Therefore, films are used to disseminate essential information, as they attract the attention of most people quite successfully.

Films plots based on schizophrenia are quite popular. This is a mental disorder characterized by a person’s disability to tell apart what is real and what is imaginary. This mental condition is often characterized by a person who seems out of touch with real life through thoughts and experiences. A popular Canadian-British film that demonstrates schizophrenia at its worst is called Spider. The film was released in the year 2002 and it was directed by David Cronenberg (Packer). The main actor is called Patrick McGrath, and he depicts the character of Dennis ‘spider’ Cleg, who is a schizophrenic. The film starts with Dennis, who has just been released from a mental institution and has been admitted to a halfway house that catered to people with various mental conditions. Being in this house, he relives his memories, where we learn that he had an unfortunate childhood. He witnessed acts such as groping between his mother and father, and the killing of his mother by his father with the help of a prostitute. The prostitute was later introduced to Denis as his mother, but Denis is understandably not happy. He ends up gassing the prostitute and killing her, but it is not clear who he kills because, at the end of the scene, she appears to be the mother to Spider and not the prostitute (Packer). After living through that memory, Spider goes to the landlady’s room and he appears ready to kill her when he starts to see her as the prostitute he had hated, and then as his mother. This delays his actions just long enough for the landlady to wake up and ask him what he has done. Spider is later taken back to the mental institution.

It is time to discuss the criticism that most psychological films regularly receive from psychiatrists. The main argument is that many films significantly exaggerate or alter the symptoms of mental illness, and this can mislead people and give them the wrong impression of these diseases. The point is that the films create a falsely negative impression about people suffering from mental illness (Time to Change 2). All the films in the question of this study are vivid examples of such criticism. It is believed that viewers can assume that if the character of the film shows extreme signs of insanity or aggression, then a real person with the same diagnosis will behave as well.

Nevertheless, studies show that films are not the cause of the stigmatization of mentally ill people, but rather their consequence. Long before the cinema, people with mental illness were subject to stereotyping and stigmatization. Films, in turn, are only a reflection of the trends of popular culture. Moreover, this applies to the films shot at the end of the last century. Secondly, the directors cannot describe the most accurate symptoms of mental disorders because many of them are not spectacular and dynamic, which means that such a plot will not be able to attract the attention of a viewer. Many psychiatric documentaries tell about the true manifestations of mental illness, but the audience for such films is mostly psychiatrists themselves or students studying psychology (Oliver). In other words, such films show a reliable picture of mental illness although their audience is significantly limited.

Thus, the educational role of cinema can be characterized in two ways. On the one hand, psychological films are released quite often and receive great popularity and attention from viewers. This allows filmmakers to familiarize their audience with some of the features of mental illness. Many films have helped people better understand their psyche or even recognize that they have certain disorders. At the same time, people with mental disorders feel like a part of society when so much attention is paid to their problems. Before the intervention of the cinema, most people not related to medicine and psychology had almost no significant knowledge of the mental illness. Earlier, people mostly avoided mentally ill patients because of stereotypical unfounded fear, after several popular psychological films, the fear began to gradually turn into interest and compassion (Oliver). Besides, the viewers of such films began to better distinguish between these diseases and understand how to better behave with such people depending on the disease. For example, back in the 90s, only a few uninitiated suspected such a condition as bipolar syndrome, and those who knew could hardly determine the whole range of possible symptoms. For this reason, a person who drastically changes his behavior from friendly to aggressive would most often cause bewilderment, rejection, or retaliatory aggression.


Nowadays, since many films are devoted to the above-mentioned disorders, people know that such behavior is caused by a mental disease, which, in turn, changes the attitude towards such people in a positive direction. Nevertheless, cinema also has its compelling faults. In many films, especially those released in the second half of the last century, the depiction of mentally ill people was excessively exaggerated (Packer). In addition, filmmakers often must exaggerate specific symptoms to make the film more interesting for the viewer. Nowadays, such exaggerations are less common because the directors making psychological films are increasingly consulting with many psychologists to achieve the greatest possible realism within the plot. Thus, there is every reason to conclude that cinema is still capable of fulfilling an educational role regarding mental illness.

scroll to top call us
Chat with Support