Wednesday, 20 June 2012

"It's all in your mind"

When I was a psychiatric nursing student, as part of our "reading list" we were asked to watch two movies. The 1965 film Repulsion and the 1948 American production of The Snake Pit.
The Roman Polanski film Repulsion chronicles the mental deterioration of young Belgian woman ( Catherine Deneuve), who is shut away in her isolated London flat, and features some striking sequences that outline  paranoid delusions and visual hallucinations suffered by someone who is experiencing an acute psychotic episode.
Even by today's standards, it is truly a disturbing piece of work.

The Snake Pit , which was more melodramatic in style, was a film that was instrumental in reforming in patient mental health treatment in the United States, for it graphically outlined abuse by ill- trained and damaged nursing staff as well as the more archaic aspects of asylum treatments. The film also looked at the inpatient experience through the eyes of a patient, which was revolutionary for the 1940s

Both films provided invaluable talking points during our nurse training.

Olivia De Havilland giving it "large"

The lone " unstable "woman who is caught up in a "is she really mentally ill or is she speaking the truth?" kind of drama has long been a bit of a Hollywood cliché. It is perhaps a more palatable way of presenting the true reality of a mental breakdown, a reality which has seldom resulted in box office gold and/or indeed critical acclaim
The realistic depiction of mental illness on film, by the very nature of the beast, is painful, hard work and can be intensely frightening...

Last night I went to see the Scandinavian film Babycall, a film that brought into play every "is she really a nutter?" cliche known to man.
The story centres upon the mentally fragile Anna, (Noomi Rapace) who has just escaped an abusive and violent relationship. She has been relocated into an isolated high story flat in Oslo with only  sparse contact with social services as company.
So that she can constantly monitor her troubled 9 year old son, she sets up a baby alarm in his room and during the night she starts to hear the screams of an unknown child being abused.....

However, things are not quite what they seem..........

Noomi Rapace

As a study of a woman that could be suffering from delusional schizophrenia, the film is a cracking watch, thanks primarily to Rapace who captures perfectly the brittleness and blunting of effect the abused Anna would show, but unfortunately the whole thing veers from an interesting psychological study of a mental breakdown into a somewhat confusing supernatural chiller.......

Rapace, I will give 9/10
The film , I would give a disappointing 6.5


  1. I remember 'Replulsion' being very 'ground breaking'. A film one doesn't forget!

  2. I remember seeing the Snakepit and being scared for days afterwards John. I don't think we get this kind of film round here - the films which come to our local cinema are usually more on the saccharin side.

  3. Two coincidences - I have just done a post on nursing, and H.I. once stayed in the very flat where Polanski made the film Repulsion! She said that the place gave everyone the creeps, and was chosen for the set just because of that.

  4. I've never seen any of these three. Mind you, I was turned off films by having to watch them in cinemas that were uncomfortable, dirty and filled with rabble.

    I have heard that cinemas have changed, and have been urged to give them another go, but I still question why I have to be in a crowded place and subjected to other people's eating noises to watch a 90 minute film.

    Can't these bastards stop eating for an hour and a half?

  5. Repulsion left a huge impression on me and that shot brings back the emotions I felt on first viewing. Not sure whether to thank you or not!

  6. And who would dare to forget Bill Shatner's electric performance in the Twilight Zone's "Nightmare at 20,000 feet"?? Go on, who would dare!!??

  7. Tom
    EM. it was a powerful movie...I remember thinking at the time how awful it would be to experience a psychotic breakdown.....job done as an example of experiential learning!

  8. AF
    i HAVE ONLY JUST remembered that tv programme!!! the yeti on the wing!!!!

  9. Thankfully I haven't seen these two films. I haven't got a strong constitution when it comes to films like that. I'd read the books quite happily. I remember the shivers as I read The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Brrrrrrrr!

  10. For me, it was Sally Field in 'Sybil'. Brrr.

  11. I do not do well with those kind of films.

  12. I always admired Jessica Lange in "Frances," the true story of the actress who suffered all the Hollywood cliches you mention here. Still, it was a powerful haunting movie. I saw it decades ago and it still has a lingering impression.

  13. You make a wonderful reviewer. As the hands reach for me, I am enjoying your post.

  14. I once read a book where I understood the main character's reasoning all along. Turns out she was completly barking. I'm worried.
    Jane x

  15. You MUST give all the films details. I usually just go to sci-fi and kids films. Less frustration and definitely less DRAMA!!!!!!!

  16. Luckily for me I haven't seen the films. I can't handle the big time tenseness, I get up and leave. (same thing with gory movies)

  17. Anonymous4:01 pm

    will check out Repulsion on Netflix!

  18. Not for me, thank. The Voices and I like more uplifting films.

  19. Every so often a TV show or film will use that device and put the protagonist's mental state in question. I recently watched the second season of "The Killing". The woman detective is sent to a mental hospital where she's trying to convince them she's not crazy. But how can anyone defend themself against the psycho-babble and drugging? It's really disturbing, even to someone as incredibly sane as me!

  20. John dear.
    Go and see a nice musical.....

  21. Finally I can comment on one of your films!! My Dad and I watched 'The Snake Pit' about a month was on a movie channel.
    We were both spellbound from start to finish.
    I though it was way ahead of it's time and that it did affect and hopefully begin a change in thinking about mental illness.
    Great movie and well acted.

  22. Anonymous7:52 am

    I once watched the slow, mental disintegration of the wife of one my patients and it really was frightening. I was the only one seeing the couple on a daily basis so no one else knew what was going on, and with no real psychiatric background, I didn't realize what was happening at first either. It wasn't until I found her in the bathroom all by herself talking to "them" that I finally got it. It eventually escalated into some terrifying paranoia for her and was heartbreaking to watch.
    The mind really is such a fascinating and fragile thing.


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