January 14, 2014

Here BCFE student Clara O'Keeffe blogs on portrayals of schizophrenia at the movies 


the truth.
Mental illness is a fascinating yet terrifying subject for some. Artists are aware that there
is no greater terror for many than to be wholly consumed by madness. It is not hard to
understand what makes schizophrenia such a rich inspiration for artists and filmmakers
throughout the ages. Mental health specialist A.R.K. Mitchell said in 1972 that; “Schizophrenia
is a variant of madness, and madness fascinates us all. It is perhaps the most dramatic and
profound of all mental disorders”. It is a severe mental disorder that impairs a person’s
judgement, emotions and thinking to the point that psychosis undermines their grasp of reality
and can seriously affect their everyday functioning. Schizophrenia is more perceptible for the
visual arts than other mental health issues. As early as the 1920s the German expressionists were
the first to truly realise the narrative benefits of the lyrical visualisation of humanity’s broken and
anxious psyche. To further their own creative gain, screenwriters, directors and producers alike
have been able to extract certain aspects of schizophrenia and manipulate them in the name of
art. This alone is not such an awful problem, yet no one can question the extent to which cinema,
above all mediums, has the ability to persuade and shape the attitudes of the greater population.
During my thesis research into cinema’s representation of schizophrenia I studied the
impact film portrayal had on the attitudes on the population. By analysing films that feature
characters with schizophrenia and gauging the impact on a sample selection of the Irish
population, I found that society's misconceptions of the illness is very much swayed by media
representation. It was a fascinating topic and one that should not be spared in debates of art
versus social responsibility. Many of us in Ireland at least know of a person with schizophrenia
or a severe mental illness. Many of us have also, at some point, watched a film that contains a
character diagnosed with schizophrenia such as Donnie Darko, Me, Myself & Irene, A Beautiful
Mind, The Soloist, or Shine to name th