Cinema and Mental Health

It’s January and invariably we are surrounded by healthy recipes, cleanses, detoxes, gym membership advertisements, and work out routines. After the mimetic trope of Christmas gluttony and New Year imbibing, family gatherings and parties, January leaves many of us a bit deflated. Thus, we are ready to latch onto the health kicks and personal organisation projects thrust at us by the media. While we are told to better our bodies, it is easy to forget or ignore our mental health.

In December, we at the Picture House screened the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life. Where such a film might usually illicit discussions of holidays, family, and classic cinema, it is heartening to see that now we are getting more comfortable bringing up mental health as a primary theme in the Jimmy Stewart classic.

[Spoilers ahead for It’s a Wonderful Life]

Stewart’s character George Bailey is given the chance to see the influence he has had on the people he loves and the town he lives in by experiencing what would happen if he had never lived. He is shown this world just as he has convinced himself to commit suicide. Putting it this way, the film doesn’t sound like your ubiquitous laughing Santa, twinkle-light-filled, roasting turkey Christmas film. However, there is a reason IAWL has remained a classic and it’s not just the Auld Lang Syne singing, jingling bell, happy ending.

Even when mental health is hard to talk about, when we are having a hard time ‘fitting in’ as teenagers, finding love as adults, or dealing with financial worries, movies are a great way to find solace, know we are not alone, recognise hidden issues, or just to escape. George Bailey’s struggle over his lost youth, money problems, and feeling of hopelessness might hit us in different ways on different viewings. I understood the message and beauty of the ending as a child but viewing it as an adult that struggles with depression, the ending suddenly seems more like personal therapy than story-telling.

In the 1930s, Fred Astaire’s and Ginger Rogers’s movies where popular in America because of their escapism. In a time when many had lost their jobs or all their savings in the crash of 1929, the lavish hotel rooms, elegant clothes, and cheery dance scenes of the Astaire and Rogers films were the perfect antidote to the harsh reality many were experiencing.

Source: IMDB

Films aren’t always lauded for their portrayal of mental and physical health. The long-standing trope of ‘madness’ and disability as ‘problems’ to overcome as well as the continual ablelist casting of able-bodied actors to play disabled parts are still issues that the film industry are struggling with.  [See Here and Here and Here for some of these discussions]

However, whether films are criticised or applauded for their portrayal of mental health, the open conversation of cinema and mental health is growing. Some psychologists are even exploring using movies as therapy. Movie Therapy, Cinema Therapy, or Reel Therapy is a practice that uses films with certain themes, characters, or issues as ‘prescriptions’ for patients to explore their own mental health (see for their categorised list). There are also charity projects that actively explore the use of film as therapy. In 2014, the charity Mind funded a project in Norwich for Black and Minority Ethnic Groups; The Bigger Picture: Cinema to Change Your Mind doesn’t have any active events listed on their website but I hope they managed to do some good in their community. Another charity, Medicinema  has actual cinemas in health facilities in England, Scotland, and Wales.


Our next screening at the end of the month is The Florida Project.  I haven’t seen it yet. I’m waiting to see it on our big screen in the town hall. However, after watching the trailer, I have some thoughts about the film and mental health. Many reviewers have talked about the film as a look at childhood. However, it looks like a film about childhood as much as Peter Pan is a story about childhood- in other words it’s a movie for adults about adulthood via the lens of children. By watching the antics of children, we reflect on our existence as adults, what we have lost from childhood, our responsibilities as adults that children don’t have, and a desperate grasp for some of the hopefulness, the peace, the imagination of children in the more stressful adult life. Peter Pan is my favourite book; not because I read it as a kid but because I read it as an adult. I’m looking forward to The Florida Project for the same reason. Perhaps, like George Bailey’s therapy of community, The Florida Project will open up a discussion of hope even when our responsibilities are ready to consume us.

Get your Tickets for The Florida Project online or at the door at Ballyclare Town Hall on January 27th at 8pm.




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