Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis was one of the phenomena that most influenced the history of psychology. However, his influences go much further and over the decades have been reflected in all kinds of artistic expression.
The cinema inspired by psychoanalysis is a good example of this: the language of the seventh art is perfect for capturing powerful images of a dreamlike nature that remain etched in the retina. That is why films inspired by psychoanalysis are a good way to see how symbolism can be used in new ways to express psychological phenomena.
The best cinema based on psychoanalysis
Below you can see a selection of films influenced by psychoanalysis that, in one way or another, reflect the ideas and beliefs of Freud and his followers about the unconscious.
1. A dangerous method
More than an example of cinema inspired by Freud’s work, it is part, directly, of the films that deal with psychoanalysis and the beginning of the psychodynamic current. In it, both Sigmund Freud and Carl G. Jung appear, sharing the limelight with Sabina Spielrein (Keira Nightley), a patient who later ended up working as a therapist.
This film shows how theories about the unconscious mind became popular and exported to the rest of the Western world.
2. An Andalusian dog
One of the classics of European cinema, by the hand of Spanish director Luis Buñuel. Although it is not exactly a film about psychoanalysis, as it is too short to be considered a feature film, this work splashes surrealism everywhere and uses a dreamlike atmosphere to create powerful images. Freud’s influence on this imagery is undeniable, for example, in the moment in which it is depicted that an eye is cut, implying a step towards what is beyond appearances and conventions.
3. The Black Swan
A story about the sacrifices that have to be made to reach perfection and the consequences this leaves on mental health. Natalie Portman embodies a ballet dancer who, in order to reach her life’s goal, must transform herself into the black swan, leaving behind her innocence and fragility. This effort will make her feel more and more detached from the reality she had learned to interpret while keeping a discreet profile.
4. Surviving Life
A curious comedy directed by Jan ‘Vankmajer about a married man who has a double life in his dreams , with which surrealism campaigns at will through its frames. The scenes, produced from montages with pieces of photographs, make it a visually very impressive work.
5. Eraser head
As in virtually all of David Lynch’s films, there is no objective plot in this work. However, there are components in which the influence of psychoanalysis is clearly noticeable: the presence of a moral burden related to an incapacitated and malformed child , an oppressive environment and all sorts of ideas that are ambiguously expressed through extraordinary events.
Freudian psychoanalysis has always placed great emphasis on sexuality, to the extent that it occupies a central role in the theory of psychological development proposed by Freud. In Shame, which tells the story of a man who channels his frustrations through sexual relations , this idea resonates in the background throughout the film.
In this film directed by French filmmaker Henri Xhonneux, the story of the Marquis de Sade’s confinement in the Bastille is told. Both sex and surrealism used to explain fantasies and dreams, as well as some significant amounts of cheeky humour come together in a story that, to be told, uses costumes designed by illustrator Roland Topor.
One of the defining films of David Cronenberg’s cinema. In this film he talks about the role of the screens as means through which the fantasies themselves are projected which, from the Freudian theory, remain hidden in the unconscious and emerge in subtle forms to try to satisfy primary needs.
The link between technology and the human body is blurred, suggesting that even what appears to be the fruit of rationality is actually the product of deeply irrational forces.
9. The Science of Sleep
The protagonist of this film tries to escape from his reality by taking refuge in his dreams , a universe in which almost anything is possible and which will allow him to act as if he had no responsibilities and no public image to look after.
The process of acculturation and socialization plays an important role in psychoanalysis, since in addition to providing education and means through which to survive, the family comes hand in hand with a series of norms that conflict with basic impulses .
Canino is an experiment in fiction that shows what would happen if the system of meanings and the model of protection were totally focused on the family, without taking into account anything else. Specifically, it tells the story of some young people who have been educated from childhood not to go beyond the limits of the home garden.
11. The mole
El Topo is probably Alejandro Jodorowsky’s best known audiovisual work, and of course it is very much influenced by the themes that are usually treated from the psychoanalytic conception of the mind. Specifically, in this film, the sexuality expressed in a violent way is of great importance.
12. Blue velvet
Although for a film by David Lynch it is somewhat conventional, this work is strongly influenced by the oneirism that characterized the first forms of psychoanalysis . In fact, the director of this work has already said several times that his works (or at least part of them) are there to be interpreted freely.
13. El Club de la Lucha
Being one of the most famous films of the late 90’s, one of the characteristics of this work that has had the greatest impact is its iconography and the raw way of transmitting its messages. However, something that often escapes about this film is the fact that Tyler Durden, despite being characterized as what the protagonist wants to be, in reality only embodies the neuroses and vulnerabilities of the protagonist , a man in the midst of an identity crisis who manufactures an activist and rebellious pretext to get involved in destructive acts because he suffers all kinds of insecurities.
14. Take Shelter
This is one of the most recent films inspired by psychoanalysis . It talks about a father of a family who, in fear of suffering the consequences of a natural disaster, begins to plan the construction of a bunker at the same time that he begins to see signs of the disaster everywhere in the face of the incomprehension of his relatives and neighbours. The neuroticism of the protagonist is expressed in great detail.
15. My Winnipeg
A mockumentary about Winnipeg, the town where the director of this play (Guy Maddin) lives. The premise is simple, but misleading: this film is an exercise in surrealism that leaves viewers with their mouths open and in which it is difficult to recognize what is real and what is dream .