The Use of Cinematic Devices to Portray Mental Illness


  • Craig Middleton James Cook University



Creative practices that deal with the representation of mental illness potentially have significant social value and relevance; one of these practices is filmmaking and narrative cinema. A film that has recently increased awareness of mental health issues is Silver Linings Playbook (2012). It deals with a family coping with the return of their son, who is being treated for bipolar disorder. “The film gave a fresh face and voice to this issue,” said Patrick Kennedy, cofounder of the brain-research organization One Mind for Research (Levin). It garnered multiple awards with the lead actress, Jennifer Lawrence receiving an Oscar for her performance. She used this opportunity to speak out on issues around mental health, “It's just so bizarre how in this world if you have asthma, you take asthma medication. If you have diabetes, you take diabetes medication. But as soon as you have to take medicine for your mind, it's such a stigma behind it" (Paine). As a media form, ‘conventional’ cinema bears the weight of narrative and genre conventions, both inherent in audience expectations and the filmmakers’ desire to ‘entertain,’ whilst breaking even at the box office. Media critics of the anti-stigma discourse are increasingly bringing our attention to stigmatizing portrayals. However, there are few resources available for filmmakers regarding ‘how’ to approach faithfully portraying mental illness in the dramatic format of narrative cinema. This research therefore sets out to explore the representation of symptoms associated with mental illness in film, by citing research and commentary relevant to a body of existing films and including specific filmic devices. The findings reveal the fact that there is a significant need for further research into how filmmakers might more faithfully portray symptoms of mental illness in conventional cinema.




How to Cite

Middleton, C. (2016). The Use of Cinematic Devices to Portray Mental Illness. ETropic: Electronic Journal of Studies in the Tropics, 12(2).