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Psychology Essays About Movies

A pioneer of French cinema, filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard said, “Art attracts us only by what it reveals of our most secret self.”

Film as art is certainly no exception when it comes to capturing our minds and imaginations. Film provides a powerful medium for exploring what it means to be human, offering us a glimpse into human nature at its best, its worst and everywhere in between.

Perhaps that’s why there is no shortage of films that explore the gamut of psychological topics – making film a popular tool for teaching psychology.

  • The paranoia exhibited by Humphrey Bogart’s Captain Queeg who unravels under stress in “The Caine Mutiny.”

  • The chilling descent into madness displayed by Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.”

  • The effect of one woman’s obsession on a man and his family in “Fatal Attraction.”

  • The moral dilemmas faced by the survivors of a torpedoed ship drifting at sea in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat.”

While there are hundreds of films that could be included on a list of movies that deal with psychology, here are a handful recommended by Saint Leo psychology faculty – all ‘must sees’ for students in online psychology degree programs.

1.  “12 Angry Men”

Drama (1957)
Topics:
Social, moral development
Actors: Henry Fonda, John Fiedler
Plot: A diverse group of 12 jurors deliberates the fate of an 18-year-old Latino accused of murdering his father. As a lone dissenting juror tries to convince the others that the case is not as open-and-shut as it appears, individual prejudices and preconceptions about the trial emerge.
Recommended by: Dr. Lara Ault
Why recommended:  The movie has tremendous lessons and value in social psychology. It addresses prejudice, conformity, aggression, group interaction, leadership, persuasion, and other basic areas of social psychology and the study of normal human behavior.

2.  “28 Days” 

Drama/romance (2000)
Topics:
Substance abuse disorders/alcoholism
Actors:
Sandra Bullock, Viggo Mortensen, Dominic West
Plot: Sandra Bullock plays a newspaper columnist who chooses to enter a rehabilitation center for alcoholism in lieu of jail time for stealing a limousine at her sister’s wedding and crashing it. Initially in denial that she is an alcoholic and resistant to treatment, with the help of fellow patients, she eventually begins to re-examine her life and comes to terms with her alcoholism and addiction to prescription medications.
Recommended by: Dr. Glenn Lowery
Why recommended:  This movie models good counseling skills and promotes optimism, while dealing with serious substance abuse issues.


3.  “A Beautiful Mind”

Drama (2001)
Topics:
Abnormal psychology, psychotic disorders/schizophrenia
Actors: Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly
Plot:  Based on the life of mathematical genius and Nobel Laureate John Forbes Nash, who suffers from severe mental illness, this film won four Academy Awards including Best Picture.
Recommended by: Dr. Antonio Laverghetta
Why recommended:  The film sheds light on the life and suffering of a person living with schizophrenia. Psychology students will notice that Nash exhibits many of the symptoms used to diagnose schizophrenia and can follow the increasing intensity of these symptoms and the effect on him and those around him. The film also shows the difficult task of managing the disorder and the importance of social support.


4.  “The Blind Side”

Biographical/sport (2009)
Topics:
Social psychology, including social influence, family relations
Actors: Quinton Aaron, Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Kathy Bates
Plot: “The Blind Side” is the true story of Michael Oher, a homeless African-American boy who is adopted by a wealthy white family, the Tuohys. Michael realizes his full potential, succeeding in school and becoming a first-round pick in the 2009 NFL draft.
Recommended by: Dr. Helen Oderinde  
Why recommended:  This film does a good job of highlighting some of the difficulties and misunderstandings that take place when people of different cultures attempt to bridge cultural and racial differences and connect on an intimate level. The film also shows how mutually beneficial this engagement can be: the Tuohys open the door to educational and financial opportunity for Michael and he, in turn, opens their minds.


5. “Driving Miss Daisy”

Comedy/drama (1989)
Topics:
Social psychology, developmental psychology/aging, Alzheimer’s disease
Actors: Jessica Tandy, Morgan Freeman, Dan Akroyd
Plot: The movie begins in 1948 when, at the insistence of her son who decides his mother must stop driving, Miss Daisy Werthan, a wealthy Jewish Southern woman, hires an African-American chauffeur, Hoke Colburn. The story of their friendship unfolds over the following 25 years as they overcome their differences and discomforts and develop a loving friendship.
Recommended by: Dr. Antonio Laverghetta
Why recommended:  In addition to addressing the degenerative nature of Alzheimer’s disease, this film explores some of the big questions of interest in the field of social psychology: how prejudice develops and how it can be overcome.


6.  “Enough”

Drama/thriller (2002)
Topics:
Social psychology, domestic violence
Actors: Jessica Jennifer Lopez, Billy Campbell, Tessa Allen
Plot: Based on the Anna Quindlen novel, “Black and Blue,” the film is about a working-class waitress named Slim who thinks she has married the man of her dreams. After the birth of their first child, he becomes controlling and abusive. Slim escapes from him several times, moving to different parts of the country with her daughter, but her husband tracks her down. She decides to prepare herself to fight back by learning Krav Maga self-defense techniques.
Recommended by: Dr. Tammy Zacchilli
Why recommended: Portraying a physical and psychological battle between the two main characters, this movie addresses the challenges of dealing with and escaping from an abusive relationship


7.  “Good Will Hunting”

Drama (1997)
Topics: Social and developmental psychology, treatment, giftedness
Actors:
Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Minnie Driver
Plot:
Will Hunting is a young, headstrong janitor at MIT with exceptional mathematical abilities. Abused as a child, he has numerous run-ins with the law and does not realize his full potential. With the help of a psychology professor, he finally receives the counseling he needs that will enable him to find his identity and change his life.
Recommended by: Dr. Glenn Lowery
Why recommended:  "Good Will Hunting." serves as a good teachable opportunity. This movie depicts a difficult therapeutic relationship between an ambivalent client and a somewhat unorthodox counselor.


8.  “The Hurricane”

Biographical/sport (1991)
Topics: Social psychology including prejudice, discrimination, violence, civil rights
Actors:
Denzel Washington, Vicellous Reon Shannon, Deborah Kara Unger
Plot:
This film is based on the life of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a top-ranked, African-American boxer who, in 1966, is expected to become a world champion when he is wrongly imprisoned for a triple murder. His appeals are rejected and his case seems hopeless until a teenage boy and his foster family find new evidence that eventually leads to his release two decades later.
Recommended by: Dr. Bob Jacobs
Why recommended:  “The Hurricane” highlights our ability to transcend our circumstances through internal change.


9.  “Identity”

Thriller/mystery (2003)
Topics:
Psychotic disorders, forensic psychology
Actors:
John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet
Plot: A group of strangers from different walks of life are forced to find shelter during a torrential rainstorm at an out-of-the-way Nevada desert motel. One-by-one, they are killed off. Meanwhile, in a related storyline, a psychiatrist tries to prove the innocence of a man accused of murder.
Recommended by:
Dr. Lara Ault
Why recommended:  “Identity” deals with a unique and controversial disorder (it’s a spoiler if I name it). It plays on some misconceptions about the disorder, but has a radical therapy suggestion that is intriguing. It is also an exciting murder mystery.

10. “Memento”

Crime thriller (2000)
Topics:
Neuropsychology, memory loss/amnesia
Actors:
Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano
Plot:
Leonard Shelby is an ex-insurance investigator who sustains a head injury when trying to prevent his wife’s murder and now suffers from amnesia. He learns how to cope with his condition using notes and tattoos as he tries to find the murderer and avenge her death.
Recommended by: Dr. Lara Ault
Why recommended:
  “Memento” deals with a person with short-term memory loss trying to solve a mystery. It is accurate, in many ways, regarding what life might be like for someone who cannot remember for more than a few minutes or seconds at a time. It is fascinating in a cognitive sense, as well as moving and emotionally engaging (and exciting).

 
11. “The Notebook”

Romance (2004)
Topics
: Clinical and social psychology, cultural differences, Alzheimer’s disease
Actors: Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, Gena Rowlands, James Garner
Plot: A poor young man, Noah Calhoun, falls in love with a young heiress, Allie Hamilton, during the summer of 1940. When Allie’s mother finds out, she bans her from seeing Noah and the family leaves their summer home on Seabrook Island and returns to Charleston. World War II intervenes and Allie and Noah go on with their lives but are reunited years later.
Recommended by: Dr. Tammy Zacchilli
Why recommended:  I show clips of this movie in my close relationships class because you can examine how love and relationships change over time. It is also relevant to developmental psychology because one of the characters has Alzheimer's disease.


12. “On Golden Pond”

Drama/comedy (1981)
Topics:
Neuropsychology/dementia,  marital/family dynamics
Actors:
Katherine Hepburn, Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda
Plot:
This Academy Award winner for Best Actor and Best Actress tells the story of elderly couple, Norman and Ethel Thayer, who return to their summer cottage while dealing with Norman’s failing memory, onset of senility and strained relationship with his daughter.
Recommended by:
Dr. Mark Benander
Why recommended: This movie is full of great explorations of so many fundamental aspects of human nature, including family relationships, aging, death and dying, personal growth, and forgiveness. We are also treated to ways in which elements of nature such as a beautiful woodland lake, a treacherous cove, a dive into crisp clear water, and a family of loons can illuminate the powerful psychological dynamics of being human.
          

13. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

Drama (1975)
Topics:
Personality/mood disorders, forensic psychology, treatment
Actors: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, William Redfield
Plot: Randle McMurphy has a criminal past. To escape his most current prison sentence, he pleads insanity so that he can be sent to a mental institution where he thinks he can serve his sentence more comfortably than in jail. Upon admittance, he rallies the other patients into rebellion against the oppressive Nurse Ratched.
Recommended by: Dr. Kevin Kieffer
Why recommended: This Academy Award-winning classic is a must-see film for psychology students. It provides a disturbing look into mental hospitals in the 1960s, including electroshock therapy as a form of treatment and a dysfunctional form of group psychotherapy.


14. “Ordinary People”

Drama (1980)
Topics:
Family dynamics, stress and coping, mood disorders, therapy
Actors: Mary Tyler Moore, Timothy Hutton, Donald Sutherland, Judd Hirsch
Plot: When his older brother dies unexpectedly, guilt and grief push Conrad Jarrett to attempt suicide. After spending six months in a mental hospital, he returns home, sees a psychiatrist, and tries to return to normal. His parents each react differently to the trauma; his father attempts to deal with his grief, while his mother remains in denial, angry and depressed.
Recommended by: Dr. Kevin Kieffer
Why recommended: This film sheds realistic light on how one family deals with trauma and the resulting breakdown of the family unit. It offers a positive, affirming portrayal of a therapist and the value of therapy in helping Conrad and his father heal.


15. “Rain Man”

Comedy/drama (1988)
Topics:
Neuropsychology/autism, marital/family dynamics
Actors:
Dustin Hoffmann, Tom Cruise, Valeria Golino
Plot: “Rain Man” is the story of a hustler, Charlie Babbit, and his brother, Raymond, an autistic savant unknown to Charlie who is living in an institution. When the brothers’ father dies and leaves his fortune in trust to Raymond, Charlie sets out on a scheme to gain custody of Raymond and control of the money during a classic cross-country road trip.
Recommended by: Dr. Antonio Laverghetta
Why recommended:  This film shed light on autism at time when there was little public awareness of the syndrome. Raymond exhibits many of the classic behaviors of a high-functioning autistic. As Charlie begins to understand Raymond more, he learns how to manage the stress associated with being his caregiver and becomes a better person.


16. “Regarding Henry”

Drama (1991)
Topics:
Neuropsychology, retrograde amnesia, marital/family dynamics
Actors:
Harrison Ford, Annette Benning, Michael Haley
Plot:
Henry is a hard-driven lawyer who is shot in the head during a robbery and suffers brain damage. He emerges from a coma with retrograde amnesia. As he struggles to recover his speech and mobility and regain his memory, he experiences a shift in values and builds a new life for his family and himself.
Recommended by: Dr. Antonio Laverghetta
Why recommended: While real-life cases of retrograde amnesia are actually quite rare, films tend to depict it as fairly common occurrence and, therefore, often promote inaccuracies.  Despite that fact, this movie does a good job showing how retrograde amnesia can have a significant impact on individuals and their families – sometimes for good or ill.


17. “Reign Over Me”
      

Family drama (2007)
Topics:
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Actors:
Adam Sandler, Don Cheadle, Jada Pinkett Smith
Plot: The grief that Charlie Fineman experiences after losing his family in the September 11 attack on New York City causes him to quit his job and isolate himself. After a chance encounter, he rekindles his friendship with his old college roommate, Alan Johnson, who helps him to face his past and rebuild his life.
Recommended by: Dr. Mark Benander
Why recommended:  "Rein Over Me" is an entertaining movie, replete with laughs and more sober, thought-provoking scenes, but it also demonstrates some of the ways in which PTSD can impact the life of the affected individual as well as everyone in his or her life.


18. “Save The Last Dance"

Musical romance (2001)
Topics:
Social psychology, interracial relationships, peer pressure, violence
Actors: Julia Stiles, Sean Patrick Thomas, Kerry Washington
Plot:. Sara, a white girl who has lived in the suburbs, is forced to relocate to Chicago’s inner city. With the move comes a new school with a predominately African-American student body, and Sara’s new boyfriend is a black teen, Derek, with whom she shares a love for dance.
Recommended by: Dr. Helen Oderinde 
Why recommended: “Save the Last Dance is centered on a teenage, interracial romance and the couple’s relationship with others. They continually meet with social and cultural conflict over their relationship and have to work hard to overcome prejudice and rise above cultural and social pressures.


What other films would you add to this list?

Image Credit: Razoom Game on Shutterstock

Other posts you may be interested in reading:

14 Blogs For Students In Online Psychology Degree Programs

8 Tips On How To Be A Successful Psychology Student

Is An Online Psychology Degree For You?


Favorites


 

12 Angry Men
Genre:  
Drama    Year:  1957    Rating:  NR-PG
Actors:  Henry Fonda, John Fiedler
Topics:  Social, Moral Development
If you had to pick one movie to consider group conformity, persuasion, moral development, this is it. Based on the play, the film is shot entirely within the jury room, as the 12 men deliberate a murder case. Even my students were so caught up in the dialogue and story that they did not mind the lack of color or special effects. The film also lends itself to consideration of leadership characteristics, as discussed in my article.


American History X
Genre:  Drama    Year:  1998    Rating:  R
Actors:  Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D’Angelo
Topics:  Social
A neo-Nazi (Norton) in prison for murder begins to question his prejudiced belief system. When he is released, his goal is to “deprogram” his brother.


As Good As It Gets
Genre:  Drama/Comedy    Year:  1997    Rating:  PG-13
Actors:  Jack Nicholson, Greg Kinnear, Helen Hunt
Topics:  Psychopathology, OCD, Personality Disorder, Social
Academy Award winner for Best Actor and Best Actress. Jack Nicholson with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, as well as plenty of Axis II. Also addresses bias (homophobia) and attitude change. Really great movie.


Beautiful People
Genre:  Drama/Comedy    Year:  1999    Rating:  R
Actors:  Thomas Goodridge, Frank Pruti, Tony Peters
Topics:  Psychopathology, Social, Stress and Coping, Family Dynamics
A black comedy from Britain. Much like a lighter version of “Crash.” The intertwining of lives and various conflicts allow for discussion of biases and “us” versus “them” mentalities. Also includes reference to “Bosnian syndrome.”


Being There
Genre:  Comedy    Year:  1979    Rating:  PG
Actors:  Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, Melvyn Douglas
Topics:  Psychopathology, Personality Disorder, Social
Academy Award winner for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.  Very funny and interesting film about a gardener (Peter Sellers) whose only exposure to the “real world” outside the wall around the grounds he keeps comes from television. What does it say about our society? Any obvious diagnosis of the gardener (or us?!)?


Bowling for Columbine 
Genre:  Documentary    Year:  2002    Rating:  R
Actors:  Michael Moore 
Topics:  Social, Psychopathology, Personality Disorders, Developmental
This documentary, along with Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, Roger and Me, and Sicko, allow for discussion of movie impact, attitude change, persuasion, and other social psychology issues. Bowling for Columbine focuses on the school shootings at Columbine High School.


Boys Don’t Cry
Genre:  Drama    Year:  1999    Rating:  R
Actors:  Hilary Swank, Chloe Sevigney, Peter Sarsgaard
Topics:  Psychopathology, Personality Disorder, Social
Academy Award winner for Best Actress. Powerful story of a young person dealing with gender identity disorder; based on true events. How does social psychology explain the differences in attitude after the discovery that Brandon is anatomically female?


Breakfast Club, The
Genre:  Comedy/Drama    Year:  1985    Rating:  R
Actors:  Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson
Topics:  Developmental, Social
Although over a quarter of a century old now, this movie has become a cult favorite and still is relevant today. Five students are sentenced to Saturday detention in the school library. Each represents a different stereotype: jock, brain, criminal, basketcase, princess. A fun film, yet still addresses concepts of conformity and bias.


Caine Mutiny, The
Genre:  Drama    Year:  1954    Rating:  NR-PG
Actors:  Humphrey Bogart, Jose Ferrer, Van Johnson
Topics:  Psychopathology, Personality Disorder, Treatment, Social, Moral Development, Forensic
I love this movie. Great cast, with Humphrey Bogart as the captain who begins to unravel under stress. You’ll never eat frozen strawberries again without thinking of this movie!  What do you think about the lawyer’s accusations at the end, would things have been different if they supported the captain, made accommodations for his deficiencies?   If you want more resolution at the end, read the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, on which the film was based.


Citizen Kane
Genre:  Drama    Year:  1941    Rating:  NR-PG
Actors:  Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Dorothy Comingore
Topics:  Psychopathology, Personality Disorders, Social, Moral Development
A classic. The story of a newspaper publisher’s climb to success. Also, the power of early childhood memories?


Clean, Shaven
Genre:  Drama    Year:  1994    Rating:  R (NR)
Actors:  Peter Greene, Alice Levitt, Megan Owen
Topics:  Psychopathology, Psychotic Disorders, Social, Forensic
This accurate and graphic film depicts life through the eyes of an untreated paranoid schizophrenic searching for his daughter. It does contain some short footage which many may find difficult to watch, but is in keeping with the presentation of psychosis. I found that looking away during these moments did not alter my appreciation of the film. This is one of those odd, independent films which one must “figure out” as it goes along. High on symbolism – be sure to notice the mother’s clothing in relation to the setting around her. I find that this film demonstrates beautifully the communication deficits often present in these families – the mother character suggests the now disproved “schizophrenogenic mother” theory, or may be consistent with a strong genetic component to schizophrenia.  The depiction of perceptual illusions/hallucinations is very well done. A short film, but one which truly gives a sense of the world view and experiences of a schizophrenic.


Cosi
Genre:  Comedy    Year:  1993      Rating:  R
Actors:  Ben Mendelsohn, Barry Otto, Toni Collette
Topics:  Psychopathology, Psychotic Disorders, Treatment, Social
A very well-done, heartwarming Australian comedy about a theater major hired to direct a play with the cast comprised of psychiatric patients at the local asylum. Includes pyromaniacs and other diagnoses. What does it say about training needed to work in an institution? How does the movie portray the staff?


Crash
Genre:  Drama    Year:  2004    Rating:  R
Actors:  Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Ludacris
Topics:  Social, Moral Development, Marital/Family Dynamics
Academy Award winner for Best Picture.  This is a MUST SEE for anyone interested in multicultural issues. Virtually every character demonstrates susceptibility to bias, reliance on stereotypes. It’s a major tearjerker at times, so be prepared!


Crying Game, The
Genre:  Drama    Year:  1992    Rating:  R
Actors:  Forest Whitaker, Miranda Richardson, Stephen Rea
Topics:  Psychopathology, Marital/Family Dynamics, Social
Academy Award winner for Writing.  This film has one of the biggest plot twists at the end, stop reading now if you don’t want it spoiled! It involves a British soldier, Jody, a member of the IRA, Fergus, and Jody’s girlfriend, Dil, with whom Fergus develops a relationship, only to ultimately find out that Dil is a cross-dressing man with gender identity disorder. Compare reactions with those in “Boys Don’t Cry.” The movie also has a haunting theme song.


Donnie Darko
Genre:  Drama    Year:  2001    Rating:  R
Actors:  Jake Gyllenhaal, Holmes Osborne, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Topics:  Psychopathology, Psychotic Disorders, Treatment, Marital/Family Dynamics, Social, Moral Development
A cult favorite. See the Director’s Cut version. Although intended to be interpreted from a science fiction perspective, the story easily can be analyzed according to traditional schizophrenia and trauma issues.


Ed Wood
Genre:  Drama/Comedy    Year:  1994    Rating:  R
Actors:  Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker
Topics:  Psychopathology, Personality Disorders, Social
Academy Award winner for Best Supporting Actor.  Johnny Depp as the quirky movie maker – and transvestite.  His friends also have their share of psychopathology. Allows for exploration of friendships, group dynamics. Cute film.


Fahrenheit 9/11
Genre:  Documentary    Year:  2004    Rating:  R
Actors:  Michael Moore 
Topics:  Social, Moral Development
This documentary, along with Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, Roger and Me, and Sicko, allow for discussion of movie impact, attitude change, persuasion, and other social psychology issues. Fahrenheit 9/11 considers issues related to the United States’ reaction to the events of 9/11 and how this lead to involvement in the wars in Afghanistan and Iran. 


Fisher King, The
Genre:  Drama      Year:  1991      Rating:  R
Actors:  Robin Williams, Jeff Bridges, Mercedes Ruehl
Topics:  Psychopathology, Psychotic Disorders, Mood Disorders, Stress and Coping, Social
Academy Award winner for Best Supporting Actress.  A suicidal radio DJ (Jeff Bridges) meets up with a deranged street person (Robin Williams) who catches him up in his psychosis – folie a deux? Also their relationship seems to bring salvation for both. Interesting film.


House of Games
Genre:  Drama      Year:  1987      Rating: R
Actors:  Joe Mantegna, Lindsay Crouse, Mike Nussbuam
Topics:  Psychopathology, Treatment, Personality Disorders, Social
Joe Mantegna as a con artist whose life fascinates a psychologist/author, luring her into his world of deceit. Suspenseful, quality movie.


I Am Sam
Genre:  Drama      Year:  2001      Rating: PG-13
Actors:  Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dakota Fanning
Topics:  Psychopathology, Neuropsychology, Forensic, Marital/Family Dynamics, Social
Sean Penn portrays a man with mental retardation fighting for custody of his 7-year-old child. Sam’s group of friends are entertaining – two are truly developmentally disabled – his close neighbor is agoraphobic. His lawyer is the stereotypical overworked yuppie professional woman, estranged from her family. The film is a classic tearjerker. Despite significant research for the film (watch the supplemental documentary), how realistic were the events? Did he take her to a pediatrician? Did the pediatrician have any concerns about his care? Was that a realistic portrayal of cross-examination of an expert witness? Could Sam really have afforded the apartment at the end in Los Angeles, making somewhere around $8/hour? What really was in the best interest of the child? Was the opposing attorney all that wrong? Many things to consider.


Kids are All Right, The
Genre:  Comedy/Drama     Year:  2010     Rating:  R
Actors:  Annette Benning, Julianne Moore
Topics:  Marital/Family Dynamics, Social, Stress and Coping
This is a wonderful movie dealing with contemporary issues. A lesbian couple has raised two well-adjusted children, each born by artificial insemination from the same donor. The family dynamics and the way conflict is addressed by the couple and the family as a whole is one of the best, healthiest, portrayals in film. It has been nominated for multiple Academy Awards and appropriately so.


Kiss of the Spider Woman
Genre:  Drama      Year:  1985      Rating:  R
Actors:  William Hurt, Raul Julia, Sonia Braga
Topics:  Psychopathology, Forensic, Social
Academy Award winner for Best Actor. Two unlikely cell mates in a South American prison, a homosexual charged with immoral behavior, and a political prisoner, develop a relationship and use their imagination (hallucinations?) to escape their reality.


Kitchen Stories
Genre:  Comedy/Drama   Year: 2003    Rating: PG
Actors:  Joachim Calmeyer, Tomas Nordstrom
Topics:  Psychopathology, Personality Disorders, Social, Developmental
In Norwegian with English subtitles. This film is based on the real studies conducted in Sweden on how best to modernize the kitchen by studying housewive’s kitchen activities. Today, we would think of this as Human Factors Psychology. This movie is a twist, with rural Norwegian bachelors being the research subjects. The “observer” sits in a tall chair (akin to a tennis judge’s) and is to watch and take notes only, and not interact with the subject. Of course, this artificial setting cannot last. The film deals with research methods, male friendships, and identity development. A truly different, endearing, and at times laugh out loud funny movie.


Lars and the Real Girl
Genre:  Comedy/Drama      Year:  2007      Rating:  PG-13
Actors:  Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Kelli Garner
Topics:  Psychopathology, Psychotic Disorders, Treatment, Marital/Family Dynamics, Social
I thoroughly LOVE this movie. Lars is an office worker in a small time. He’s an odd, reclusive guy, but nice and harmless. Exposed to the concept of a “mail order doll” (anatomically correct) by a co-worker, he orders a doll, not for sexual reasons, but as part of a delusional system. Lars introduces her as his foreign girlfriend, who is in a wheelchair. The resulting responses from his family and community, as well as the very empathetic physician, make this a “feel good” movie. One can only hope that this sort of film could destigmatize mental illness and model supportive family and community response. It “takes a village” to treat mental illness.


Lifeboat
Genre:  Drama    Year:  1944    Rating:  NR-PG-13
Actors:  Tallulah Bankhead, William Bendix 
Topics:  Social
I love Hitchcock movies and this is a great one. The movie takes place on a lifeboat during World War II after a passenger ship was torpedoed by a German vessel, which also then sank. There are multiple Social Psychology concepts at play – prejudice, attitude change, conformity, etc., particularly when a German officer is one of the survivors pulled into the lifeboat.


Ma Vie En Rose
Genre:  Drama      Year:  1997      Rating:  R
Actors:  Michele Laroque,Jean-Philippe Ecoffey, Helene Vincent
Topics:  Psychopathology, Mood Disorders, Marital/Family Dynamics, Treatment, Social, Stress and Coping
French movie (English subtitles) – Chronicles the emerging signs of gender identity conflict in a young boy and his family’s reaction, as well as the community.


Magnificent Seven, The
Genre:  Drama    Year:  1960    Rating:  NR-PG-13
Actors:  Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Eli Wallach
Topics:  Moral Development, Social
This is the classic Western remake of Seven Samurai. It is the simple story of a group of cowboys gathered together to protect a Mexican village from a raiding bandit. Each cowboy has his own motivations (allowing for exploration of level of Moral Development). The film also explores bias, conformity, attitude change. My students were suprised at how much they liked it, given its age and that it was a Western (which many students had never seen before). It is long, but the soundtrack helps it be particularly enjoyable. A remake starring Chris Pratt is in the works.


Method, The
Genre:  Drama      Year:  2005      Rating:  R
Actors:  Eduardo Noriega, Najwa Nimri
Topics:  Social, Moral Development
The Argentinian film (in Spanish with English subtitles) presents an unusual method for evaluating job applicants for an executive position. The group of applicants is put through a series of tests, supposedly developed by the firm’s psychologist. Consider professional ethics, moral decision-making, group dynamics. 


Ox-Bow Incident, The 
Genre:  Drama    Year:  1943    Rating:  NR-PG-13
Actors:  Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews
Topics:  Social, Moral Development
Classic older Western, telling the story of two men passing through a town and becoming involved in the hanging of suspects in a murder. The film allows for examination of multiple Social Psychology concepts, such as conformity and deindividuation, as well as levels of Moral Development.


River’s Edge
Genre:  Drama    Year:  1986    Rating:  R
Actors:  Keanu Reeves, Crispin Glover, Dennis Hopper
Topics:  Developmental, Moral Development, Social, Psychopathology
This is one of those disturbing movies with a lot of relevant material. A group of high school kids are drifting in life. One of them kills his girlfriend and leaves her body at the river’s edge. The movie portrays the different reactions of the rest of the friends. Emotional numbing and inaction are prominent, as well as varied levels of moral development. 


Roger and Me
Genre:  Documentary    Year:  1989    Rating:  R
Actors:  Michael Moore 
Topics:  Social
This documentary, along with Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, and Sicko, allow for discussion of movie impact, attitude change, persuasion, and other social psychology issues. Roger and Me focuses on the effects on Flint, Michigan of General Motors closing its plants. The lasting image for me is the sign in front of a woman’s house, selling rabbits “for pets or meat.” How would an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist help these laid off workers?


Sicko
Genre:  Documentary    Year:  2007    Rating:  PG-13
Actors:  Michael Moore 
Topics:  Social, Neuropsychology/Medical Disorders, Stress and Coping
This documentary, along with Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, and Roger and Me, allows for discussion of movie impact, attitude change, persuasion, and other social psychology issues. Sicko focuses on the health care system. There are some eye-opening parallels between healthcare accessibility in the United States and other countries. 


Stand By Me
Genre:  Drama/Comedy    Year:  1986    Rating:  R
Actors:  Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman
Topics:  Developmental, Social
One of my all-time favorites. The movie is rated R mostly for language (swearing by teen boys), but I believe it is so wonderful otherwise taht it is worth showing to teenage audiences. The story is simple – a group of boys hike through the woods to see a dead body. It is the journey, rather than its end, that is important. Friendship, family, conformity, peer pressure are all explored in a truly wonderful movie.


Thank You for Smoking
Genre: Comedy/Drama    Year: 2005    Rating: R
Actors: Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bellow
Topics: Social, Moral Development
This black comedy portrays the efforts of the tobacco company to sway public opinion. It is an inside look at the tactics used, including product placement in movies. The main character faces a moral dilemma when testifying before congress, pitting his allegiance to his employer against his duties as a parent.


 

Woodsman, The
Genre:  Drama     Year:  2004     Rating:  R
Actors:  Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick
Topics:  Psychopathology, Marital/Family Dysfunction, Social, Forensic 
This film is likely to generate significant discussion – there no doubt will be some who find it offensive (the producer received a gift-wrapped rat for Christmas during film production), and others who find it a thought-provoking piece about a taboo topic. The film is likely best appreciated if watched without a “heads up” – Stop reading if you want to avoid spoilers …. Kevin Bacon is terrific portraying the torment of a pedophile released after 12 years in prison. He develops a relationship with a tough woman with her own history. He struggles with his continuing impulses, wishing to be “normal,” as he works with a therapist. From a diagnostic perspective, consider that he is able to have “normal” sex with his girlfriend, the difference between him and sexual sadists, such as the one described by the cop in the film, and the role that stress played in his impulses, parallels with OCD? A thinker’s film with many metaphors throughout and unsaid story components (e.g., we have a sense of how pedophiles are treated in prison). I’m not sure if this were intentional (perhaps yes, as the same producer made Monsters Ball) – the authority figures in the film, with the exception of the therapist, were all African-American: boss, secretary, cop. Is this a social commentary about the relative social positioning of pedophiles in a biased society, even if white? Looking for a film to analyze for class? This one is loaded with material.