Mental Illness in American Cinema

By Simon Augustine, M.Div

Introduction

Moviegoers and Madmen

Men are more interested in what they see when dreaming than what they see when awake.

- Diogenes

The movie theater is a miniature mental asylum. A temporary home made of cushioned seats (and padded, sound-proof walls) for the bereft, the dazed, the longing, the beautiful losers; men and women who need images almost as much as they need real people.

Maybe that explains why some of the most iconic and compelling characters in American cinematic history are those who embody madness in one of its many forms; like we moviegoers who watch and live vicariously through these fictional people, the characters themselves struggle with a relationship between reality and image, trying to find a fulcrum between the outside world and imagination: Randall P. McMurphy, irreverent would-be savior of "The Cuckoo’s Nest;" Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes, deranged stalker/fan par excellance,
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