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v2.1 Reference

Madness at the Movies

Understanding Mental Illness through Film

A unique exploration of how mental illness is portrayed in classic and contemporary films.

The study of classic and contemporary films can provide a powerful avenue to understand the experience of mental illness. In Madness at the Movies, James Charney, MD, a practicing psychiatrist and long-time cinephile, examines films that delve deeply into characters' inner worlds, and he analyzes moments that help define their particular mental illness.

Based on the highly popular course that Charney taught at Yale University and the American University of Rome, Madness at the Movies introduces readers to films that may be new to them and encourages them to view these films in an entirely new way. Through films such as Psycho, Taxi Driver, Through a Glass Darkly, Night of the Hunter, A Woman Under the Influence, Ordinary People, and As Good As It Gets, Charney covers an array of disorders, including psychosis, paranoia, psychopathy, depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety. He examines how these films work to convey the essence of each illness. He also looks at how each film reflects the understanding of mental illness at the time it was released as well as the culture that shaped that understanding.

Charney explains how to observe the behaviors displayed by characters in the films, paying close attention to signs of mental illness. He demonstrates that learning to read a film can be as absorbing as watching one. By viewing these films through the lens of mental health, readers can hone their observational skills and learn to assess the accuracy of depictions of mental illness in popular media.

About the Author

James Charney, MD (NEW HAVEN, CT), is a practicing child and adolescent psychiatrist on the faculty of the Yale University School of Medicine.


"James Charney—a psychiatrist, a teacher, and a lover of film—has done something wonderful here. Madness at the Movies is a masterful exploration of the various forms of mental illness as depicted in some of the greatest movies. Rich and fascinating, this original work is the perfect blend of art and science."

- Paul Bloom, University of Toronto, author of The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning

"I've learned a lot from movies, or thought I did. James Charney's book showed me something new: how movies do and don't open up a window on madness. A psychiatrist in love with great films, he's superbly equipped to show us how and where to look. This book gave me new insights into troubled minds, not to mention great reasons to add several classics to my watch list. If only all professors taught their subjects this way!"

- Jeffrey Brenzel, Yale University

"Madness at the Movies provides a clear and comprehensive examination of how film, whether the classic Hollywood variety or the more experimental art house form, has explored the issues of mental illness. Dr. James Charney, a practicing psychiatrist at Yale School of Medicine, brings together his professional expertise with his personal love of cinema to chart an effective journey through the ways film has represented and misrepresented the stories of those who suffer from psychological disorders. As someone who teaches medical humanities courses by using film, I can well see basing one of my courses on this book. It is clear, comprehensive, and accessible to the novice, yet intriguing for those with greater knowledge of film, psychology, or both."

- Vincent Casaregola, Saint Louis University, author of Theaters of War: America's Perceptions of World War II

"I love James Charney's new book. Since my own clinical depression diagnosis, I've been fascinated by how we humans fear any form of mental 'dis-ease.' Movies often lean into demonizing mental disease for dramatic effect. Dr. Charney's new book unravels the stories' false narratives with a balanced discussion on how these films work and with explanations for the illnesses portrayed. Madness at the Movies offers encouragement to learn, enjoy, swallow your fears, and, if you need it, to ask for help. I highly recommend this book to the curious or unsettled mind."

- Joe Pantoliano, Emmy Award–winning actor

"Madness at the Movies is a remarkable book for the student of film or psychology or for anyone who loves movies and would appreciate a fascinating read. The original and scientifically precise observations here about what makes us human—using cinema and psychopathology as a pair of parallel lenses—explicate our neurological and characterological strengths and frailties. Although Dr. Charney is rigorous in applying his clinical knowledge, he writes in an informal style that is easily accessible. Madness at the Movies is a one-of-a-kind, interdisciplinary volume that will have enormous impact."

- Peter Salovey, PhD, Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology, President, Yale University

"As its title suggests, Madness at the Movies offers a 'double take' on its subject matter, thanks to the psychotherapeutic and film critical expertise of its author. Dr. James Charney, a practicing psychiatrist and life-long cinephile, brings his two-fold perspective to bear on a broad sampling of movies, ranging from Hollywood classics to auteurist works, from romcoms, thrillers, foreign art films, edgy independent productions, family dramas, and of course, horror. Written in a lively, conversational style, Dr. Charney conveys with clarity and passion the way in which the powers of cinematic expressivity can shed light on the dark recesses of psychopathology."

- Millicent J. Marcus, PhD, author of After Fellini: National Cinema in the Postmodern Age
Johns Hopkins University Press
From 13 To 17

9781421445625 : madness-at-the-movies-charney
Paperback / softback
January 31, 2023
$39.95 USD

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