Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Hayley Merchant

Mind to Screen: Disordered Mental States in Film

Supervisor: Catherine Constable

My research is focused on the way in which film as a specific medium is capable of communicating a subjectivity that is troubled or otherwise compromised by mental illness. It is traditionally held that the written word is far more suitable for communicating interiority than the medium of film, as the word is characterised as complex, abstract and conceptual, and the visual as straightforward, obvious and concrete. This thesis will argue, however, that the medium of film is entirely capable of dealing with the abstract and conceptual, and can in fact construct extremely complex frameworks of subjectivity due to its multiform character. Using detailed textual analysis, I will interrogate the way in which film utilises the multiple channels available to it (the visual, verbal, and aural) to create systems of meaning across a text, and will explore the ways in which we decode these systems of meaning as viewers.

My thesis will also investigate literary and visual conveyances of mental illness to establish the inherited symbols, metaphors and analogies that communicate complex interiority. Due to the tendency of filmmakers to appeal to literary sources for guidance when conveying these mental states, and since the issue of translation and interpretation is crucial to my entry into this discussion, my corpus primarily consists of films that are based on literary accounts of troubled subjectivity (either biographical or fictional). My key case studies are: A Scanner Darkly (Dir. Richard Linklater, 2006), Clean, Shaven (Dir. Lodge Kerrigan, 1993), A Beautiful Mind (Dir. Ron Howard, 2001), Fight Club (Dir. David Fincher, 1999), Secret Window (Dir. David Koepp, 2004), The Hours (Dir. Stephen Daldry, 2002), and A Single Man (Dir. Tom Ford, 2008).

Upcoming conference paper: ‘The Cinematic Construction of Schizophrenia’ to be given at ‘Interrogating Trauma in the Humanities,’ an International Interdisciplinary Conference held at Lincoln University from August 20th-23rd.,11786,en.html Contact: