There is nothing that cinema cannot heal. Films heal because they are contemporary audiovisual myths that contain all our wishes and concerns. In them are collected the fundamental archetypes of personality, and also the universal arguments that concentrate the narrative base of our lives.
Faced with a heartbreak, nothing like looking White House, Forget about me or Before dawn. If you have a low morale day, you come up with Airbag or Whit skirts and being crazy, and if yours is heroic, you pull Braveheart or Castaway to get over the slump. Everything is a matter of choosing the title of the film well, although sometimes cinephilia is not enough. You have to do a good study of the personal situation of each one before “prescribing” therapeutic views.
More than evasion
We are used to watching movies to avoid ourselves, but without realizing it, the cinema can give us tools and resources for our well-being and psychological balance. Today, platforms such as Filmin, Amazon Prime or others already offer suggestions linked to various moods or emotions that complement the traditional classification by genre.
The cinematographic characters act as a model offering behavior guidelines and clues in decision-making. The stories of the films open horizons in situations of stagnation, or allow us to discover unknown aspects of the human being. The stories of overcoming, transit of a disease or survival help a lot. We already wrote about how catastrophic or zombie movies provided resources and resilience in these times of the coronavirus.
There are positive and cheerful films, such as The beast of my girl or Something happens with Mary that can help a depressed person; others calm and contemplative, such as In the mood for love (Wishing to love) or The red lantern to alleviate anxiety.
Likewise, the cinema can make us travel to remote and desired places now that we must stay at home, either by revisiting. Manhattan or remote landscapes like those of The reborn or the desert in Lawrence of Arabia, not to mention the topic of Memories of Africa.
5 keys for film therapy to work
Empathy. One of the basic principles is that there is a total identification of the viewer with the protagonist of the film. In this way the story feels like our own, as something close that appeals to us. Without empathy, it is difficult for us to care about the adventures of the characters involved in a movie. Many times we connect more with everyday characters than with powerful superheroes.
Drama. Dramatic tension is the result of the collision of a target and an obstacle. This is what generates the interest in seeing a movie and its outcome. The greater the difficulties and obstacles, the more intense the drama. To get excited and live a deep catharsis we need high dramatic intensity.
Emotion. This factor is closely linked to the previous two, because without identification or drama we will not experience the film as something capable of touching our emotions. When a movie character recovers his lost son, we become emotional with him, and the moment he becomes vulnerable we become compassionate. A good movie can be a torrent of intense emotions, such as Someone flew over the cuckoo’s nest or Mystic river.
Catharsis. Coming from the Greek tragedy, this concept implies the total transformation of the viewer when he has just seen the film. Catharsis is one of the great healing agents. Thanks to the intensity of the story lived on the screen, the person lets their feelings emerge, sometimes repressed or contained. Likewise, living in fear, tension or panic can release anguish. Of the same, a catharsis of happiness like Life is Beautiful or cinema Paradiso it also has its healing aspect.
Criterion. The choice of the film can fall into the hands of a specialized therapist, who needs to know about cinema and psychology to recommend which titles to watch. You can have your own criteria and resort to those films that do you good, or go back to hackneyed cinematographic references, but you will not always be able to recognize your therapeutic needs. Despite the fact that all healthy cinema, if we want to work specifically on something specific it is necessary to have good selection criteria.
Within the healing capacities of cinema, it is not only necessary to take into account the narrative, the themes and the characters, but also the symbolic and aesthetic capacity of its images. Not surprisingly, cinema is an audiovisual language capable of manufacturing images of great beauty that touch the senses, our subconscious or the soul. As a creator of atmospheres, cinema can touch very deep traumas, wounds and territories. Bergman’s cinema, with films like Person, or more recently that of Hanecke, with Cache, they are very capable of it.
There is not space here to include all the possible ones, but we propose a selection of eleven good healing films as an example.
American Beauty (Mendes, 1999)
The beauty in the little things
A film of personal transformation in the midst of a life crisis that affects a forty-year-old father and his teenage daughter. Both will discover happiness in the hidden essence under the materialistic surface in which we live. Tormented and liberated characters coincide in this intense film with powerful symbolic connotations.
The Apartment (Wilder, 1960)
Wilder’s storytelling craft and the talents of the Lemon-McClaine couple weave together this precious story about human integrity, in which an office worker must decide between a promotion in exchange for blackmail or the truest love.
The Club of Dead Poets (Weir, 1989)
Mentoring and learning
There are characters that are pure inspiration, such as Robin Williams’ composition of this teacher capable of elevating his students to their deepest desires. The mentor as a discoverer and vocation inciter, from rebellion and the cult of imagination. When tragedy strikes one of the young people, solidarity between students and teacher will emerge.
The Lord of the Rings (Jackson, 2001/03)
Success and ambition
From Tolkien’s narrative and his ring to rule them all, this epic story of humble protagonist, Frodo Baggins, is built, a little hobbit who must reach the hell of Mordor to save his entire community. The tests and challenges are not just physical, but internal. Success depends on not succumbing to ambition.
The Silence of the Lambs (Demme, 1991)
Growing up with your enemy
Overcoming and maturing film in which a young FBI agent must catch a serial killer with the help of the dangerous Hannibal Lecter. If you want it to help you, you must let it go into your head to dig into your childhood traumas. The young woman will succeed, teaching us that sometimes we can grow up with our enemy.
Coco (Unkrich, 2017)
How to cope with grief
A film very rich in imagery and content that, among other topics, touches on the vital gift or the importance of dedicating oneself to what one likes. It is unique in learning how to grieve the loss of a loved one. Our ancestors are still with us to help us if we do not allow them to fall into oblivion.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Columbus, 2001)
The magic of learning
Another film in a worthy and prolific narrative saga. Being a child goes through watching movies like this to grow up with the illusion of realizing dreams, getting out of dark oppressive worlds and using magic for the benefit of others. Learning film that can also provide clues to somewhat stagnant adults.
Castaway (Zemeckis, 2000)
If someone needs to value what they have even if it seems little, nothing like watching this movie about a castaway stoically surviving on a desert island. The great virtue of the film, and the composition of Tom Hanks, is to be tenderly human and not a Rambo-style superhero. In bad weather, good faces and lots of creative solutions.
Spring, summer, autumn, winter … and spring (Duk, 2003)
The cycles of life
Beautiful and contemplative South Korean film to understand that the cycles of life are like the seasons of nature. Each stage has its characteristics, and we should not modify or ignore them. We cannot live in eternal spring. You have to know how to give way to autumn when it arrives.
Thelma & Louise (Scott, 1991)
The liberated woman
A film for women who feel oppressed and also for men who are sexist. Film about friendship, freedom and the need to break with an imposed and repressed life. Living life on the edge, out of breath, can be worth it even if it is shorter.
Sentimental (Gay, 2020)
There are countless movies that tell us about relationships. In our most recent cinema, we have this funny proposal in which promiscuous neighbors visit a conventional couple mired in the deepest love boredom to blow up their schemes.
Film therapy is a new tool that has come to show that cures or healings can have playful components, adapting to new times in which we need fun and more enjoyable ways to solve our psychological or personal disorders. The cinema has the ability to show, teach and transmit everything we want. Seeing it from this other perspective enriches us and brings new paths for this language that should always be with us.