Anxiety has always been present in the Seventh Art, you can find it in some of the exciting thrillers of Hitchcock as well as in several Hollywood comedies. And it is not strange since cinematography is inspired by reality, which gives us great doses of anxiety every day.
Luckily, there are some excellent films about anxiety that closely approach these disorders, so that allow us to better understand how the anxious mind works, in order to put ourselves in the place of people suffering from generalized anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, social phobia or post-traumatic stress disorder.
These psychological movies can also serve as a kind of antidote: when we understand the mechanism of these disorders, we can also notice the first symptoms of anxiety and stop them before it is too late.
Movies about anxiety to better understand this disorder
The drama of Todd Haynes starring Julianne Moore, begins with an idyllic life as an housewife who apparently does not have many concerns or problems, but suddenly the story takes an unexpected turn because the protagonist convinces herself that she is being attacked by invisible pollutants.
This on generalized anxiety allows us understand how people who suffer from this disorder, often apply negative interpretations to seemingly harmless facts, which exacerbates their anxiety. In fact, it has been shown that when people suffering from anxiety learn to develop a more positive interpretation of the situations, their tendency to worry diminishes and anxiety decreases.
The headless woman (2008)
This co-production by Lucrecia Martel could be considered as a masterpiece among all movies about anxiety. Its protagonist, Veronica, goes through a turning point in her life that drags her into a loop of worry. Everything starts, or rather triggers, when she hits something with her car on the road, but she doesn’t stop. Little by little, she becomes convinced that she has killed a child; slipping into a state of emotional disintegration.
The movie is a brilliant exploration of how anxiety can cause people to start seeing things that do not exist. The protagonist loses her head. There is no easy solution, but we see that she begins to find a way out of that problem, which reminds us that anxiety does not have an end in itself, but that we must learn to manage it day after day.
Little Amélie Poulain always played alone, even drawing faces in her hand that served as “puppets” or imagining strange beings that replaced the lack of friends. The protagonist, who gives the name to the tender French movie Amélie, coexists with a manifest fear of establishing relationships with the others, with which people suffering from social anxiety will be identified.
In this film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, an introverted and solitary young woman is described as a meticulous observer of the common people who live around her, and deals with improving their lives in a secret way.
Opening night (1977)
Directed by John Cassavetes and starring Gena Rowlands, it shows anxiety on and off stage. Myrtle Gordon is a veteran Broadway actress, whose confidence is undermined after a young fan dies in an accident. In this movie we can see two levels of anxiety in action: one related to performance, and the other is about how a woman faces aging when it is defined through her image, a subject that many can identify with today.
In the movie, the protagonist begins to leave behind the script while acting, something similar to what happens in real life to people who have anxiety problems.
In the movie by Andrei Tarkovsky, an adaptation of a science fiction novel by Stanislaw Lem, a psychologist, Kris Kelvin, is sent to help three astronauts who are apparently going crazy in a distant space station. At first, it is likely that the spectators do not identify much with the plot, but little by little it is appreciated how the anxiety disorder is emerging and the protagonists try to avoid exposing themselves to the situations that originated them, a typical strategy of anxious people.
This movie reveals the tendency to avoid, which generates even more anxiety. It also addresses the issue of anxiety generated by being away from home, in an environment to which we are not accustomed and without ties that save us from that nostalgia.
As good as it gets (1997)
This romantic comedy directed by James L. Brooks is interpreted by great Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt. Nicholson plays Melvin Udall, a famous writer of romantic novels who lives in New York and suffers from OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, something that makes him an intractable person for the rest of the society, although he is proud of it.
Throughout the movie we see a constant: the lack of affection. There is also a wide repertoire of repetitive, impulsive and non-controllable behaviors that may seem nice but seriously interfere with his normal life, from washing his hands with boiling water to wearing gloves so that others do not touch him, having everything perfectly organized, passing the key five times or turn the lights on and off several times. The final message is very interesting because unconditional acceptance is what seems to “cure” Jack.
This dramatic movie directed by Peter Weir is perfect to understand how people can react emotionally differently in front of the same situation. Jeff Bridges plays masterfully Max Klein, who becomes a survivor of a plane crash in which his friend dies.
The psychological trauma transforms his personality and Max enters into an altered state of consciousness beginning to believe that God can not kill him no matter how much he wishes, so he defies death.
Probably one of the most moving films about anxiety, it deals exactly with post-traumatic stress disorder. And its psychological value increases with the performance of Robert De Niro, who plays a war veteran with an unpredictable character, Joseph ‘Jacknife’ Megessey, who tries to forget the terrible experiences he lived during the Vietnam War, but everything is reactivated when he finds a friend from the war, in whom the trauma also persists and each one blames the other for the death of a third partner.
Directed by David Hugh Jones, this movie shows the sense of guilt, the need to move forward but, at the same time, the feeling of being tied to the past.
Sophie’s choice (1983)
Directed by Alan J. Pakula, this cinematographical adaptation of the homonymous novel is one of the movies about anxiety that must be seen. The main character, Sofia, played by Meryl Streep, represents a Polish survivor of the Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
The protagonist cannot get rid of the traumatic experiences, including the decisions she had to make, which have led her to maintain a love/hate relationship with an equally unstable “biologist”, whom she considers her “savior”. Although to some extent she is aware of her problems, the most prominent symptom is avoidance: she represses all her painful memories in the past to try to get rid of guilt. Thus, she tries to anesthetize herself emotionally with a physically dependent and masochistic relationship with her partner.
What about Bob? (1991)
Listed as one of the funniest movies of all time, this film directed by Frank Oz also shows us the obsessive-compulsive disorder. Bill Murray plays a mentally disturbed person named Bob Wiley, whose biggest problem is that he hates touching any public surface, because only God knows how dirty it can be. Finally, Bob makes the decision to seek professional help and turns to the psychologist Leo Marvin. During the time that follows, it is observed how the phobias and manias of the protagonist collide with the professionalism and the coldness of the doctor.
The movie reaches its peak when the doctor decides to take a break from Murray and goes on vacation. However, as a good obsessive-compulsive person, the patient follows Leo and both will live a hilarious and emotional adventure.
King’s speech (2010)
Directed by Tom Hooper and with the masterful performance of Colin Firth, who plays the character of George VI of England and Geoffrey Rush, who is the psychologist, is a true portrait of the fear of speaking in public. The fact that it is based on reality confers even more emotional impact to it. It exposes the most intimate aspects of George VI of England, a person who distrusts himself, feels blocked and believes that he will not be able to face the demands of his position. All this is aggravated by his stuttering, which feeds the fear of speaking in public.
Then a speech therapist named Lionel Logue enters the scene, developing a special relationship with the king by putting unorthodox techniques into practice. It is a trip of two people to frustration to defeat the thoughts that make them feel inadequate.
This movie about anxiety is specifically about social phobia. Zelig is a man who leads an existence… nonexistent. Lacking in personality and with his human qualities lost in the vortex of life, he feels lonely, he believes that he is nothing, that nobody cares about him.
With this movie, Woody Allen, who is the director and protagonist, presents us with a character that, lacking affection, ends up reinventing himself. It has a special capacity to adapt to the environment in which he develops, he is a true social chameleon that wants to be accepted. However, Dr. Fletcher discovers that Zelig is an extreme case of insecurity.
The aviator (2004)
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Howard Hughes, a Hollywood film producer and pioneer of aviation. Directed by Martin Scorsese, from very early we begin to appreciate the first signs of an obsessive-compulsive disorder to which little by little new symptoms are added, to the point that the character falls into total isolation.
Hughes’s OCD gets worse, he repeats phrases continuously, especially when he is nervous, and develops a great phobia of dust and germs. At the same time, he develops paranoid traits and an incident with the FBI causes him to develop a psychological trauma that finally plunges him into a deep depression, as a result of which he locks himself in without looking at anyone for almost three months.
A fantastic fear of everything (2012)
This movie about anxiety and fears is perfect to get into English humor. Directed by Chris Hopewell and Crispian Mills, it tells the story of a “children’s story writer” who becomes obsessed with his first unpublished book, which is why his marriage is broken. Then he becomes obsessed with another book he is writing about serial killers of the Victorian era. Quickly that obsession gives way to paranoia and he ends without leaving home, for fear of what the hostile world outside can bring.
The cinematographic critics have not been good, but it is a movie about the anxiety that makes people laugh, but those who sharpen their minds will be able to realize how it works the mechanism of anxiety that ends up subjecting people, like the protagonist, Simon Pegg.
The most distinctive of this movie comes quickly at light: the huge paper mask that always carries the main character. We can understand that object as the social masks that we use ourselves every day, often to hide emotions and feelings that we do not feel comfortable with. The main character is part of a band called “The Soronprfbs”, and is a strange example of perfectionism and eccentricity that continually tests the others.
This movie by the director Lenny Abrahamson is strange, but it’s worth giving it a try. And the psychological notes throughout the sequences are many and very rich, including how people react when we wear a mask, which can be real as the one used by the character, or more worked but that also establish a psychological distance.
With Spike Jonze as director and Charlie Kaufman as screenwriter, the result is an original film built between different fictional planes. Nicolas Cage plays a screenwriter full of insecurities and complexes who suffers from an immense creative block. Based on Kaufman’s own experiences, this movie about anxiety shows us to what extent contradictory qualities coexist in our minds. Its protagonist suffers social anxiety, which is evident in his low voice, stuttering and avoidance of eye contact with other people. He also has low self-esteem and experiences self-hatred, but even so the movie shows us the need to adapt to circumstances and take advantage of them in the best possible way.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance-2014)
An original movie directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu that addresses the life of a decadent Hollywood actor starring an excellent Michael Keaton. The actor, famous for his role as the superhero Birdman, is haunted by the character’s voice, who criticizes him. Filmed almost entirely in a single sequence shot, it transmits the anguish, the fear of failure and the effort to recover the old days of glory, that desire to find something to fight for. Little by little, the actor draws us into his reality with some psychotic points, a reality that is sometimes surreal and that, however, finds an echo in us. It is no coincidence that the film won 3 Oscars, including Best Film.
This British, American, Canadian and Irish co-production is directed by Lenny Abrahamson and starring Brie Larson. Although it did not have great resonance, it is a great work, largely due to its actors, who know how to convey all the emotions they experience while they are trapped in a shed. Larson protects his son Jack from his kidnapper, but one day they run away and start their life again. At that moment, for Larson begins a new fight as she has to adapt to a society that has changed and begins to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and even commits an attempt of suicide. Jacob Tremblay, the young actor who plays Jack, also makes it a heartbreaking story and hard to forget.
This Norwegian movie by director Petter Naess addresses the integration into the community of people with mental disorders. Through the protagonists we can glimpse the difficulties involved in living away from the institution in which they were confined. Elling, starring Christian Ellefsen, is giving us the keys to understand his maladaptive behavior and is generating great tenderness while allowing us to understand the fears and difficulties he has in his daily life. He must defeat the two enemies that follow him everywhere: vertigo and anxiety.
Lars And The Real Girl (2007)
This American intimate movie directed by Craig Gillespie had an excellent reception. Ryan Gosling, its protagonist, is a sweet and peculiar young man, but with problems to relate. Locked in his emotions, he avoids speaking and being spoken to, touching and be touched … Thus, one fine day he develops a romantic relationship with a sex doll called Bianca. What at first seems like a delusional act ends up generating hilarious situations and full of excellent dialogues. The doll is becoming a way of contact, recognition, integration and expression of their own concerns and emotions. This movie about social anxiety goes further because it teaches us that labels do not define us.
Do you want to see more psychological movies?
– Psychological thriller movies