The fact that sexual desire is present in all human relationships is a psychoanalytic precept that continues to cause controversy. Freud’s contribution in the field of psychology has been fundamental in art. Different artistic movements have been influenced by psychic automatism, the unconscious, sexual impulses, and the interpretation of dreams.
Freud was tempted several times to write a movie script and once he even received a multimillion-dollar offer from a Hollywood studio. However, he believed it was impossible to capture the essence of psychoanalysis with a video camera.
The ambition to capture the ideas of Freud in the big screen was started by none other than Jean-Paul Sartre in 1962 with the script The Secret Passion, directed by John Huston and starring Montgomery Clift as Freud. Unsurprisingly, complications and creative differences arose between Sartre and Huston since both had distinct opinions on what was psychoanalysis. In the end, Sartre accused Huston of using the film as a tool to explore his own psyche, and as a result he removed his name from the credits.
These are 10 films inspired by the psychoanalytic theory developed by Freud:
Spellbound (1945) Alfred Hitchcock
A film that delves into dreams and their meanings, and to achieve this it enlisted the help of Dalí in the montage that describes the dreams of amnesiac Gregory Peck. The introduction clearly defines its connection to Freud’s theory, stating, “Our story deals with psychoanalysis, the method by which modern science treats the emotional problems of the sane. The analyst seeks only to induce the patient to talk about his hidden problems, to open the locked doors of his mind.”
A Clockwork Orange (1971) - Stanley Kubrick
Kubrick’s cult masterpiece gives way to endless psychoanalytical interpretations, from the frenzied and amoral behavior of Alex DeLarge and his gang, the classical conditioning of DeLarge, and the phallic sculpture Alex uses to bludgeon the cat lady.
Black Swan (2006) - Darren Aronofsky
Nina is a professional ballet dancer with a unique technique who dreams of becoming the Prima Ballerina in the next performance, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. However, she is unable to embody the role of the black swan because of her passivity and apparent lack of passion. Nina’s repressed desires underline the plot of the film and are exacerbated with an overprotective mother. She experiences a sexual dream with Lily, her dancing colleague, and she has repeated heated arguments with her mother, which is the origin for her conservative nature.
The Science of Sleep (2006) - Michael Gondry
The plot of this film revolves around the creative journeys and desires of Stéphan, who is deceived by his mother to return to France where he obtains a job he despises. Immersed in his disgrace, Stéphan abandons reality and travels to his unconscious mind. In his wanderings he encounters the woman he loves, Stephanie his neighbor and who ultimately rejects him. The plot is a mixture of his sad reality and the dreamscape where he can feel fulfillment.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) - Michael Gondry
Selective memory loss is an ambition in behavioral psychology. For psychoanalysis, dreams reveal our darkest desires that are repressed or impossible to realize. Gondry’s film explores the deep mental connections between the pulsions and reality. The plot alternates between the past, present, and the memory world that takes shape to avoid Joel from concluding the treatment that will erase his most precious memories.
Un chien andalou - (1928) Luis Buñuel
This short film is barely 17 minutes long, and from the first scene we are plunged into a dreamscape from the surrealist world. An eye is cut open with a blade, symbolizing the inability to perceive reality and forcing it to undergo a mental process of pure introspection. The work of Freud has not only influenced great minds like Buñuel and Dalí, it has also touched other artists like David Lynch, Hitchcock, and even David Bowie.
Annie Hall (1977) - Woody Allen
Psychoanalysis is a recurrent theme in Woody Allen’s cinematography, both in creating characters and analyzing his work. As the plot unfolds, the comedian Alvy Singer reminisces about his past, which influenced the way he behaves in the present. The best example is in the iconic beginning where he turns to the camera and explains his childhood, timid personality, and the traumas he underwent during that stage.
La stanza del figlio (2001) - Nanni Moretti
Giovanni, an obsessive psychoanalyst, suffers the loss of his son who dies in a diving accident. His life and that of his family is irrevocably changed, and it will be through Giovanni’s psychoanalytic prowess that he will be able to pull his family from despondency.
Whirlpool (1941) - Otto Preminger
A psychological and crime thriller that tells the story of Richard Conte, a famous psychoanalyst who must help his wife, Ann Sutton, when she begins to believe that she committed a series of crimes under the influence of hypnosis. Conte will have to solve the mystery through psychoanalysis if he wishes to save his wife.
The human mind is a cipher that not even the historic psychoanalytical theory has been able to decode. Freud’s influence in the twentieth century film is undeniable, as we see psychoanalysts replacing detectives and policemen in solving crimes and unraveling mysteries through the powers of the human mind. Many artists bespelled by the surrealist movement had no qualm adopting Freud’s psychoanalysis into their work. In your eyes, which is the best film inspired by his theory?