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It is such a delicious title that Indick's
latest book on psychiatry and the cinema has something to live up to. It
certainly has a sprinkling of wit, and many useful insights and details.
However, it is not always clear who the intended audience is, or what the book
believes itself to be. Is it to be a scholarly work of analysis and theory, or
a more popular read, enjoyable and readable, but not something that should be
subjected to too much academic scrutiny? Is it for entertainment or
instruction? Is it a book for academics or buffs, for the university library or
The answer is that I don't really
know, and perhaps neither does Indick. But before that becomes interpreted as
damning with faint praise, let us note some of the fine aspects of the book.
It is clearly an addition to the
literature. The titular term, which Indick coins himself, is a welcome
suggestion to the problem of how to classify and speak of films in which the
cinematic representations of psychiatry, or '"the mysteries of the mind'",
tend to become reified. They become entities in themselves, no longer
representations or interpretations, transmogrified into something all of their
own, often bearing no connection with the real world at all, but rather
inhabiting a shared world of fantasy and parallel existence. There is probably
a postmodern deconstructive thesis here, but this is not it. No one, I suspect,
really believes in the reality of wormholes or portals into the mind of others,
as in Being John Malkovich (1999), but it is a very entertaining idea.
What does the fact that we find it an entertaining idea say about us, our culture
and our understanding of mental phenomena?
In the book Indick looks at eight
different sub-types of psycho thriller within the genre (Doctors of the Mind,
Psycho Killers, Mad Scientists, Psychic Powers, Mind Control, the Dream World,
Memory, Psy-Fi Disorders Not Otherwise Specified [and we are supposed to note
the double pun on the name and DSM], and concludes with a chapter on the
Masters of the Genre), but does not really become fish or fowl in any chapter.
There is a tendency throughout for
each section to become more of a list than a refined concept. It is clear that Indick
has seen, and truly likes, a lot of movies, but he moves too rapidly from one
to the next without helping the reader really understand the full context of
the film, and its importance. It would be interesting, for example, to
understand his thoughts on the ways in which cinematic representations of '"the
mysteries of the mind'" have influenced and shaped the real world of
psychiatric practice. Do the films we watch affect our expectations? Does the
delivery of care respond to the cinematic depiction of the work? How is the
public perception affected?
Indick is not the first person to
consider the representation of doctors of the mind, but the lack of
acknowledgement of Schneider's typology, for example, leaves the reader who is
vaguely familiar with the territory a little unsatisfied. Dr's Dippy, Evil and
Wonderful, as Schneider describes them, fit very easily into this first
chapter. This is not to say that Schneider is the final word on the subject,
but that Indick, who must certainly be familiar with the literature, could
sketch out the context in a little more detail. The general lack of references
and bibliographies is a frustration throughout. Unfortunately, even when there
are some references or entries in the bibliography they are not entirely
accurate. For example, he cites Stanley Milgram's obedience experiments on one
significant occasion. However, in the text his quoted date is 1974 while in the
bibliography he cites the 2004 edition of the book. He also suggests that the
experiments themselves were carried out in 1974 when, in fact, they were
completed almost a decade before (although Milgram dined out on them for a long
There is a filmography at the end of
the book, and this is good dipping material, but again the critical eye is not
always there. Perhaps this shows the lack of a really assiduous editor, but it
certainly detracts and distracts from the quality of the book.
By way of an epilogue, Indick offers
his top twenty Psy-Fi movies. Of course it is an arbitrary choice, and
obviously everyone will have personal favorites, which gives it the feeling of
a parlor game. Like the book in general it is fun with a glass of wine, but
doesn't quite have the depth to carry a more rigorous interrogation.
In conclusion, it must be said that
it is very heartening to see this subject matter in print. Indick's previous
entry into the field (Movies and the
Mind, 2004, reviewed in Metapsychology 9:6) was probably more successful and
had a sharper focus, and may have been more closely allied to his real
interests. However, I believe the book does explore a topic worthy of a through
treatment and sustained investigation. Perhaps more people will be encouraged
to think about this sort of film meaningfully in the future. Whichever way you
look at it there are mysteries of the mind, and movies seem a fascinating way
of exploring them.
© 2006 Mark Welch
Welch, Ph.D. Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of
Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta and Co-Director of the PAHO/WHO Collaborating Centre
for Nursing & Mental Health.