Thursday 8 May 2008

OnFiction Film Reviews

With this post we introduce our series of psychological film reviews. Given our goals of understanding the psychology of fiction, fiction films are clearly of great interest. Film has taken over some of the territory previously occupied by short stories and novels. Print holds, however, a continuing place in the psychology of fiction because of the opportunities it offers for reflection and inference, as well as for the way it allows one to stop, start, and think, as one goes along. In reading a novel or short story, the connection of the text is to what the reader knows and remembers. In film, by contrast, the connection is by means what is seen and heard. Because of their different emphases on memory as compared with perception, print and film can therefore afford different kinds of effect. Nonetheless, some processes in the psychology of fiction can occur with both media.

Since 2005, Keith Oatley has been reviewing films from a psychological perspective for the American Psychological Association's online journal of book and film reviews, PsycCRITIQUES. For films, the genre is a new one: movie reviews with references to the psychological research literature. This journal is not easy of access, and so we archive some of these reviews here.

The first review in our archive is of the excellent and unusual film, The lives of others, which came out in 2006, written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Set in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, it stars the superb actor, Ulrich Mühe, who plays an officer of the secret police who conducts surveillance on the regime's favourite playwright. Among other things, the film is an exploration of how engagement in art is based on psychological processes that are parallel to, or the same as, those of empathy. On a five-point rating-scale, I give this film 4.5 for its combination of artistic merit and psychological- literary interest. Its only defect is that it is probably too idealistic about the possibilities of humanity in an efficient secret police force run by a determinedly repressive state.

You can access this review in our archive.

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