Veterans of the Vietnam War brought home the devastating and terrible impacts of psychological trauma to the American public for the first time. In 1980, the American Psychological Association first recognized Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a real illness.
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People used phrases like “shell shock” and “battle fatigue” to describe the wide range of short- and long-term symptoms they experienced after being involved in or witnessing a traumatic incident prior to the discovery of this new diagnosis.
It wasn’t until the early 1980s that PTSD was diagnosed, but authors and filmmakers had been writing and filming about psychological trauma for many years. Symptoms of trauma are depicted in film in a wide range of ways, just like they are in real life.
As a result, the film industry has documented a wide range of events and situations that can leave a lasting impression on the human mind. The melodrama and over-the-top nature of some portrayals has been tempered by others that have been more delicate and nuanced.
1. Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978)
This entire list of trauma-inducing films might be made up of only war flicks, it becomes evident. As previously said, war was the driving force for the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The scale and intensity of Deer Hunter make it stand out from the rest of the harrowing war flicks.
On both sides of the world, Deer Hunter takes place between 1967 and 1975, when the Vietnam War reaches its peak. Michael DeNiro stars as a WWII veteran who returns from the front lines with PTSD, while Christopher Walken portrays a soldier who returns from the front lines with PTSD.
As a POW, they are forced to play Russian Roulette for the enjoyment of their captors. This is the film’s most well-known aspect. Although these scenes were criticized for their seeming truthfulness, they give the audience with the necessary backdrop to accept the destroyed emotional health of the three friends. “
What makes Deer Hunter’s representation of trauma so great is that it shows how trauma affects each person in a unique way. Despite the fact that Mike’s friends and previous life have changed, he still want to remain unnoticed. When he thinks of returning to his wife and house, Steven, who is also physically scarred, goes into a fit of hysteria.
Playing Russian Roulette for money is a “career” for Nick after he goes AWOL in Vietnam. He has no recollection of his past or of his friends. Deer Hunter, on the other hand, shows how the spouses and girlfriends of returning warriors are vicariously damaged by their loved ones’ traumas.
2. The Fisher King (Terry Gilliam, 1991)
Terry Gilliam’s films are not for the faint of heart. It’s impossible not to be wowed by his inventive set ideas, costuming, camerawork, and characters.
In The Fisher King, he does an excellent job of depicting the effects of psychological trauma. First, the Fisher King begins with a mass shooting at a posh restaurant unwittingly encouraged by shock jock radio broadcaster Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges).
When Jack’s career is over, he becomes a suicidal drinker and loses his life. He is saved from a random attack one night by a severely neurotic homeless man named Parry (Robin Williams in all his beautiful excess). Once he finds that Parry’s behavior is the result of witnessing his wife’s death, Jack decides to seek personal forgiveness by helping Parry find love and a more stable living.
The majority of Parry’s traumatic experiences are depicted in the form of his own delusions. He believes that Jack is a knight who will aid him in his quest to locate the Holy Grail. He imagines a Red Knight who intends to thwart this mission. It is not uncommon for Parry to fall into a coma-like state of catatonia.
The neat ending may detract from the reality of the experience of trauma, but the varied tone and Gilliam’s brilliantly odd visuals assist to depict the dreamlike mood of the story.
3. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (Zacharias Kunuk, 2000)
An Inuit legend involving multigenerational pain is depicted in Atanarjuat, the first full-length Inuktitut-language film ever made. As soon as the film’s release, it was well praised for its use of primarily Inuit actors/crew, its location-based filmmaking, and its focus on oral history. In Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, the curse on the village of Igloolik is at the center of the story.
When decades pass and a number of village elders pass away, the tale changes to the rivalry between Amaqjuaq and Atanarjuat, brothers played by Paak Innuksuk and Natar Ungalaq, for control of the village after Oki’s death (Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq). Assassination attempt by Oki kills Atanarjuat, but he manages to escape with minor injuries. Atanarjuat returns to Igloolik after recuperating from his wounds at a nearby settlement.
People’s inability to let go of the hurts and tragedies of the past is what gives rise to the trauma shown in Atarnajuat: The Fast Runner, which is passed down down the generations.
Each new generation is burdened with the sorrows of the previous one because of the lingering effects of the past. There will be no victory for Atanarjuat and the hamlet unless they embrace forgiveness, acceptance, and healing.
4. Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock, 1964)
Tippi Hedren plays the title character in this classic Hitchcock film, which features one of the earliest depictions of female trauma onscreen. Marnie takes advantage of men by enticing them to hire her and then stealing their money.
She is coerced into marrying Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) after he gets caught in the act. Marnie’s intriguing backstory and crippling anxieties come to light as Mark learns more about her.
When Mark finally finds Marnie’s mother, the root of her trauma is revealed through their conversation. She was assaulted as a child and accidently killed her attacker during a fight between her mother and him.
Marnie was unable to recall the incident due to the mental stress it had produced. She also developed a phobia of the color red as a result of the blood she spilled during the fight. Traumatic representation here focuses on the failure to process a single traumatic event, as well as the effects of its aftermath. Viewers get a sense of how one event impacted this woman’s character, and it’s not a good one by any means.
5. The Magdalene Sisters (Peter Mullan, 2002)
‘Impure,’ or ‘fallen,’ women who were sent to Catholic asylums for reasons including unwed pregnancy, prostitution, or perceived promiscuity are depicted in the Magdalene Sisters’ true-to-life story. In spite of the fact that these asylums could be found all across the former British Empire, they didn’t lock their doors in Ireland until 1996.
Four women are the focus of the video, who are subjected to horrendous living conditions and horrendous mistreatment at the hands of clergy members. A series of brutal assaults and humiliation befall four women in the film, including Anne-Marie Duff, Bernadette, Dorothy Duffy, and Eileen Walsh’s Crispina.
When it comes to the source of the women’s pain, The Magdalen Sisters does not hesitate to reveal it. The women’s pain is obvious as they endure their abuse. It’s not uncommon for them to experience periods of emotional breakdown and become unable to function. In some cases, they look to be nothing more than shells of their former selves.
Although Crispina appears to have escaped her tormentors, she is a symbol of the devastating effects of the torture she suffered. The rest of her brief life is spent in a mental health facility, and she dies of anorexia at the age of 24.
6. Coming Home (Hal Ashby, 1978)
Coming Home, another Vietnam Conflict-related entry, focuses solely on the impacts of living in a war zone. Sally (Jane Fonda) and Luke (Jon Voight) reunite when Bob (Bruce Dern) is away on a deployment. Luke, a fellow veteran of the Vietnam War who is now paraplegic, has just returned from his service.
Sally and Luke develop a close friendship, which eventually blossoms into romance. In the aftermath of Bob’s homecoming, Sally is divided between her feelings for both men.
Coming Home, like Deer Hunter, depicts the diverse ways in which wartime trauma affects its survivors. Luke’s injuries have left him resentful, and he devotes himself to the antiwar cause and his new relationship with Sally. It is implied that Bob deliberately hurt himself in order to avoid fighting in the war.
A more introverted version of him returns, but when he learns what’s going on, he turns violent and irrational. Coming Home is a crucial contribution to the narrative of trauma because of its timing, which coincides with America’s first awareness of PTSD.