As Daylight Saving approaches, it’s no stretch to say we look to movies for comfort from the accompanying dark sky and cold weather, and despite what you might think, it’s no coincidence that Oscar season aligns with the decrease in temperature. Movie-makers not only know but expect that we’ll be seeking cinematic release to ease the seasonal shift. But there’s more to our want to watch than just quiet “me-time.” Movies—providing characters and scenarios we can identify with—have proven a powerful tool for self-reflection, and according to some mental health professionals, help us heal.
Avery Hart, retired psychotherapist, agrees movies reach us on “deep, emotional levels,” explaining that the watching process triggers alpha brain waves, or an “open receptive state,” making us more accepting of new ideas and change. In her experience, patients have used character conflicts to articulate their own, and attributed on-screen displays of strength to their overcoming of obstacles. “Watching others go through heart pounding experiences helps us to safely face some of our worst fears and also encourages us to be strong, even in the face of disaster,” she tells Intrigue.
While not everyone will experience the same reaction to the same movie, Hart believes particular movies might be useful for particular clients in particular situations.
Allan Cooperstein, Ph.D., a psychologist specializing in clinical, forensic and disability, began using what’s referred to as “cinema therapy” as part of his clinical process after experiencing, personally and professionally, its “immersive” impact on imagination. After evaluating a patient, he recommends a relevant film, asking them to “open themselves to the experience.” When they deeply identify with a character, he uses it as “a starting point” to “gradually expand” on the “themes and obstacles” the patient relates to and helps them to “incrementally” move forward.
As Daylight Saving arrives on November fourth, join us in theaters for one or all three of these recent releases.
1. A Star is Born
The most recent remake of this 1937 original features real life singer-songwriter Lady Gaga as Ally, an ordinary girl with unique talent, whose poor self-image convinces her to give up her dream to become a singer until she stumbles upon Jackson (Bradley Cooper), an established musician who inspires her to pursue a music career. As we watch her transition into superstardom, we’re reminded by Ally’s first unfavorable perspective of herself, and know we are not alone in the times we feel insecure. Although we see Jackson wrestling with his alcoholism throughout the film, we also see how his faith in Ally helps him place his struggles into perspective.
In addition to these musicians fighting their demons through soul-baring songs, the preview lets us see how they, as we, are surrounded by people who can either help or harm. Ultimately, the decision to succeed comes just as much from the influences we choose, as it does from our faith in ourselves. Watching this film may not cure your insecurities or addiction, but it might move you to be a friend to someone who is suffering, especially if that someone is yourself.
“A Star is Born” is the perfect example of movie viewing for self-reflection. All four versions of this film have been relevant to their release date, repeating and reflecting real-life themes and obstacles like poor image and substance abuse. All four starlets have also been connected to their character—a beloved actress playing an actress, or a popular singer playing a singer—an authenticity that further connects real life to these films and vice versa. Knowing these role models have likely witnessed or experienced the same conflicts off-screen, allows the audience to relate and watch their heroes persevere, silently hoping for the same strength from themselves.
2. Beautiful Boy
Based on the combined memoirs of David and Nic Sheff, “Beautiful Boy” recreates the relationship between adolescent Nic (Timothee Chalamet), who suffers from drug abuse, and his father David (Steve Carell), whose love for his son is so strong, he strives to win back their relationship that once seemed indestructible.
“When we share our stories, we learn we aren’t alone,” says David in a recent Tweet. “And we aren’t.”
The preview begins with David’s and Nic’s attempt to connect, but quickly transforms into one of several disconnects between the two. “How did we drift?” they wonder. Flashbacks to Nic’s childhood shows changes in David’s exchanges from “I love you more than everything” to “who are you?” and later “this is not who we are,” making us wonder ourselves where things went wrong.
Even those of us from different backgrounds are able to grasp this family’s desire to compromise between an identity outside of the family and a familial connection. Despite obvious disconnect and confusion throughout the film, David and Nic continuously try for each other—and this makes all the difference. Although David feels like a failure in keeping his son safe, and Nic struggles with accepting help because he sees his drug abuse as self-inflicted, when both finally forgive each other, they find themselves able to move forward, inspiring us to do the same.
3. Boy Erased
In this memoir turned movie, a father and pastor who preaches heterosexuality discovers his son is gay. Shortly after, Jared (Lucas Hedges) is forced into conversion therapy and his father, Marshall (Russell Crowe) is less than sympathetic.
“Jared, I want you to do well,” we hear Marshall say in the preview. “I want you to have a great life.” For a moment, we think there’s hope for their relationship. But, we’re mistaken as the trailer continues. “I love you, but we cannot see a way that you can live under this roof if you’re going to fundamentally go against the grain of our beliefs.”
“Boy Erased” captures the true representation of what it means to be brave with the story of an adolescent teen who was forced to decide between society’s definition of “normal” and his own. Garrard Conley, real-life Jared, now leads “UnErased,” a podcast series dedicated to restoring the history of conversion therapy, a very real practice that studies reveal affects more than 700,000 Americans. His constant activism works to maintain the identity of these victims, something he feels conversion proponents try to “erase.”