Picture of Dual Personality and Self-Destruction presented in PSYCHO, BLACK SWAN and FIGHT CLUB

Diploma Thesis, 2012

32 Pages, Grade: 4.5




Chapter I…
1.1 Introduction to the films and the definition of Dissociative Identity Disorder
1.2 Dissociative Identity Disorder in Psycho
1.3 Dissociative Identity Disorder in Black Swan
1.4 Dissociative Identity Disorder in Fight Club

Chapter II
2.1 Self-destructive behaviour
2.2 Self-destructive behaviour in Psycho
2.3 Self-destructive behaviour in Black Swan
2.4 Self-destructive behaviour in Fight Club


List of Works Cited


From the very beginnings of cinematography, the main role of every film is to arouse the viewer's interest. Every director has his own visions and employs unique methods and techniques in the film-making process. One of the major and all-purpose methods is to show the decline of the protagonist. This degradation very often accompanies the process of self-destruction and mental disorders as presented in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan and David Fincher's Fight Club. The purpose of this dissertation is to present the depiction of dissociative identity disorder and the self-destruction processes presented in Fight Club, Psycho and Black Swan.

The first chapter of this dissertation is focused on the phenomenon of dual personality, which is called Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). The chapter is divided into three parts: the first part is devoted to Psycho, the second to Black Swan and the final one - to Fight Club. Every subchapter begins with a short background which is compulsory in order to understand and to familiarize oneself with the plot of the film. After a brief introduction I shall focus on the analysis of the respective protagonist's behaviour and list of the reasons which lead to their mental disorders. Finally, the chapter depicts the course of events which follow after the protagonists develop DID.

The second chapter discusses the patterns affecting the self-destructive behaviour. Because of the apparent similarity between self-destructive behaviour and DID, the structure of this chapter is practically identical as the first one - even though it does not include the brief introduction. This chapter examines the process of the protagonists' self-destruction, starting with the reasons which cause this process, and ending with description of the twists and turns of the protagonists.

Each of the above-mentioned films was directed in a different period. When in literature a period can be counted in dozens of years, an eleven years of difference between Black Swan and Fight Club movies is monumental. What affects these differences is the technology and a burning ambition of directors attempting to be creative. Only by subverting commonly-accepted standards and establishing a new order can they attract audience. However, these films have numerous ageless features in common - features which firmly established them in the canon of the most popular movies in the history of cinematography.


1.1 Introduction to the films and the definition of Dissociative Identity Disorder

The subject of this chapter will be the dissociative identity disorder presented in Fight Club, Psycho and Black Swan films.

There was nobody who predicted on 16 June 1960, when the opening night of Psycho took place, that a film with a tight budget of about $800,000 (Smith 18) will make such an astounding success and become a masterpiece of world cinematography. Since its premiere Psycho has been one of the top-rated movies and it box-office has exceeded the barrier of $50,000,000 (Psycho Box-office 2012) and continues to grow. Furthermore, Psycho is revolutionary for the production of films because it subverts widely-held standards, establishing a new order in directing films and, what is probably the most important aspect, changing the convention of directing films. In addition, Psycho was directed against the rules of the Production Code (Maltby 593-596), which was a collection of moral censorship directives that every film from 1930 to 1968 had to follow in US. The film breaks the rules in the opening scene, where two lovers, Sam and Marion, share the same bed, with Marion wearing a bra, which, at the time, it was taboo, showing an unmarried couple sharing a bed. Surprisingly, this convention was perceived by viewers in a positive way; some scenes, such as the shower-scene, the music, and the acting of the protagonist (Anthony Perkins) were so remarkable that they became part of the canon of classical films.

Another movie, where one of the major motives is dissociative identity disorder, is Black Swan, directed by Darren Aronofsky, known also for the film Requiem for a Dream. It was released on 3rd of December 2010 . Black Swan is a psychological thriller with a a star-studded cast including Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel and Mila Kunis. Natalie Portman impersonates Nina Sayers, a young, beautiful dancer who attends the prestigious New York City ballet company and lives with her mother, who was also a ballet dancer but had to abandon it when she was 28 because of pregnancy. The ballet company is opening a new season with the Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. And after forcing its principal dancer into retirement, the director looks for a new ballerina who can cope with portraying a gentle, fragile and innocent the White Swan, with her mysterious, violent, dark and sensual twin the Black Swan. Although Nina is unable to play Black Swan with passion, she gets the part, which initiates her problems with multiple personality disorder and hallucinations.

In spite of the fact that Black Swan did not reach such enormous popularity, film critics were almost unanimous in their acclaim; on the most popular film websites, like rottentomatoes.com or imdb.com, where critics and average viewers can rate films, Black Swan got 8.2 points out of 10 (Black Swan at imdb.com 2012), which classifies it as one of the top 100 movies in the history of cinematography.

What is characteristic for his films is the technique of “fast cutting”, this technique, involves presenting several shots in a quite short duration of time. The purpose of the fast cutting technique is to present a mass of information in a brief duration of time and to imply the atmosphere of chaos, which is strongly connected with the state of mind of the protagonist. It forces the viewer to pay attention to the non-verbal activities of the character. In Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, the shower scene is one of the most famous examples of fast cutting. Moreover, known for his punishing dramas, Aronofsky is also influenced by Kubrick, Polanski and Hitchcock, which is noticeable in his films; for example, in Black Swan he forges the winning tradition of Rosemary’s Baby and other metropolitan gothics, the nail-biting tale concerns a rivalry for a coveted role at the heart of a freshened-up Swan Lake.

Another film worthy of consideration is Fight Club. As the two films mentioned above, the genre of this movie is psychological thriller. Based on the Palahniuk's novel (Palahniuk 2003) of the same title, the movie boasts with an astonishing cast, where the main roles are played by Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and Helen Bonham Carter. Initially, film critics were very severe in their reviews of the film, and it didn't change until the film found commercial success with its release on DVD. After the DVD release, Fight Club was perceived as a cult film, and the critical reception became more positive. In spite of the fact that its genre is thriller, the film includes humorous elements, especially in the convention of black humour, which present film as a grotesque with the idyll atmosphere. What is unusual and unique for Fight Club is the fact that the name of the protagonist is unknown for the viewer; only the name of the main character's alter ego is provided -Tyler Durden. Those unconventional methods of directing a film, the star-studded cast, grotesque and black humour, have established it as a cult film. The impact on our culture, which Fight Club has exerted, is unimaginable; dozens of quotations have been introduced into daily life, ebay auctions overflow with hundreds of items, recognizable from the film, red leather jackets, shirts and tracksuit tops and sweatshirts. ‘Aviator' sunglasses, famous in the nineties after Top Gun made them popular, have been replaced by those worn by Brad Pitt. Fight Club has become so fashionable that it is even possible to purchase a bar of soap, visible on one of the posters promoting film. To numerous people, the film marks out a new path and philosophy of life; they abandon their worldly possessions and start to live in dilapidated homes, and what is worse, establish their own fight clubs, where scuffles take place regularly. Fight Club focuses on the unnamed character who hates his job and life, suffers from insomnia, and looks for a sense of life; it shows the indictment of consumerism, the desire to be totally free, the frustration of the people who live in the system; it raises the consciousness of the societal emasculation, the reluctance culture of advertising and the unnecessary pursuit for material goods, all of which replace more important values such as spiritual happiness. The phenomenon of the film is countless, many viewers observe similarities to the protagonist and adjust his vicissitudes to their own lives, and that is why the director describes the protagonist as an 'everyman'.

The above mentioned films were directed and released in different periods of time, they contain totally different plots, however what strongly connects them is the theme of dual personality. A comprehensible definition of this mental process is presented by the Barlow “Dissociative identity disorder (DID), formerly called multiple personality disorder (MPD), is currently defined by the presence of two or more identities, each of which takes control of the body. Its five most prominent symptoms are amnesia, depersonalization, derealization, alterations in identity, and identity confusion. These disturbances cannot be the result of drugs or a medical condition, nor can they, in children, be the result of an imaginary companion” (6). However, this clear definition lacks several valid features of dissociative identity disorder; the person who suffers from DID is unable to recall personal information and his lack of memories cannot be explained by normal forgetfulness. Patients with DID often endure gaps in their memory for the past or present, which does not allow to integrate aspects of identity, consciousness and memory. The alter personalities appear spontaneously and unwillingly, and the intensity of alter depends on the case; the number of alters can reach even hundreds. In the majority of cases, DID is the effect of physical and sexual abuse, especially during childhood. Worthy of consideration are statistics concerning its appearance, the rate of diagnosis is higher in women and the course of the disorder is much more severe than the one in men (Barlow 6-7). These statistics fail to stop all kinds of directors, writers, people responsible for computer games and music, from setting up mostly males as the protagonists suffering from DID. DID has an enormous impact on our culture, it is an object of fascination of many artists. They popularize it in a works of fiction, where DID is mostly used as a red herring plot device in murder mysteries. The DID motive can be found in novels like Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jackson's The Birds' Nest, and movies like Sybil, The Three Faces of Eve, The Five of Me, and obviously, Fight Club, Psycho, and Black Swan.

1.2 Dissociative Identity Disorder in Psycho

In Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 psychological thriller, the person who has multiple identities is the villain, Norman Bates. At the end of the film, a psychiatrist gives a long monologue in which he explains and defines all Bates's dissociation problems as ones originating in early childhood. At the age of five, he become a half-orphan and spends the rest of his childhood with his mother, who is a very strict woman. She raises him with cruelty, instilled in him the concept that every woman, except her, is a prostitute and defined sex as evil. She is possessive and despotic towards her son. However, Norman accepts and loves her, which is apparent in one of his statements “A boy's best friend is his mother” (Psycho 1960).


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Picture of Dual Personality and Self-Destruction presented in PSYCHO, BLACK SWAN and FIGHT CLUB
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Przemysław Pietruszka (Author), 2012, Picture of Dual Personality and Self-Destruction presented in PSYCHO, BLACK SWAN and FIGHT CLUB, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/207801


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