Psycho thrillers: five movies that teach us how the mind works

Five leading psychologists look at the classic films that explore how human beings work.

Catherine Shoard, Philippa Perry, Steven Pinker, Dacher Keltner, Sue Blackmore and Susan Greenfield in The Guardian:

ScreenHunter_1890 Apr. 26 17.59The Godfather by Steven Pinker

The Godfather is not an obvious choice for a psychological movie, but its stylised, witticised violence says much about human nature.

Except in war zones, people are extraordinarily unlikely to die from violence. Yet from the Iliad through video games, our species has always allocated time and resources to consuming simulations of violence.The brain seems to run on the adage: “If you want peace, prepare for war.” We are fascinated by the logic of bluff and threat, the psychology of alliance and betrayal, the vulnerabilities of the body and how they can be exploited or shielded. A likely explanation is that in our evolutionary history, violence was a significant enough threat to fitness that everyone had to understand how it works.

Among the many subgenres of violent entertainment, one with perennial appeal to brows both high and low is the Hobbesian thriller – a story set in a circumscribed zone of anarchy that preserves the familiar trappings of our time, but in which the protagonists must live beyond the reach of the modern leviathan (the police and judiciary), with its monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Examples include westerns, spy thrillers, battlefield dramas, zombie apocalypses, space sagas and movies about organised crime. In a contraband economy, you can’t sue your rivals or call the police, so the credible threat (and occasional use) of violence is your only protection.

More here.

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