Skip to content

Mind in Motion

Programmer of the Future-trainee Samuël Leemeijer investigates how psychological fiction translates to an audio-visual medium like film in Mind in Motion, a two-day programme from 16 July in Eye and on the Eye Film Player.

By Samuël Leemeijer22 May 2024

still from Goodbye Jérôme! (Gabrielle Selnet, Adam Sillard & Chloé Farr, FR 2022)

still Goodbye Jérôme! (Gabrielle Selnet, Adam Sillard & Chloé Farr, FR 2022)

Even though we live in an age of scientific and technological marvel, there’s still one essential part of the human body that’s cloaked in mystery: the human brain and its psyche.

Experts have theorised that our psyche is split into two parts: the conscious and the unconscious. Our unconscious mind directly influences our wildest dreams, dearest memories, deeply repressed feelings, unwanted bad habits and actions, persistent intrusive thoughts and undiscovered sources of anxiety; these all in turn affect our conscious experience in reality. It undoubtedly plays a massive role in every single one of our lives, yet we know so little of it. It fascinates me really, and apparently, I’m not the only one, as people have been studying this for centuries.

still from A Kind of Testament (Stephen Vuillemin, FR 2023)

still A Kind of Testament (Stephen Vuillemin, FR 2023)

The human psyche has been explored in story-driven art and media through this nifty genre called psychological fiction: characters’ internal processes, mental states and personal motivations are used as narrative devices to explore their actions which influence the larger story at hand.

Psychological literature has long thrived, since it’s a convenient way of exposing a character’s inner monologues by transcribing their conscious thoughts in a first-person narrative. Playing with unconscious story devices like unreliable narration also worked well for this medium. But who cares about books; we’re not living in the 1800s anymore! It’s all about movies now, baby. So how does psychological fiction translate to an audio-visual medium like film?

Film can be an incredibly stimulating and compelling medium, but having characters narrate their prose-heavy thoughts and feelings out loud all the time (like in a book) ends up being a woefully misplaced plot device when utilised carelessly. Psychological film has to use audio and visuals to its fullest extent to give the audience a proper impression of the character’s psyche. However, the unconscious is already a concept that’s quite hard to grasp, so how do you comprehensively morph this vague and floaty idea into an audio-visual experience that the audience will be able to understand?

still from Bath House of Whales (Mizuki Kiyama, JP 2019)

still Bath House of Whales (Mizuki Kiyama, JP 2019)

This is where animation comes in. Anything that might seem impossible to film in live-action will always be possible to draw in animation. The sky’s the limit! Sadly, there’s still certain stigmas surrounding animation; “it’s made for kids!”, “It’s not a serious art form!”, “You can achieve better and more realistic storytelling with live-action!” Yes, the majority of animation that’s been produced has been targeted towards still-not-fully-developed minds, and yes, there have been extremely popular productions that have succumbed to becoming absolute bottom-of-the-barrel sitcom schmuck (I’m looking at you, Family Guy), but there’s so much more to animated film than just kids’ entertainment and bland sitcoms.

still from 27 (Flóra Anna Buda, FR/HU 2023)

still 27 (Flóra Anna Buda, FR/HU 2023)

Eye Film Player

Programmer of the Future Samuël Leemeijer selected several films to watch at home, including Flóra Anna Buda's 27 and Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue.

Visit the Eye Film Player
still from On the Way Home (Mizuki Kiyama, JP 2018)

still On the Way Home (Mizuki Kiyama, JP 2018)

still from Tekkonkinkreet (Michael Arias, JP 2006)

still Tekkonkinkreet (Michael Arias, JP 2006)

Now to give a few examples of films that fit the above description. Japanese film auteur Satoshi Kon is known for his unique blending of the collective conscious reality and the personal unconscious psyche in almost all of his films. In his breakout film Perfect Blue (1997), paranoia and anxiety take centre stage in this grim story about a young popstar slowly losing her grip on reality as she’s stalked by an obsessive fan.

Receiving instant worldwide critical acclaim, Kon quickly became a massive influence to artists everywhere and further continued his streak of psychological excellence with Paprika (2006). The titular character’s a psychiatrist diving into people’s dreams, but the most exciting and ambitious storyline is that of the main detective’s, whose past and present are investigated through a mysterious murder that’s seen by him and the audience in strange recurring dreamlike visuals exploring his state of mind, eventually cultivating in exciting reveals and a strong character arc that’s explored in an incredibly refreshing manner. Sadly, Kon died at the young age of 46, but his work remains highly relevant to this day.

Kon was known for blending reality and psyche, but what would it be like when the conscious reality is completely removed from the audience’s perception, and the work only shows what’s going on in the unconscious minds as characters descend further into their own spiralling psyche?

still from The Last Bar (Arne Hain, DE 2023)

still The Last Bar (Arne Hain, DE 2023)

One of the most fun things an artist can do is go balls-off-the-walls crazy depicting characters going… Well, balls-off-the-walls crazy. Creative boundaries are dismissed, as there aren’t any rules that need to be adhered to in order to depict a sensible reality. Tekkonkinkreet (2006) dabbles in this concept during its final act, but another example that comes to mind is the critically acclaimed BoJack Horseman (2014-2020).

Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s show has several key scenes taking place during BoJack’s drug benders and mental deteriorative state, with its penultimate episode being a harrowing and claustrophobic 26-minute-long psychological evaluation of BoJack coming to terms with his deceased friends and family, his actions and their consequences, mortality, suicide and death.

Comparable are the controversial final two episodes of Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996). The show famously ran into budget issues by the end, so the creators took the creatively minimalist approach of visualising the apocalypse inside the mind of Shinji, the brooding, unstable teenage lead. Audiences were mad, understandably, since the show made a full 180 as it suddenly radically changed its style and narrative mode, resulting in a seemingly barebones and lazy effort to wrap the series. Thankfully, this was all “rectified” in the direct sequel feature film The End of Evangelion (1997), which follows the same events as the final two episodes, but this time we’re witnessing what took place outside of Shinji’s personal experience.

still from The Garden of Heart (A szív kertje) (Olivér Hegyi, HU/SK 2022)

still The Garden of Heart (A szív kertje) (Olivér Hegyi, HU/SK 2022)

These visualisations of characters’ psyche might feel a bit silly, bewildering and improbable, but we have to appreciate the immense amount of work and creativity from everyone involved to produce a psychological work that is fresh, audacious and innovative, and yet finds its audience due to them mixing a certain relatability into these complex visual spaces exploring the puzzling psyche. The surreal weirdness might alienate some people from fully engaging with it and will definitely require some suspension of disbelief, but as someone wisely tells BoJack Horseman when he’s going HARD during the show’s penultimate episode: “It’s just your brain going through what it feels like it has to go through. All you can do right now is sit back and enjoy the show.

Made possible with the help of