This week we plumb the darker depths of the human psyche as we pick our favourite films about obsession in honour of the release of Filth, which stars James McAvoy as a junkie cop who’ll stop at nothing (and I mean nothing) to gain an upcoming promotion; and Thanks for Sharing, a romantic comedy that brings together three characters struggling with sex addition.
A Beautiful Mind
Obsessed with the Cold War espionage game, John Nash, a talented mathematician at Princeton University has the uncanny ability to make ingenious connections between numbers. His struggle with schizophrenia nurtures a paranoid obsession with being spied upon; brilliantly illustrated in Russell Crowe’s frantic eye movements, constantly looking surveying his surroundings for an enemy that may not exist. A Beautiful Mind is a film that does not disappoint. The title promises a genius main character and this is what you receive. Although it may make you feel somewhat self-conscious about your own intelligence!
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The first film that sprung to mind when thinking about obsession was Steven Spielberg’s 1977 sci-fi drama Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Richard Dreyfuss stars as Roy Neary, a father who becomes increasingly haunted by visions of a mysterious mountain, so much so that it tears his family apart. But it’s the way he tries make sense of these visions that has created some truly iconic and memorable images.
The frequently parodied scene in which Roy attempts to sculpt the mountain from mashed potato is perhaps the most well known. But for me the more powerful scene is in which his wife discovers him sitting fully clothed beneath the shower. Spielberg and Dreyfuss truly managed to capture the essence of obsession, the acknowledgment of it’s self-destructive nature, but the inability to do anything about it.
To overlook Hitchcock’s 1958 Vertigo when considering films on obsession and addiction could be considered a border-line crime. It tells the story of a detective, who after being diagnosed with vertigo is forced into retirement, but is asked by an old friend that before he puts his detective days behind him to investigate the strange activities of his wife. And so begins James ‘Scottie’ Ferguson’s (James Stewart) dangerous obsession with the enchanting Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak).
Every aspect of the film feeds into the concept of obsession: from the voyeuristic way in which Hitchcock presents Madeleine to the audience, to the protagonists’ faultless performances, to the intricate use of sound. Hitchcock draws the audience right in, until any viewer with an ounce of empathy is just as obsessed with Madeleine as Stewart is. As far as films about obsession go, I can think of few others who explore it in as much depth, and in such an aesthetically pleasing way as Vertigo.