Oct 17: V/H/S (2012)


V/H/S is an anthology of short films within an overlying story arc depicted by “Tape 56.” On this tape, a group of thieves attempt to retrieve a VHS tape from a seemingly vacated home with the owner apparently dead in the living room. Over the course of the film, we see the members of the group disappear.

The Videos
In Amateur Night, a night intended for sexual exploits turns awry.

In Second Honeymoon, a vacation taken by a married couple ends with one of the spouses murdered by a mysterious voyeuristic stalker whose identity is revealed at the end of the recording.

In Tuesday the 17th, a group of friends are brought to the woods by Wendy in hopes of finding the killer who murdered her friends the previous year.

In The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger, Emily is being used as an incubator for aliens by her boyfriend, James.

In 10/31/98, a group of friends attempt to rescue a woman undergoing an exorcism.


The video tape, Amateur Night, depicts a case (Lily) of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Some characteristics of BPD include unstable affect, inappropriate anger when feeling abandoned, and unstable relationships. After returning to a motel with a group of guys, Lily continues to pursue Clint, forging an intense relationship despite only having met him a couple of hours prior (idealization). The volatile relationship forged with Clint comes to a halt when Clint resists her advances, leaving her enraged. She takes out her anger on Patrick and Shane (devaluation) who, for the entirety of the film, she made clear she did not like. This idealization/devaluation serves as an example of splitting; an ego defense mechanism where a person is seen as either all good or bad. Her feelings of abandonment and unstable affect manifest again at the end of the tape when she switches from crying to growling after Clint again resists her sexual advances.

In the video, Tuesday the 17th, we are introduced to possible substance-induced psychosis. Wendy tells the story of a killer in the woods who doesn’t become manifest until after the group shares marijuana. It is possible that Wendy was in fact the killer after smoking cannabis, and that a similar situation resulted in the events the previous year.

In the video, The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger, Emily exhibits Cotard syndrome, which is the delusion that a body part has been missing or inserted. Emily believes that there is something in the hematoma in her arm. It is later disclosed that the bump is a tracking device, as James has been using Emily to incubate aliens. This shared delusion between Emily and James due to their relationship exemplifies Folie aI Deux. In addition, we are introduced to Dissociative Amnesia which is manifest when Emily does not recall the events that led to her black eye and arm splint.

Oct 7: The Shining (1980)


Jack Torrance, a writer and recovering alcoholic, takes a job as a “winter-over” at the isolated Overlook Hotel. His young son possesses psychic abilities and is able to see things from the past and future, such as the ghosts that haunt the Overlook. The film depicts the trials of the Torrance family, as the abject isolation of the snowbound hotel serves as the setting for the family’s descent into madness.

The Shining is a film rich in subversive, psychiatric themes, with several interpretations rendered by authors, anthropologists, and historians (Room 237, 2012). This post examines “the true meaning” of Kubrick’s film, and to our knowledge, is the only opinion rendered from a clinical perspective.


The Shining serves as an opportunity to teach the Psychotic and Related Disorders. Hallucinations, delusions, disorganized and grossly catatonic behavior, and negative symptoms (affective flattening, apathy, and anhedonia) are all signs possessed by the patriarchal main character. While the general consensus is that The Shining explores themes related to psychosis, Stuart Ullman’s disclosure of the 1970 tragedy of a former caretaker, Grady, “running amok” is foreshadowing of the film’s clandestine meaning. Amok is a culturally (Malaysian) bound syndrome hallmarked by episodes of sudden mass assault following a period of brooding. A brief examination of the film reveals two themes that allow for the formulation of another culturally bound syndrome that explains the behavior of the Torrance family.

A. A pre-established delusion is identified in an individual
Prior to moving into the Overlook, Jack’s son, Danny, has a terrifying premonition about the hotel that causes him to faint. During a medical evaluation, Wendy tells a visiting doctor that her son has an imaginary friend called Tony whose emergence coincides with Danny going to nursery school around the time Jack dislocated Danny’s shoulder (following a binge episode).
While a physician reassures Wendy that Danny’s imaginary friend is “just a phase,” there’s reason to believe Tony is a sign of an underlying mental disorder and therefore is not developmentally appropriate. While posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a provisional diagnosis, two scenes are critical to the formulation of a differential diagnosis. First, Ullman tells Jack that the hotel is built on the site of a 1907 Native American burial ground. Next, a precocious Danny joins the discussion about the Donner party on the way to the Overlook. The ill-fated settlers had to resort to cannibalism after their wagon train was trapped by an early, heavy snowfall through the Sierra Nevada.

Taken together, we can conclude that Danny is afflicted with Wendigo psychosis; a culturally bound syndrome that affects people who think about cannibalism. Originally afflicting individuals of the Algonquin tribe, the syndrome preserves cultural taboos by reinforcing the prohibition against cannibalism. Danny’s taking part in the adult discussion about the Donner party constitutes a significant boundary violation, and results in his becoming possessed by the malevolent cannibalistic spirit.

B. A delusion develops in the context of a close relationship with another person that is similar in content to that of the person who already has the established delusion

Jack wanders into the Gold Room where a ghostly bartender named Lloyd serves him bourbon on the rocks. Meanwhile, Danny’s curiosity gets the better of him when he wanders into Room 237 despite the omen not to enter. When Danny returns from Room 237, he is visibly traumatized, causing Wendy to think that Jack is abusing Danny again. Wendy shows up in the Gold Room and informs Jack that Danny told her a “crazy woman in one of the rooms” was responsible for his injuries.
Jack investigates Room 237 and has an experience similar in content to Danny’s. Specifically, a mysterious female seduces Jack, but then turns into a symbolic manifestation of the wicked woman from Hansel and Gretel (who lured children like Danny with candy before transforming into a witch). The Hansel and Gretel fairy tale was foreshadowed when Wendy first met Dick Hallorann and said she felt the need to put down breadcrumbs in order to find her way around the Overlook.
In room 237, we are presented with the Evil Step-Mother Archetype (Table 1). The universal presence of this motif reinforces that this archetype results from a defense mechanism (splitting) employed by children to contain all they hate in their mothers so they can continue to regard them as perfect (the explanation of why Danny “hates” his mother is beyond the scope of this post).

Table 1. The Evil Step-Mother Archetype1 & The Shining
Fairy Tales depicting Evil Step-Mothers Theme The Shining (film)
Cinderella Getting home safely before midnight Grady's runs Amok, and murders his family at the New Year's Eve gala
Hansel and Gretel (1856) Cannibalism Donner Pass; "breadcrumb" reference; Wendigo psychosis
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1819) White, red, and black The colors of the labyrinth
Rapunzel Trapped and shut away Wendy is trapped in the bathroom suite (her hair falling forward) after Danny is let out of the window.
1. The relationship between Danny and his mother has been critically analyzed, and relates to "the twins" who themselves represent Freudian splitting of the mother image.

Upon returning from Room 237, Jack casts an image in the mirror when entering the suite. He tells Wendy he found nothing, explaining that Danny’s bruises were self-inflicted, “I think he did it to himself.” Faced with this reality, Danny becomes acutely psychotic as evidenced by his shining (disorganized or grossly catatonic behavior) into his parents’ conversation. This further establishes that Danny is the proband case of psychosis. This is followed by Jack’s exacerbation (transmission) as evidenced by his becoming verbally abusive (disorganized or grossly catatonic behavior) towards Wendy. As he storms out of the suite, he casts no reflection in the mirror, having truly lost who he is/his soul.

Taken together, The Shining is a case study of Shared Psychotic Disorder (SPD). Also referred to as folie aI� deux, SPD is a rare psychotic disorder usually found in long-term relationships with close emotional ties.

At the Amundsen’Scott South Pole Station, most personnel leave by the middle of February, leaving a few dozen “winter-overs” (mostly support staff plus a few scientists), who keep the station functional through the months of Antarctic night. The winter personnel are isolated between mid-February and late October. After the last flight has left for the winter, an annual tradition is a double feature viewing of The Thing and The Shining. As a homage to the winter- overs, we’ve dubbed tomorrow, October 7, with John Carpenter’s The Thing!