film Sarah and James by Nikowa Namate offers an opportunity to reflect on the deeper themes in light of several film theories including Freudian theory, Queer theory, and an understanding of realism, naturalism, and kitchen sink drama. This essay will offer a nuanced and thorough analysis of my role in the filmmaking experience. In Sarah and James, I played the role of James, one of the title characters. As the title of the film suggests, though, James is not the only protagonist. The interplay between James and his sister Sarah is the foundation of the film, which addresses the way mental illness impacts intimate relationships. Moreover, I was in charge of lighting during the production of Sarah and James and will discuss elements related to lighting during the production of the film. This essay will hinge on the application of realism, naturalism, Freudian theory, and queer theory to my experience as an actor.
Freudian psychoanalysis and film share a similar language and semiotic because "cinema and psychoanalysis were born at the same time," ("Honey I Kidded the Shrink," 1). This historical convergence shows that a film like Sarah and James serves the function of reflecting the psyche of the screenwriter, who in turn captures universal dimensions of human existence that can be understood using Freudian psychoanalytic theory. Because film must appeal to the psyche of each viewer for the viewer to become engaged enough to watch, "psychoanalytic film theory, despite its relatively late development, has become one of the most widely practiced theoretical approaches to cinema studies today," (Netto 1)
Furthermore, applying Freudian theories to film shows that the audience is also participating in a psychoanalytic process when watching a movie. The audience willingly surrenders to the "fourth field," as Netto puts it, allowing the unseen director, cinematographer, and producer to manipulate minds and control realities, albeit temporarily (1). The audience is "being coerced, through a careful manipulation of compositional framing, lighting, editing," and other dimensions of the cinema experience (Netto 1).
Sarah and James exemplifies the core elements of Freudian theory. For one, Freudian theory remains centrally concerned with childhood and its repressed memories. Those repressed memories haunt the individual, create neuroses, and contribute to the person's personality, behavior, and relationships. This is true for films that do not address mental illness, but naturally, Freudian theory applies well to a film like Sarah and James, which does address mental illness. Cinema accomplishes the goal of "rendering subjective experiences -- the innermost psychological depths of the characters it portrayed," (Netto 1).
A second reason Sarah and James exemplifies the core elements of Freudian theory is that "the birth of cinema offered a collective sense of what Freud called the uncanny: the images on screen were both familiar and somehow strange, alive and yet lifeless, real but illusory," (Honey I Kidded the Shrink," 1). Sarah and James is not a documentary; it is a work of fiction. In this sense, we have the sense of something removed from reality but also real as well. The audience, as well as the actors like me, can identify with the characters but also remain distant from them. Characters are mirrors for our subconscious.
Sarah and James is about the delusional and hallucinatory nature of mental illness besieging the titular Sarah. Sarah's delusions create a complex relationship between her and an imaginary female lover. Thus, Sarah and James should be analyzed also in terms of queer theory. Queer theory is somewhat linked to psychoanalytic theory, and can be used in conjunction with it. Issues related to power, sexuality, and fetishism are addressed in Sarah and James in tacit ways. Queer theory shows that Hollywood treats homosexuality in ways that promote stereotypes of queer sexuality as inherently perverse or monstrous (Ellis 2). The goal of cinema in the case of Sarah and James is to subvert Hollywood's control of social norms.
Sarah and James belongs to an interconnected genre of films known as realist or naturalist movies. It can also be considered a kitchen sink drama. These terms refer to films that basically depict real life in all its grittiness. Nothing is held back. Reality is presented to the viewer without glamorous embellishments. "Realism as a dramatic style refers to the appearance of lifelikeness (verisimilitude) in setting, costume, dialogue, gesture, facial expression, and so on" (Dietrich 1).
Naturalism takes realism a step further. Usually a pejorative or derogatory term, naturalism offers a "more secular, more contemporary, and more extensive," thorough depiction than "whatever passes at that moment for realistic," ("Naturalism in Literature and Film," 1). A related genre is the kitchen sink drama, which is a naturalistic approach strictly to the working class. In the case of Sarah and James, the film is both realistic and naturalistic. Due to the budgetary limitations of the filmmaking process, and the reliance on natural lighting, Sarah and James comes across as a quintessentially naturalist film. It is about the grim realities of mental illness and how psychological disturbances impact intimate relationships.
3. Phase One of the project refers to my decision to become a part of this film project. I decided to do this project because the script showed promise, and I believe it is important to cover difficult subjects like this. We all know someone with mental illness, and Sarah symbolizes that person in our lives. Playing James allowed me to explore the dimension of being the loved one who must respond to the sad and heart-wrenching changes taking place in the person we love. James grapples with difficult emotions in this film, and as an actor, the role seemed both challenging and rewarding. Applying Freudian theory, it is easy to see how my own childhood fears may have allowed themselves to emerge.
I have tried to be objective throughout my involvement in the film, and have also been successful at doing so. Because the subject is not too personal, I was able to fully engage with my character without confounding reality with the world of the Sarah and James. I like how this role challenges me as an actor, asking me to explore emotions that I had never experienced in real life due to my not having a sister like this. At the beginning of our working together as a team, I met frequently with the writer to ask questions about James so that I could hone the character to perfection and express James in the best way I could.
4. As all good actors must, I needed to do more than just talk to the writer. I had to do my own research on the subjects addressed in the movie. Playing James had to become second nature. Sarah does not receive a formal diagnosis in the film, and her illness is not discussed in medical terminology. Therefore, I had a lot of work to do researching the symptoms Sarah experiences so that I might be able to identify the core traits and how to react to them as her brother. I consulted a range of publications related to mental illness and determined that Sarah most likely has a form of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia affects about one percent of the general population in the United States ("What is Schizophrenia?"). Therefore, it is a rare but potentially debilitating mental illness. It can have a devastating impact on friends and family of the afflicted, as well as the patient herself.
One of the core symptoms of schizophrenia is the presence of delusions and hallucinations, like the ones Sarah experiences in her relationship with Megan. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, "People with the disorder may hear voices other people don't hear. They may believe other people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts, or plotting to harm them," (p. 1). Therefore, paranoia is also a major part of schizophrenia. The relationship between Sarah and James deteriorates precisely because of these two main symptoms: hallucinations and paranoia. Sarah no longer trusts James because her illness impacts her emotional state and her perception of reality. Megan supplants James as an intimate friend. Megan, for example, who can be accurately described as an alter ego of Sarah's, manifests a mistrust of James. Megan's character exemplifies Sarah's mental illness and her paranoia in scenes like the one in which the two girls are together and Megan says, "You don't need to worry about anything because we make the rules now…your brother is not here to kick us out," (p. 10). Therefore, Sarah displaces her emotions onto Megan and isolates James. She pushes James away instead of allowing him to help her. According to the research, Sarah's symptoms correspond with schizophrenia, which does tend to initially emerge in adolescence ("Symptoms of Schizophrenia").
Yet there is also a push-pull dynamic at play in which Sarah reveals that she does indeed love her brother. Sarah might also be besieged with bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a mental illness in which radical mood swings impact the person's life. Although most of Sarah's symptoms suggest…