Christmas is a time of the year where we have so much to get done and so little time to do it. Shopping, time with families and other commitments can leave us feeling worn down and tired. Whilst I discussed a few ways to help relieve this stress in my previous post, Christmas Anxiety: Getting Through the Holiday Stress, the one method in particular I wanted to take the time to cover was through the use of film.
In this post we will be discussing the power of cinema therapy, and how we can get great benefits for taking some time and watching a movie. Keeping in the festive spirit, I will be breaking down the impact of movies on our mental health through discussing three Christmas films: The Holiday (2006), Klaus (2019) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Each of these films has been chosen for two reasons. Firstly, they are all extremely enjoyable, but secondly and more importantly, they each highlight specific aspects of, or lessons in, mental health awareness and care which we can learn from.
Before getting to the films themselves, I wanted to first talk a little bit about the power of film with regards to improving mental health. Cinema therapy is a form of therapy that mainly uses movies as healing tools that can allow us to unwind and recover from stress and fatigue. There are so many benefits of film on your mental health worth noting, including the following:
Escapism – The ability to be transported to another time and place can allow you to feel distant from your problems and take your mind off any anxiety you may be feeling about your real-life circumstances.
Emotional Transference – Being able to experience characters as they navigate challenges, both situationally and emotionally, can allow us to relate their experiences and feelings to our own lives and can sometimes allow us to learn lessons from the fictional situations that can help us. Though, with transference we also have to be cautious in case we inadvertently trigger ourselves from seeing something in a film that we share a negative connection with or feeling towards.
Catharsis – In the same area as emotional transference, movies can be used in order to allow us to experience catharsis, or emotional release, when we are in particular need. This can help us purge intense emotions such as sadness, anger or fear depending on the films we are watching. Studies on several genres have been done in the past but the most commonly discussed as having an impact on our mental health are comedy, romance, drama and horror.
General Self-Care – Watching movies can be used for generalized self-care, allowing you to relax and take some time alone to watch at home, or allow you to go see friends and see a film you’ve been looking forward to at the cinema. This is also beneficial as it allows some social interaction, which if carefully approached, can increase your happiness levels. Just be wary not to spend too much time in front of the screen as this can lead to you feeling lazy and low and if you’re going out to watch in the cinema be aware of your triggers if you’re prone to experiencing social anxiety.
Before we move onto the three films I mentioned earlier, I just wanted to take a moment to give two notices. Firstly, if you have not seen any of the three films I mentioned above, consider this a spoiler warning as I will discuss the general plots and characters in each. Also note that some of these films cover themes such as depression and suicide, so I wanted to provide a trigger warning just in case any of the themes may cause distress.
The Holiday (2006)
The Holiday is a romantic comedy Christmas film set over the holidays. It concerns main characters Iris, an English newspaper columnist in love with a man who is engaged to another woman, and Amanda, an American film trailer producer who has recently been cheated on by her boyfriend. Both women are unhappy and decide to use a home-swap service in order to ‘trade lives’ for two weeks over the holidays. From there they find new friends, new love and grow quite a lot emotionally.
“I need some peace and quiet… or whatever it is people go away for.” -Iris
By the end of the film, Iris is able to break things off entirely with the man she loves as she realises she will always be his other woman, and is able to find her own voice in the process. Amanda on the other hand, previously closed off and distant, finds romance and some peace, and by the end of the film is finally able to cry again.
“You’re supposed to be the leading lady of your own life, for god’s sake!” – Iris
The plot itself may sound pretty cheesy and straight-forward but is extremely feel-good and covers many themes of mental health. The main issues that are included are themes of toxic relationships and instability as well as discussing the benefit of self-care in the form of new experiences and being able to understand and express your emotions. Our lives aren’t usually as rose-tinted as Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet’s characters by the end of the film, but there are definitely some lessons to be learned.
Taking time to acknowledge that we need a break or are in a toxic relationship, be it with our friends, partners or even workplace, and then attempting to address these issues through self-care, socialising with friends, and even more direct methods, such as making changes or tackling these problems head on is a valuable lesson we all need to acknowledge.
Klaus is a recent but very enjoyable animated Christmas movie. It focuses on main character Jesper, a spoilt, lazy and selfish trainee postman, who gets sent to the remote island town of Smeerensburg with the goal of posting 6,000 letters within a year or he will be cut off from his rich family. The town itself is split into two rival families who fight at every given chance. Jesper attempts to get his 6,000 letters but the people of Smeerensburg are not interested in posting, which eventually leads him to meeting Klaus, a huge woodsman who has crafted many handmade toys.
After word gets out about the toys when a child is gifted one, Jesper makes up all of the familiar lore around Santa Claus (Klaus) in order to get more children to post more letters for toys. The creation of the naughty list, milk and cookies for Klaus and all the other Christmas traditions start to take shape as Jesper gets closer to his goal. It is revealed Klaus originally made these toys for his children, but his wife didn’t have any and died, and that Jesper is doing all of these good deeds for his own benefit. Jesper then changes his ways and begins being truly selfless to help Klaus and the town.
“A true selfless act always sparks another.” -Klaus
Whilst this is less of a lesson in mental health directly as there isn’t much coverage of depression or anxiety etc. It does cover themes of loss, grief, and morality, which many of us go through each year. The one message that shines the brightest throughout this film however is the quote from above: A true selfless act always sparks another. This point is brought up several times in the film and allows us to see how motivations and morality can lead to us feeling better not only about ourselves but also about our surroundings.
Having to find that balance of selfish and selfless is something we all struggle with, but the idea of good deeds creating further good deeds is something we can all get behind, even if the deed is for your own mental health. It’s all quite hallmark-y but the message is strong and told in a very entertaining and artistic way. If nothing else Klaus will be sure to provide you with a much-needed holiday escape full of kindness and warmth, which we could all use this year.
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s A Wonderful Life is a Christmas time classic, though often missed by many people due it being perceived as old or less comedic. The plot focuses on the life of George Bailey, a kind man who has lived his whole life in the town of Bedford Falls, with one main goal: to go and explore the rest of the world. However, due to a range of events including his father’s death and a bank run on his building and loans business, he is forced to stay in town and give away his time and savings to help those around him. He isn’t always happy about this and get’s frustrated that he is stuck in Bedford Falls but is also happy to do the right thing to help the people he grew up with.
George Bailey’s stress and unhappiness is eventually too much for him to handle. He is about to lose his business and livelihood for his wife and children. Being depressed and suicidal, George goes out on Christmas Eve, gets drunk and is about to commit suicide when a man named Clarence who claims to be an angel, stops him from doing so. Clarence then shows George a timeline where he was never born and makes him realise the influence he’s had to those around him.
“One man’s life touches so many others, when he’s not there it leaves an awfully big hole.” – Clarence
As mentioned above, this film covers depression, suicide and also constant selfless acts which lead to burn out, similar to those mentioned in one of my most recent posts. The overall message of the film is that life is a precious thing and just by existing and going through our lives, we help so many others in ways we can’t even imagine. The other key message is to pay attention to what we do have in life rather than what we don’t.
“Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends.” -Clarence
George is finally helped when he talks out how he is feeling with Clarence the angel and discusses the differences in the world with him not existing, such as the death of his brother or his friends being homeless. A comparison could be made to therapy or honesty and how self-reflection is important in our lives. Sometimes we spend so much time focusing on what we want that we forget just how much we already have. Sure I’m not saying you can’t complain or desire more, as long as you are not disregarding what you have or being greedy in the process.
To sum up the post, films can have a therapeutic effect on us and allow us to escape and emote amongst other things. We should take advantage of these benefits, especially at this stressful time of year. It’s not like watching Christmas with the Kranks or any of the films above will suddenly take away all your holiday stress or anxiety just like that, but it is still a positive self-care activity which can at least give you a break. If you happen to pick up some life-lessons or messages from your movie time that will help you with a mental health issue you’re experiencing, then that’s all the better, but as long as you’re enjoying your time that’s enough.
If you’re experiencing any of the feelings described in this post, or know somebody who is, then there are many things you can do to help. Talking to somebody about how you or they are feeling can be very beneficial. If you’re not sure what to do but need urgent help, there are many emergency hotlines that provide support and encouragement such as Mind.org and Samaritans.org. You’re not alone in feeling this way, others are there to help.