Psychiatry and the movies have grown up together. Both were in their infancy at the turn of the century and then went on to make massive advances within the following decades. Maybe this is why they have always shared a relationship which can be described as both complementary but also hostile. Both disciplines share a voyeuristic interest in appraising the body and are particularly interested when that body does not function as it should prompting a Foucauldian approach to the analysis of psychiatric discourses in film.
This film is a study of a gay man in grief who contemplates suicide but over the course of one day finds solace in small pleasures. From a psychiatric point of view it deals with the overlap between grief and depression and the effect of prejudice on the mental health of society's stigmatized minorities. Concepts of 'normality' change in society over time and influence the practice of psychiatry. Homosexuality only became legal in the UK in 1967.
My research interests are sexuality and gender studies – in particular the relations between sexuality, gender and time – so my response to A Single Man centres on the question: for whom is it a ‘gay film’? Does a viewer have to be gay in order to experience A Single Man as gay cinema, via an identification with the central character, George? I would argue that they don’t, by focusing on the film’s form rather than its content – in other words, by analysing the formal qualities of the film, instead of the content of its characters.
A sociological approach to distress and suicidal behaviour inevitably emphasises the social and cultural context of distress. Sociological research from the classic work of Durkheim onwards has drawn attention to the significance of social bonds to suicidality. Durkheim’s work was based on macro-level analysis of comparative suicide rates. At the micro-level, sociology has struggled to make sense of individual cases of people in distress. Some sociologists have seen this as the exclusive domain of psychology.