The Film Cut and Mental Anxiety


The cinema is conscious. This is not a novel idea. There has been much discussion of this in the world of film theory. The cinema is not only reflective of visual culture but an instance of our own reality. In this post I don’t want to combat this, nor talk about what it indicates. I’m interested only in one certain insight: the film cut has become a factor of anxious experience.

The film cut separates a moment from the next, and automatically signals a temperamental shift from first to second shot. What contests this claim is the advent of so-called ‘continuity editing’, but regardless, a film cut necessarily imposes an interruption. It cuts a length of time, and even with continuity editing, the film cut always dictates a necessary shift in perception, simply in that the recording of time—what is transformed by the cinema—is interrupted. How does this relate to mental illness?

If you ask a person with an anxiety disorder how it feels to be under the throes of an attack, they will respond with a confused face. Mentions of over-awareness, difficulty of breathing, and fear of death are normal. And so is the realization that one cannot think straight. A proverbial norm: thinking straight. What does it mean? In slightest understanding, it means that you think along the grounds of reason. But what if reason is misunderstood? And what if thinking straight is the most illogical form of events?

These are questions that may be asked by those in the throes. When it strikes, holding onto a single idea, a single thought, is the most difficult of things to do. One wishes to take deep breaths while holding onto a singular idea, a singular moment. One wishes to think straight and stay in the moment rather than be led astray by scattered thinking and confusion. But if the attack is difficult to contain, it is like a cut in one’s perception. There are sudden shifts of thought.

In cinema, the film cut separates thoughts. It is equally as jarring. It is equally as formidable. As movies have evolved, they have developed measures of continuity in spite of the film cut. Hollywood editing is particularly known for continuity editing, with the shot-reverse-shot pattern in use for approximately 30% of a Studio film.

Two things have occurred as a result, and these two things continually buttress each other pathologically. 1. The film cut has made us dull. We are no longer able to hold onto a singular moment or idea, and instead we require more and more stimulation at faster and faster rates. This is the idea behind Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. We have become controlled by images. As a film’s thought replaces our own, the scattered display of rapid editing is tantamount to a scattered, anxious mind.

The problem here is that we have become so used to having a scattered mind, that a still mind is what we fear. Stillness becomes that sign of distress, which leads to number 2. Our dullness encourages faster cuts. Blockbuster filmmaking in particular is known for increasing the number of takes per film as a measure of expressing action and captivating viewers. So not only are our senses now dull and captivated, but we are literally overwhelmed by scattered, dissociative thinking disguised as normal stimulation. It’s no coincidence that we as society suffer more from mental illness and attention disorders today than ever before.


About Kamran Ahmed

I have a Masters in Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto. I work as a freelance writer and film critic in Vancouver. My writing is primarily distributed through Next Projection, an online film journal based in Toronto.
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1 Response to The Film Cut and Mental Anxiety

  1. Pingback: The Long Take and Mindfulness | Aesthetics Of The Mind

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