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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

The Falling

IntroductionThe Falling

The Falling, written and directed by Carol Morley, was released in the UK in April 2015. Inspired by events that have taken place in several girls’ schools in the past decades, this psychological drama is set in 1969 and examines an epidemic of fainting and twitching amongst a group of 16 year-old pupils that begins after the tragic death of a popular but rebellious girl, Abbie Mortimer. With accomplished performances from Maisie Williams as Lydia and Florence Pugh as Abbie, this coming of age story explores collective grief in a close community constrained by the social and emotional norms of 1960s Britain. The Falling was filmed in a real school although Morley manages to create a somewhat strange and fantastical atmosphere, enhanced by the brilliant film music and songs composed by Tracey Thorn.

 

The Film

The Falling opens with an idyllic rural scene at a girls’ school, in which best friends Lydia and Abbie are forced to acknowledge the changes in their close bond now that Abbie has begun to have sexual relationships with boys. Lydia subsequently learns that Abbie is involved with her brother Kenneth too and this makes her feelings of rejection all the more painful, despite her best friend’s protestations that it will not damage their friendship. Set in the context of the rule-bound controlling environment of their school, in which even the length of Abbie’s skirt is measured by a teacher during a lesson, her rebellious behaviour is shown to be a major influence on the other girls in her group.

Unfortunately, Abbie becomes pregnant and her health is seriously affected resulting in her ultimately tragic sudden death witnessed by Lydia and the member of staff who had set them both after school detention. Lydia is devastated by her loss and unable to get the emotional support that she needs to process her feelings from her mother Eileen, who suffers from agoraphobia, or from anyone at school. With the anger and sadness of her grief unresolved, Lydia suffers a fainting episode at school in front of her class. Other pupils follow in having similar attacks, beginning the narrative that this epidemic may be infectious in some way. When a member of staff also has an attack, the affected girls are seen by a doctor for an examination but no medical reason is found to explain the episodes. There is only one pupil within the group who stays free of any fainting. She skeptically expresses the view that these attacks have no physical basis.

Lydia later begins a dangerous exploration of her developing sexual feelings with her brother, perhaps also seeking a feeling of closeness to Abbie by replicating her relationship with Kenneth. However, when her mother discovers them together in bed in their home, a bubble is burst that takes the film into its final scenes.

 

Relevance to the Field of Mental Health

The Falling offers an opportunity to consider the topic of hysteria, currently referred to as a conversion disorder, which is classified as a dissociative (conversion) disorder in ICD-10 and falls within the Somatic Symptom Disorders in DSM-V. As Lydia is the first sufferer in the outbreak of fainting and twitching, and given that she was present when her best friend died, it might be argued that the precipitating factor for the outbreak is clearly one of loss. The fact that Lydia’s symptomatic presentation echoes those she sees Abbie suffer during her sudden death, might illustrate one of the psychoanalytic theories of conversion, namely that it serves as an identification with the lost object. In addition, Lydia’s difficult relationship with her emotionally unavailable mother, and later with her brother, are clearly important when considering the predisposing and perpetuating factors for her ongoing attacks. The film would certainly provide a platform to teach about the construction of a psychodynamic formulation for Lydia.

Watching the film alongside a reading of the article entitled Conversion disorder: the modern hysteria by Colm Owens and Simon Dein in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment Feb 2006, 12 (2) 152-157, would provide a useful basis for discussion about and comparison with how the DSM and ICD systems of classification deal with this group of disorders (although the 2006 article obviously deals with the earlier DSM-IV classification one could review both DSM-IV and DSM-V together examining the changes that have recently been made within that system).

 

• More information about The Falling can be found at IMDB, as can a short trailer.

 

The Falling is available to pre-order on dvd from amazon.co.uk.

 

• Minds on Film is written by Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Joyce Almeida

 

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About this blog

 

Minds on Film is a monthly blog that explores psychiatric conditions and mental health issues as portrayed in a selection of readily available films.

Please note that this blog may contain plot spoilers. Any views expressed are purely my own.

Dr Joyce Almeida
Dr Almeida is a consultant
psychiatrist working in the private sector in the UK.