Film - The Voice in the Head

Susan Omand listens to the voices in her own head and watches The Voice in the Head...

“Psychologist David Rosenhan Ph.D - 'If sanity and insanity exist, how shall we know them?' – Discuss”

An undergrad psychology student (played by Charlotte Luxford) is in an exam room and that was the question on the paper. As she starts to write her answer, we get to see the story she writes unfold in flashback.

This is a really beautifully conceived 10 minute short. The cinematography is spectacular, the editing superb and the effects are glorious, from the handwriting juddering off the page at the start of the flashback, to the mesmerising night-time snow, to the stunning effect of handwriting following the student’s footsteps through the hallowed marble halls of the library, it was a beautiful thing to watch. And to listen to, for the most part, as the music used on soundtrack had an almost dreamlike quality to it and fitted very well with the “imaginary” look of the film.

Based on a true story from the award winning book ‘A New Earth’ by Austrian writer and spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, the story the student tells is of her train journey to the university library and we listen to her thoughts surrounding a “quite clearly insane” (their words not mine) woman she sees on the train. And this is where it falls down for me – actually telling the story out loud in voice over really didn’t work for me. Yes, I realise the irony of the voice in her head not working in a film called The Voice in the Head. And I realise we are meant to take it as being the words as they are written by the student in the answer book to her exam question, but the script re-explained things that were already obvious to me from the visual. It also didn’t leave any room for the viewer to infer their own thoughts or draw their own conclusions from the film. For me it could have been made far more ambiguous while still incredibly relevant to the subject matter, just by removing the voice-over, and would get people thinking and talking about it, rather than being presented with a report with no room for alternative viewpoints or discussion. For example, the story I had building in my head (ignoring the voice over) was that the woman on the train and the student would end up being one and the same person, which would have made for a beautiful metaphor for mental health. Which is real, are they both real, is neither real? And what is the truth or is it perception? And if the voice-over hadn’t insisted otherwise, I would have come away from the film having seen one of the most amazing and thought provoking shorts ever and, certainly, one that I would be shouting about from the rooftops as a brilliant examination of the frailties of the human mind. As it was, though, I came away with, probably, what was intended – given that the film is set in a university environment – a feeling of cold academic observation, of a presentation of statements of fact and judgemental conclusion – that being that everyone is some level of “crazy,” it’s only the depth that varies.

Which is true, I guess, and the film is still worth a watch to see the amazing cinematography and listen to the music, but they could have been so much more subtle about the story and left something to actually discuss.

The Voice in the Head will be released on VOD on April 11th.
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