The Psychologist in Me And Movie Obsessions

I had such a lovely staycation recently. A lot of time was spent on social things, some spent on sleeping in, but I spent a good deal of time indulging in both my passion for music, and my equally strong passion for psychological movies. (Both old, or oldies.) Humor with psychology mixed in gets bonus points because I love to laugh.

I allowed myself plenty of relaxation time and felt luxurious to be in that place right now when so many others around me are still displaced, struggling, and too busy. It wasn’t so long ago that I was overly busy with every second accounted for in an overloaded life. I am appreciating where I am at right now.

The movies I choose to obsess over says a lot about me and my personality. I love psychology, and the study of human behavior – I have a master’s degree in it, and I use that degree every day in career and real life. I often analyze my own personality and behavior, especially when I become obsessive over things, which is often. So, of course, I love movies with a theme of obsession. There are so many old movies, good ones with this theme, most notably my top two movies of all time, Romeo and Juliet, and The Graduate. (Third is A Hard Day’s Night due to my BEATLES obsession at the time it was released.)

This vacation, I chose to enjoy Albert Brooks movies and Alfred Hitchcock movies – how is that for a quirky balance?

In my younger days, in the late seventies through part of the eighties, Albert Brooks was my hero and a big crush. I devoured everything by him because I simply loved his style of humor where he has these long streams of consciousness. (For the non-psychologists, that just means he expresses the thoughts -mostly very neurotic ones – that go through his mind.)

His neurosis was adorable to me, and in my crush, I wanted to fix him, love him, marry him, and have his babies who would be completely normal. (He was pretty cute too.)

I watched Real Life, his first film, then Modern Romance, his second, and Lost in America, his third film and I was absolutely charmed and fascinated all over again. It has been a while since I did this (more than 20 years) and they definitely stood the test of time for me. I was laughing out loud and when I wasn’t doing that I was tickled throughout.

Obsession is a large part of Brooks’ neurosis, so as I explained above, I love it.

Real Life was just absolutely brilliant in predicting future society. It was made in 1978 and was about REALITY filming – way before Reality TV took over our airwaves. (Should I blame Albert Brooks on the Real Housewives and Kardashian societal curses? Hmm, maybe.) It was his first film, so it has flaws, but it is brilliant nonetheless.

Modern Romance is about jealousy and obsessive love – a theme I adore in movies. It is just about the funniest, most clever depiction of a man in love and obsessed that I have ever seen, other than The Graduate.

Lost in America – don’t even get me started on how brilliant I find this film. I marvel at the way his craziness and lunacy is pure comedy and appreciate the psychological themes throughout. (ego, hidden addiction, manic personality!)

If you like quirky, funny, and neurotic played brilliantly, I highly recommend all three of the above.

My other obsession this staycation was Alfred Hitchcock. Now here is a man who explored just about every psychological deviance there could possibly be in the world, and he did so with utter style, and dare I use the word again, brilliance! I particularly love how he illustrates absolute evil among ordinary people among us; people you would least expect to be evil sometimes are the most sinister. He was a deviant himself, a very flawed sick man, and I have to find him a disgusting man due to that, yet his body of work is so entertaining, I have to compartmentalize in order to like these films. This is a case where you have to separate the art from the artist.

I will list some of the Hitchcock films I adore and could watch endlessly but don’t expect to find either Psycho, or The Birds on the list, as they are probably my two LEAST favorites, and yet they are the ones he is most commonly associated with. I will never watch either of those two again, because although I like suspenseful mysteries, I abhor HORROR movies, slasher movies, with lots of blood etc. I would say these two cross into horror pictures and I am not interested in those, particularly when he has so many others that I can watch and still find different clever nuances within each time I watch them. (Warning, this list is long.) Here is a list ranked by my top fave on down, though I love, love, love them all.

Rear Window – if I have to pick an absolute favorite, it is this one, only because Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart are phenomenal and though I know the plot well, I bite my nails every single time when things get hairy for them. There is absolute class, grace, and style in this suspense drama, that even has a bit of wry humor, yet the underlying premise is that there are creeps among us. That makes it frightening in a more insidious way. In this, Jimmy Stewart plays amateur psychologist and voyeur. I am also a fervent people watcher and do the same thing often. (That’s how I lasted so long working at baseball games in the past – full seasons. When the games got boring, I would study people.) He becomes obsessed with a crime that he did not actually witness, but he puts pieces of the puzzle together through his voyeurism. It is really terrifically clever, and unique.

Vertigo and Marnie are tied for second.

Vertigo is about a love obsession and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) that also gives Jimmy Stewart terrible vertigo. He is set up to witness a murder that was supposed to look like a suicide, and then he has to solve the crime. This one is about to be released in movie theaters again in January because it is that good and deserves it, much like The Graduate last year. (I am not crazy about Kim Novack as the female lead as I feel she is a bit stiff, but Jimmy Stewart is at his finest.)

Marnie, which I think is not known much at all, but lately has gotten some deep respect, is a psychological field day of material. It’s about a very psychologically tortured woman, also with PTSD, who becomes a frigid kleptomaniac, and a man who becomes obsessed with her. How many other movies can you describe this way? Absolutely NONE, and that is why I love it. In fact, in character, Sean Connery takes to studying psychology to understand this poor sick woman, played by Tippi Hedren. Although it was initially underrated, it has become one that people consider one of Hitchcock’s most complicated and best work, and I would have to agree it is right up there for me. Just when you cannot any longer bear the torture this woman goes through, it all seems to get resolved at the end.

Next, third on my list would be Dial M for Murder. I just love Grace Kelly in these Hitchcock movies, as she adds such style to the films. This is about an ordinary husband and wife, and the sinister plot that unfolds is a real whodunnit and very suspenseful. Out of seemingly nowhere, a real creep and evil person arises.

I have seen all of the above ten or more times, and adore watching them each time. The others I list below I have also seen numerous times, and I never ever get tired of any of them.

After these, I have a whole list of ones I love – The Man Who Knew Too Much, (Doris Day!) To Catch a Thief, (again Grace Kelly! Cary Grant!) Same era, same elegance.

North by Northwest, (Cary Grant!) Where else would you find attempted murder by a cropduster?

Shadow of a Doubt, (when you adore and worship a serial killer!)

Strangers on a Train, The Trouble with Harry, (actually a comedy of sorts)

Spellbound, Notorious, (both Ingrid Bergman!) (creepy Nazis!)

and Rebecca, which is beautiful in its simplicity of an increasingly paranoid woman.

I know I mention the women, but Cary Grant! Jimmy Stewart! I love the acting in these and I love the style of these films- I cannot say that enough. The suspense always builds perfectly, and the endings are usually quite satisfactory – two requirements for me to like a movie.

You can’t go wrong with any of the above, and I watch them every time they are on TV, usually on Turner Classic Movies. Hitchcock marathons are happy days in my household.

I hope if you get the chance, and you are a movie buff of sorts, you will watch any of the above when they come on TV or you can Amazon rent them.  Now let’s hear your thoughts!



  • You can’t go wrong with these films, but I’m sorry you don’t appreciate The Birds, which I think is also first rate. I have taught Vertigo, The Birds, and Rear Window a number of times in college composition courses. The students were always mesmerized.

  • Holiday breaks are the absolute best!! Unless, of course, like me you experienced a Verizon black out for 35 hrs (but who’s counting). Did you know that Vertigo is considered the number one best drama of the century? And I know why – it takes you for an incredible ride from the first few seconds till the final scene which still sends chills down my spine. Here’s my top Hitchcock favs: North by Northwest (Eva Marie Saint was devine), Strangers on a Train, Shadow of a Doubt, Vertigo, and Rear Window. What makes me adore Hitchcock movies? Aside from the obvious, I still remember exactly how I felt viewing them as a child.

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