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Five Hollywood films that trace stories of emotional abuse

In the pandemonium about rape and physical domestic violence, emotional abuse in intimate relationships often gets trivialised.

 |  3-minute read |   11-02-2015
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It has always baffled me that often, in relationships, when one partner patronises another, blames the other for his or her faults, keeps tabs on the other's activities, or tries to get their way by playing the "victim card", the behaviour is passed off as "a tiff" or something "normal". Shouldn't mutual trust and respect be the foundation of a healthy relationship?

In the pandemonium about rape and physical domestic violence, emotional abuse in intimate relationships gets trivialised. Especially today, in India, when sexual assault has everyone's attention. Awareness about it may be relatively scant, but emotional abuse can cause depression, anxiety and even post traumatic stress disorder in its targets. Mind control, manipulation, and other forms of deception count as psychological abuse.

Here are five Hollywood films that have explored the subject in their own unique ways:

1.) Gaslight (1944)

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The Ingrid Bergman starrer lent its name to what psychologists now consider a common type of abuse, where information is intentionally manipulated to make the victim doubt his or her own perception. In the film, Bergman's husband, Charles Boyer, lures her into marriage and deliberately creates circumstances to try and convince her that she is losing her sanity. He tells her that the things she sees are a figment of her imagination. His motive is to have her certified as crazy, and institutionalised, so that he can search her house for her aunt's jewels, who he had murdered before the marriage.

2.) Two Can Play That Game (2001)

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Mark Brown's romantic comedy starring Vivica A Fox and Morris Chestnut shows the two in relationship in which, at a point, both believe they know all the tricks that the other gender plays. Fox hands out relationship advice for a living and Chestnut is an attorney, misled by a friend of his. What ensues is a painful battle of mind games (from playing hard-to-get to making the other jealous) that brings their relationship to the verge of breaking off, although the two eventually end up together.

3.) Dot the i (2003)

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Natalia Verbeke, on her hen night, is told as part of a custom to kiss any one stranger she fancies, before finally tying the knot. She chooses Gael García Bernal, and they end up falling in love. However, it is later revealed that Bernal had actually been hired by Verbeke's fiance in the film, James D'Arcy, to deceive her and create an "emotional snuff film" (a film that portrays the actual murder of one of its actors). The story is convoluted to the extent that D'Arcy is the one who fakes a suicide after he marries her, on the pretext that she will never love him as much as she loves Bernal.

4.) Rebecca (1940)

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Directed by Alfred Hitchkcock, the film traces the story of a young Joan Fontaine who marries Laurence Olivier. Olivier's housekeeper, played by Judith Anderson, is overbearing and still in awe of his ex-wife, " Rebecca" who is no longer alive. She even treats Rebecca's former bedroom like a shrine. Fontaine's character is overwhelmed by all of this and slowly begins to feel inferior. It ends with a symbolism in which the housekeeper dies in a house fire and Rebecca's memory is erased for good, and the new wife manages to retain her sense of self.

5.) Gone Girl (2014)

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A gorgeous and popular Rosamund Pike is married to an awkward Ben Affleck. When she discovers that her husband is being unfaithful to her, she is infuriated and decides to seek revenge by framing him for her own murder. She goes to the extent of faking a pregnancy, changes her name and appearance, and goes into hiding. In an effort to plead his innocence and bring Pike back, Affleck appears on television and tries to woo her with promises of being a good partner. She returns, having conned another man (her ex-boyfriend) so that he becomes the suspect, instead of Affleck.

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Vritti Bansal Vritti Bansal @vrittibansal

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