Sample English Paper on Psychoanalysis to Zombie Movie

Psychoanalysis to Zombie Movie

Movie goers at times find dialogue hard to impress people, but they are easily impressed by visual images. Some visual images naturally provide viewers with a variety of psychological effects. To give significant messages in the film, the author must depict the visual images that allow the spectators to have a better glimpse of the film. According to Hughes, the “film has proved particularly amenable to psychoanalytic interpretation” (179).  The thesis idea of this work is that a psychoanalytic view of the visual images in the film I am a Legend is fitting as it reveals an emphasis on isolation, human and zombie characters, and symbolism, thereby enabling the spectators  to understand and interpret the effect of visual images on them better.

Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud are two of the foremost proponents of the psychoanalysis theory who have offered their explanations as to why horror fiction is quite popular among the masses. Freud views horror as a depiction of the “uncanny” feelings and thoughts that keeps on re-occurring in an individual, and that have remained inhibited by the ego, even as they appear somewhat obscurely familiar to an individual. In contrast, Jung contends that the reason why horror gained popularity is because it touched on significant primordial or archetypes images that he believed resided in the individual’s collective unconscious.  Those who prescribe to Jung’s position in regards to horror fiction are of the view majority of the works of fiction in existence contains most of the analytic concepts such as mother, animus/animal and shadow archetypes.  In the case of film, I am a Legend, the presence of the mannequins can be likened to the existence of shadow archetypes that Jung and his school of thought talks about.

The visual image in the film, I am a Legend, has emphasized the sense of isolation because the protagonist has used a metaphor for mannequins in order to keep humanity. Metaphors entail attributing human features and characters to non-human objects. Specifically, film has emerged as a powerful way of structuring not just the looks between spectators and the film’s protagonists, but also between its protagonists. The Lacanian and Freudian forms of psychoanalysis maintain that visuality is a key aspect to subjectivity and on the strength of this argument; people can infer that film can have a powerful influence on people’s sense of self, not to mention that psychoanalysis is a powerful tool in as far as the interpretation of visual images in films is concerned.

In this movie, the image below is the scene that the protagonist uses the metaphor to the mannequin as a symbol of human beings. Neville says to the mannequin, “Good morning, how are you doing today?” This simple dialogue obviously signifies that Neville treats the mannequin as a human being in order to minimize the isolation that he has to confront throughout the movie, being that he is the only surviving human being on the planet who has not been infected by the mutating virus. It seems that this eccentric behavior is essentially the only way in which Neville can maintain humanity and dissolve his anxiety, fears, and depression in an otherwise destructive society. More importantly, Neville uses outfits of the mannequin in order to increase humanity, especially the cap that the mannequin has been wearing. From a psychological point of view, it turns out that human beings are likely to feel revulsion to the humanoid objects at certain point which is called “uncanny valley”.

In the article, “Robots, the ‘uncanny valley’ and learning to love the alien,” George Zarkadakis, who is a science writer and novelist, asserts that “As with the uncanny valley, Capgras patients receive conflicting information from two neural pathways.  The person whom they see in front of them is recognized by their temporal cortex as their father, say, but their limbic system does not signal the familiar emotional response” (Zarkadakis 1). This argument supports the view that people tend to feel unsympathetic to the objectified humans when they see the face directly. From this standpoint, it might be possible that Neville used the cap to avoid the revulsion of having to look at the mannequin’s face.


The protagonist has faced the psychological instinct in the scene of zombies attack because he is depicted as a character who is obsessed with desires. In this particular scene, the protagonist attempts to slaughter a herd of zombies using the same truck that he had used before to make announcements to the survivors. In this scene, he is mostly driven by the Id, which is the main part component of our personality that derives pleasure in human beings. In fact, Neville had suddenly taken an aggressive behavior by killing the zombies with his truck. In the article, “Death and Dying”, Robert Kastenbaum emphasizes that “all living creatures have an instinct, drive, or impulse to return to the inorganic state from which they emerged. This todtriebe (drive toward death) is active not only in every creature, great or small, but also in every cell of every organism” (Kastenbaum 1). The author points out that all human beings initially have death instinct and this instinct functions inside all human beings on a small scale, and no living creature can avoid escaping from the death drive instinct. In the case of Neville, he literally lost himself after he killed Sam, his beloved dog, after she was infected by the virus. Sam’s death had a hand in the insane manner in which Neville acted.  When do people feel the instincts of death? We could take an example of the case that there is a high tendency for American soldiers who have returned back from the war to commit suicide. In the article, “Why Do People Commit Suicide”, Joachim Vogt Isaksen concludes that “suicide is more likely to occur when the social ties that bind people to one another in a society are either too weak or too strong” (Joachim 1). That means many people tend to commit suicide when they feel lonely and anxious.


At the end of the movie, I am a Legend, the author finally shows the significant messages that he intended to emphasize through the use of two different races of characters, human and zombies. This leads the viewers to imagine and easily reflect on the real world. The visual image below shows that Neville and zombies are depicted as different races. In the dialogue of this scene, the protagonist insists to the zombies that “ You are sick. I can help you. I can help you.” This simple significant message from the protagonist reinforces the main messages of this movie which are expressed in two different perspectives. At first sight, this message seems to be merciful and assistive for humans. However, Neville is the one who has threaten their community. In the perspective of zombies, however, this dialogue has completely changed the meaning given that Neville has been hunting many zombies as the target of experiment for new drug tests. In reality, this visual image matches the situation in which the United States has been intervening on behalf of other countries in the name of democracy and freedom. In other words, the author has reflected the conflict of racial issues by depicting two different contractions.

There is no doubt that Zombie films such as I am a Legend conjures images of fear and anxiety in the mind of the viewer. However, from a psychoanalysis perspective, the characters in these Zombie films are highly symbolic. Based on Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, horror fiction and its attendant characters could symbolize our hitherto repressed sexual desires, our constant battle to control the insatiable Id, or the threat that we could face in the form of disapproval by society. In his essay, ‘das Unheimliche’ which translates to ‘the uncanny’, Freud contends that an uncanny event happens ‘either when infantile complexes which have been repressed are once more revived by some impression, or when primitive beliefs which have been surmounted seem once more to be confirmed’ (Freud 231). In the same way, we could view such films as I am a Legend as triggering our safety valve as regards our fears and raging passions. Even as there could be a modicum of truth in this idea, many readers are likely to view psychoanalytic interpretations as being somewhat far-fetched. For example, Barbara Creed (as cited by Tudor 446) maintains that the ubiquity of blood in horror movies, and more so that of bleeding women, portrays castration anxiety. David Gilmore (as cited by Classen 115) views the copiousness of teeth in the gaping mouths of monsters as a symbol of the oral-aggressive phase of man’s psychosexual development. Elsewhere, Elaine Showater (as cited by Clasen  117) views Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as a depiction of the homosexual panic that had gripped the society in England at the turn-of-the century, and the ‘chocolate-brown fog’ ideation in the novel as a depiction of anal sex.

One of the problems with analyzing horror films from a psychoanalytical point of view has to do with the fact that analyzing behavior based on this concept will likely lead to a high level of in-precision, thereby rendering such theories hard if not downright impossible, to conduct emphirical testing. For this reason, this form of film analysis could be regarded as being weak, especially where empirical research is required.


While there is no wrong or right approach to interpreting a visual image, psychoanalytic critics have found psychoanalytic concepts as a useful tool for either re-articulating or articulating their view of a particular image. In this case, the use of psychoanalytic interpretation of films aids in structuring looking of the protagonist and the spectators, as well as the film’s protagonists themselves. In the film, I am a Legend, the use of psychoanalytic interpretation of the visual images enables the spectators to have a better view and understanding of the film. Specifically, the protagonists emphasize the idea of isolation through the use of mannequin as a metaphor. This is also meant to give the film a human touch. Neville speaks to and treats the mannequins as one would treat another human being, even reasoning with them. While this film definitely evokes feelings of fear and anxiety among the spectators, this is not too far removed from the elements of horror films. Freud and other advocates of the psychoanalytic theory argue that horror fiction is a depiction of our repressed desires and the inability to control our personalities, especially the Id.


Works Cited

Clasen, Mathias. “The horror! The horror! “ The Evolutionary Review, 1 (2010): 112-119.

Freud, Sigmund. The uncanny. In J. Strachey (Ed.) Standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud (pp.219–256). London: Hogarth Press, 1955. Print.

Hughes, Jason. SAGE Visual Methods. New York: SAGE Publications, 2012. Print.

Kastenbaum, Robert. Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying: L-Z. Detroit, Michigan: Macmillan Reference USA, 2003. Print.

Isaksen, Joachim. Why Do People Commit Suicide? August 13, 2013. Web. 19 March 2013.


Tudor, Andrew. “ Why horror? The peculiar pleasures of a popular genre.” Cultural Studies,

11.3(1997): 443-463.

Zarkadakis, George. Robots, the ‘uncanny valley’ and learning to love the alien. November 25, 2013. Web. 18 March 2014. <>.