Gaslighting, the Gothic and...

by Fiona Underhill

There has been a recent trend in film that has started to crop up more and more, featuring a theme that has become a buzzword of recent times: Gaslighting. Since the ‘Me Too’ and ‘Time’s Up’ movements have become such huge stories in the news and media, this term has been bandied about frequently. Another reason it is cropping up so much is that we are in an age of distrust, ‘fake news’, propaganda and the dissemination of lies to create a narrative – and this is being done by people who have power and control. This means that there have been more films which show multiple perspectives of the same event and which make us question versions of historical or true events which we have been fed. The term Gaslight comes from two films from the 1940s; one lesser-known (but perhaps better) version from 1940 directed by Thorold Dickinson and one which was more high-profile from 1944, starring Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotton and Angela Lansbury and directed by George Cukor. Both feature husbands trying to conceal criminal activity from their wives and in doing so, make their wives believe they are mad so that their suspicions are doubted not only by others, but by the women themselves. Gaslighting is a well-known technique used by abusers to make victims question whether they are, in fact, being manipulated and controlled. It turns the focus and blame away from the abuser to the abused – it is their actions which are questioned - “look what you made me do” unfortunately being a classic example. This theme has started to reoccur in cinema today, preceding and perhaps foreshadowing the #MeToo movement and continuing through this new era we find ourselves in, because this time, it is the women who have the control.

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