Suicide Movies

Social Patterns 1900-2009

by Steven Stack, Barbara Bowman

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Suicide Movies (PDF)
ISBN: 9781616763909
1st edition 2012, x/298 pages + numerous frame grabs
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Print edition
Suicide Movies
ISBN: 9780889373907
1st edition 2012, x/298 pages + numerous frame grabs
Excluding tax
Suicide Movies

How is suicide portrayed in the cinema and what does it mean for suicide prevention? The first-ever comprehensive study of film suicide analyzes more than 1,500 film suicides.

The portrayal of suicide in cinema can impact public understanding and effective prevention of suicide. This book presents the first-ever comprehensive analysis of how suicide has been portrayed in films over 110 years, based on a thorough evaluation of more than 1,500 film suicides – 1,377 in American films, 135 in British films.

One striking finding is that while the research literature generally attributes suicide to individual psychiatric or mental health issues, cinema and film solidly endorse more social causes.

In a compelling blend of social science and humanities approaches, the authors use quantitative methods, as well as the voices of scriptwriters, directors, actors, and actresses, dozens of illustrative frame-grabs, and numerous case examples to answer core questions such as: Are we guilty of over-neglecting social factors in suicide prevention and research? Do cinematic portrayals distort or accurately reflect the nature of suicide in the real world? Has film presentation of suicide changed over 110 years? What are the literary roots of cinema portrayals?

This unique book makes fascinating reading for all concerned with suicide prevention, as well as areas such as sociology, film and media studies, and mass communication.

From the reviews

"[A]t every opportunity, research about real-life trends in suicide is laid next to artistic trends seen in films. This often leads the reader to insightful (and well-supported) conclusions about how social perceptions of suicide either enhance or diverge from the real world facts."[T]his book [is] a compelling read for lovers of the arts, and data junkies alike (and for those of us who are both) [and] is guaranteed to have something new and insight provoking for both people who are new to Suicidology as a field, and those who have been contributing to it for years."
April Foreman, PhD, in AAS (, July 2015

"[T]he authors provide their readers with a fascinating historical account of dominant cultural representations of suicide within the American cinema. ... made all the more interesting through the inclusion of still frame images and annotations from hundreds of movies depicting suicide over the past 100 years. Throughout the book the authors raise several interesting and important questions about the motivations for suicide throughout history as represented in films and literature. This book will appeal to students, social science scholars, suicidologists and cinephiles."
Jennifer White, University of Victoria, in Social Forces, Febr. 2015

"As an original and comprehensive analysis ..., this book serves as a marvelous resource for those working with suicide prevention, cultural researches or anyone who loves film. ... Suicide is an incredibly complex subject, and the insights provided by this careful work are definitely welcome."
Julio Xerfan, Institute of Psychiatry, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in International Journal of Social Psychiatry, Vol. 59, 2013

"[A] very interesting book. The research concept was that films can give a more complex and psychologically more realistic picture of patterns of suicide motives than mainstream research, which is usually reductionistic and generally looks for individualcausal factors that can be approached empirically. The book opens up new vistas and will have a pivotal influence on further studies of movies."
Béla Buda, MD, Psychiatrist, in Crisis, vol. 34, 2013

"The authors clearly have a passion and interest for both cinema and the social factors associated with suicide. [...] For the suicide researcher or for those with a passion for film, the book is a very nice, and remarkably thorough, resource."
Timothy W. Lineberry, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, in Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 1/2012

Praise for the book

"This book sheds light on the complexity of suicidal behavior, and although the study covers decades of film, the analysis is fine-grained using the best research approaches. The researchers are sensitive to how film distorts rather than mirrors the phenomenon. They successfully pull off a massive undertaking: the detailed analysis of 1,273 movies containing over 1,500 suicides, spanning the entire 20th century and into the 21st."
Thomas Joiner, PhD, Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL Editor of Suicide & Life-Threatening Behavior

"As Steven Stack and Barbara Bowman note, almost all of us love movies, and this book provides a fascinating analysis of the way in which movies have depicted suicide over the last 100 years. Who knew that there were over one thousand movies that portrayed suicides? But not only does this book intrigue us with the stories (and I loved the frames from the movies), but Stack and Bowman show that this topic has important social implications. Does society shape the way in which suicide is portrayed in the movies or do the movies shape our attitudes toward suicide, our lay theories of suicide, and even our own suicidal behavior? It is rare that a scholarly book is a "page-turner," but I loved reading Stack and Bowman's thoughts on the suicides in movies that I had seen. This book is a "must buy" for movie buffs and scholars."
David Lester, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, Pomona, NJ

"This is a superb work, able to capture the reader in a web of brilliantly structured information. Scientific rigour and completeness are stunning characteristics of the book, which is a ‘must read’ for both suicidologists and laypeople."
Diego De Leo, MD, PhD, DSc, FRANZCP, Director of Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention and Past President of the International Association for Suicide Prevention

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