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Art is considered both a mirror to reality and a means of critiquing society. This is especially evident through contemporary filmmakers’ use of dissociative identity disorder (DID) in psychological thrillers from the 1990s to 2012, which is a time frame in which both film and society were notably different from those of the previous decades and in which there has not been extensive cultural study regarding DID. Through the presence of multiple selves, which is characteristic of DID, filmmakers illustrate their main characters’ attempts to resolve a stressful, or traumatic, situation. This study is an examination of the ways in which the main characters of Primal Fear (1996), Fight Club (1999), Black Swan (2010), and Silent House (2011) use DID to cope with pervasive and debilitating gender role expectations. For men, there is an increasing cultural call to act in accordance with the feminine traits of sensitivity and submission, which are contradictory to the masculine roles of being macho and independent. For women, there is a cultural call to continue to adhere to the traditional roles of being submissive, to allow themselves to be repressed by men, and to be bound by being caretakers. While the men in these films struggle to reassert their traditional, masculine roles of machismo and independence in the wake of a feminizing society, the women struggle to break away from traditional gender roles in order to become more like men, which conflict with the submissive roles that they are also forced to play. In essence, through this conflicting dichotomy of gender roles that both sexes are forced to play, the characters become fractured and beaten by these debilitating cultural expectations.

Publication Date


Subject Major(s)

Film Studies, Psychology

Current Academic Year


Faculty Advisor/Mentor

Mary Boyes


Virginia Commonwealth University. Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program

Is Part Of

VCU Undergraduate Research Posters


© The Author(s)

Analysis of Prescribed Gender Roles through the Use of Dissociative Identity Disorder in Contemporary Film