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Portrayal of Schizophrenia in Clean, Shaven

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 1719 words Published: 11th Apr 2018

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  • Elizabeth Davis


Media portrayals of mental disorders often provide the only contact one may have on the topic.

Because of this, filmmakers have a duty to accurately portray the disorders. Clean, Shaven provides first-hand look into the frightening symptoms of schizophrenia in an attempt to humanize the disorder and admonishes society for false presuppositions based upon those suffering from mental disorders (Lim, 2006; Owen, 2012).

Portrayal of Schizophrenia in Clean, Shaven

In Clean, Shaven, Lodge Kerrigan attempts to place the viewer in the mind of Peter Winter, a schizophrenic recently released from a mental institution, through the use of strange camera angles and a bizarre, glaring soundtrack (Byrne & Kerrigan, 1993). The film seeks to humanize the day-to-day struggles of life dealing with the symptoms of schizophrenia, such as auditory and visual hallucinations. One of Winter’s auditory hallucinations fits especially well with this theme: “For you it’s paranoia. For me it’s a reality” (Byrne & Kerrigan, 1993). In addition, the film comments on society’s discrimination against mental illness by allowing the viewer to falsely assume Winter murders a young girl (Byrne & Kerrigan, 1993).

Symptoms and Diagnosis

According to the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia, one must exhibit at least two of the five active symptoms: delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior, and negative symptoms (Oltmanns & Emery, 2015). Additionally, at least one of the symptoms must be one of the first three (delusions, hallucinations, and/or disorganized speech) and must occur for at least one month (Oltmanns & Emery, 2015). Clean, Shaven only provides a brief glimpse into Peter Winter’s life, however during this time, he does exhibit both delusions and hallucinations, as well as catatonic behavior and inappropriate affect (Byrne & Kerrigan, 1993). Winter suffers from delusions that during his commitment to a mental institution he underwent a surgery to implant a radio transmitter in his finger and a receiver in his head (Byrne & Kerrigan, 1993). In two separate scenes, Winter attempts to remove both the transmitter and the receiver, speaking to the persistence of the delusions (Byrne & Kerrigan, 1993). Additionally, Winter suffers from both visual and auditory hallucinations, the latter of which he believes originate from the transmitter in his finger (Byrne & Kerrigan, 1993). According to Oltmanns and Emery (2015), catatonic behavior may be expressed through excited and over-activity, such as pacing or repetitious movements. Repetitious movements appear at several times throughout the film, especially in times Winter is exceptionally stressed, such as in a scene in which he repeatedly bangs a card catalogue in a library (Byrne & Kerrigan, 1993). Winter also exhibits inappropriate affect. Upon reuniting with his daughter who was placed for adoption when Winter was committed, Winter expresses increasing agitation instead of happiness (Byrne & Kerrigan, 1993).

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The DSM-5 enumerates additional criteria for diagnosis. The B-level criterion addresses the level of dysfunction in major areas of life, such as self-care, work, and interpersonal relationships (Oltmanns & Emery, 2015). Because Winter has spent an unknown quantity of time in a mental institution and is just being released in the beginning of the film, his job performance cannot be analyzed, however, the viewer will note a steady decline in personal grooming throughout the film (Byrne & Kerrigan, 1993). In the beginning, Winter exhibits fastidious grooming habits, keeping his clothes meticulous and his hair neatly trimmed (Byrne & Kerrigan, 1993). During a shower scene, Winter is seen scrubbing down with steel wool, suggesting a compulsive aspect to his hygiene habits (Byrne & Kerrigan, 1993). Towards the end of the film, Winter becomes markedly disheveled (Byrne & Kerrigan, 1993). An interaction with his mother reveals strained interpersonal relations (Byrne & Kerrigan, 1993). The remaining diagnostic criteria were not addressed in the film due to the limited dialogue and the time constraints of the film. However, judging by the age of Winter’s daughter and comments on the onset of the symptoms made by his mother, it can be inferred that his symptoms have persisted for a time period exceeding the necessary six months. The quality and duration of symptoms along with the level of dysfunction confirm the diagnosis claim of schizophrenia.

Causes of Schizophrenia

According to Oltmanns and Emery (2015), the interaction of both biological and environmental factors combine to cause schizophrenia. A wealth of data supports a physiological and genetic component to schizophrenia, based upon brain scans showing structural abnormalities and evidence of neurotransmitter dysfunction (Oltmanns & Emery, 2015). However, this evidence only supports a predisposition to the disorder that may remain dormant until an environmental factor triggers the expression (Oltmanns & Emery, 2015). Oltmanns and Emery (2015) state environmental triggers include complications during pregnancy or birth, maternal malnutrition, certain viral infections.

A correlation between schizophrenia and various social factors has also been found. For example, the highest concentration of schizophrenia occurs amongst those with the lowest socioeconomic statuses (Oltmanns & Emery, 2015). According to Oltmanns and Emery (2015), two theories exist to explain this phenomenon: social causation, in which the status causes the disorder, and social selection, in which the disorder forces the status. Additionally, higher rates of schizophrenia occur in those who immigrate from another country, perhaps causing social adversity that triggers the disorder (Oltmanns & Emery, 2015).

It is unclear what combination of factors caused Peter Winter’s disorder. His mother mentions that as a child he had a strong attachment to a neighbor’s dog and became despondent and uninterested in enjoyable activities when the dog passed away (Byrne & Kerrigan, 1993). Additionally, she mentions that he dropped out of college after only a few months, lost 20 pounds, and cut contact with the family, which is within the typical age of onset (15-35 years of age) for schizophrenia (Byrne & Kerrigan, 1993). Judging from setting elements in the film, such as the fishing industry and farm houses, Winter lived in a predominantly working class town, which supports the social causation hypothesis (Byrne & Kerrigan, 1993).

Media Messages on Schizophrenia and Mental Health

Filmmakers, when representing a mental disorder, have a moral obligation to accurately portray that mental disorder. According to Owen (2012), many cinematic depictions are based upon misinformation. In her analysis of 42 film characters, Owen (2012) found all depictions of schizophrenics carried some form of incorrect information. For example, 79 percent of these characters were male, a much higher rate than in actual occurrence (Owen, 2012). Additionally, 95 percent were Caucasian, whereas schizophrenia occurs at a much higher rate with African-Americans (Owen, 2012). Byrne and Kerrigan (1993) are guilty of dissemination both of those inaccurate depictions in Clean, Shaven. Owen (2012) found that while Clean, Shaven did rely on some inaccuracies, they were “inconsequential and did not detract from an overall accurate and compelling portrayal of schizophrenia” and praised the film for providing a “realistic and sympathetic representation… [of the] day-to-day struggles to cope with symptoms.”

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Of additional note, Kerrigan allows the audience to formulate presuppositions about Peter Winter’s guilt. In the opening scene, Winter sits in his car as a girl bounces a soccer ball against the windshield. Startled by the sound and frightened by the glare she gives him, Peter steps out of the car and walks off out of camera range. Next the viewer hears loud bangs and a girl screaming, then Winter gets back in the car with a large item wrapped in orange plastic bags. In a later scene, Detective Jack McNally is called on a case of the murder of a girl who looks similar to the girl with the soccer ball. Throughout the movie, McNally, and the audience as well, believes Winter murdered the girl, however he is unable to find any conclusive evidence. In a final scene, McNally rips open the orange plastic to find nothing but newspapers. This interplay comments on society’s false notions that the mentally ill are much more likely to commit violent acts (Oltmanns & Emery, 2015; Owen, 2012). The viewer is left questioning whether the sounds of violence from the beginning were just another of Winter’s auditory hallucinations.

In conclusion, Clean, Shaven provides a unique, sympathetic view into the life of someone suffering with schizophrenia. Byrne and Kerrigan (1993) portray auditory and visual hallucinations realistically and in a way that the viewer experiences them as if his own, providing more understanding for the development of the delusions.


Byrne, J. D. (Producer), & Kerrigan, L. (Director). (1993).Clean, Shaven[Motion picture].

United States of America: DSM III Films.

Lim, D. (2006). Clean, Shaven: Inside man. The Criterion Collection. Retrieved from


Oltmanns, T. F. & Emery, R. E. (2015). Abnormal psychology (8th Ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Owen, P. R. (2012). Portrayals of schizophrenia by entertainment media: A content analysis of

contemporary movies. Psychiatric Services, 63(7), 655-659.

doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.201100371


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