Qualitative Analysis of Films: Cultural Processes in the Mirror of Film

  • Gloria Dahl Universität zu Köln
Keywords: morphological analysis of films, psychology of culture, development of complexes, type of transformation, constraint and freedom, ambivalence, paranoia


A special qualitative psychological analysis of movies developed by Wilhelm SALBER is practiced at the Psychological Institute of the University of Cologne for more than 40 years. This kind of film-analysis does not have an end in itself, but also aids as access to research cultural structures. In this respect movies are seismographs of cultural trends expressing general visions and images of future development. They indicate as well the status of society in its genesis and complexity as developmental perspectives, providing information about crisis, narrowing scope of action and its immanent self-healing power. Comparable to the process of dream-interpretation, the "manifest" film narration is expanded with the associations and in-depth descriptions of the audience in order to reconstruct the latent "Komplexentwicklung," the development of psychological lines. Suspense and spellbound is based on activating a meaningful transformational experience—only movies stimulate such a process which touch the heart of the viewers. The psychological analysis works out the morphological dramaturgy of the film-experience, which is shaped into a specific dynamic figure. Paradox insoluble problem-constellations are the driving forces in this moving process. The mere examination of the screenplay or the film-story does not take into consideration that the audience is always part of the scene. Viewers modify the story in a characteristic way while they are watching it—according to the dynamic of the psychological process they are going through. A combination of joining in and maintaining an observing distance—as in therapy, in advertising or in education—is an integral part of this interplay. Because the significant factors work unconsciously, it is necessary to apply a specific qualitative method in order to be able to grasp this. Short exemplary analyses of the movies The Piano, Fight Club, Dogville, Punch-Drunk Love, Catch Me If You Can, The Hours, City of God, Hero (Ying xiong) and Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi, Chihiros Reise ins Zauberland) provide an overview of the procedure and demonstrate how qualitative film-analysis contribute in understanding the cultural processes. An exemplary insight into the work with fairy tale constructions is also provided. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0402271


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Author Biography

Gloria Dahl, Universität zu Köln
Dr. Gloria DAHL, Diplom-Psychologin. Seit 1982 als Psychotherapeutin und Supervisorin, auch in der Marktforschung und Unternehmensberatung, tätig. Seit 1983 am Psychologischen Institut der Universität zu Köln tätig, bis 1988 als wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin, danach mit Lehrauftrag und als Dozentin, Supervisorin und Lehrbehandlerin im Rahmen der universitären Psychotherapie-Ausbildung in Analytischer Intensivberatung. Arbeitschwerpunkt: Klinische Psychologie, Kunst- und Medienpsychologie, Traumdeutung, Entwicklungspsychologie.
How to Cite
Dahl, G. (2004). Qualitative Analysis of Films: Cultural Processes in the Mirror of Film. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 5(2). https://doi.org/10.17169/fqs-5.2.593