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Epilepsia. 1999 Aug;40(8):1163-7.

The depiction of seizures in film.

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  • 1Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA.



The purpose was to describe the depiction of epilepsy in English language film.


The list of films, developed by consulting several databases, film scholars, and neurologists, includes every film suggested by any source. By using the saturation techniques of grounded theory, names of films were sought until no new names were received. All films were reviewed by an experienced board-certified neurologist.


Seizures were depicted in 20 films. Generally, seizures are used in film to develop narrative or enrich character. They serve four functions: (a) a principal character has epilepsy; thus the condition is critical to character and narrative; (b) a seizure is used to drive the narrative; (c) a seizure is used to enrich a minor role; and (d) a seizure is feigned to distract attention from another activity.


Conclusions can be drawn in four areas: character, accuracy of depiction, roles and responses of onlookers, and the place of epilepsy in the films: (a) Epilepsy is one dimension linked with other aspects of an individual to enrich character; (b) Seizures are depicted fairly accurately, but their frequent representation as uncontrollable and violent is exaggerated and out of date; (c) In the films, the onlookers' responses range from fear to taking correct measures; and (d) The presence of epilepsy is never arbitrary, but the function varies. Overall, the view of epilepsy conveyed in film continues to be distorted, sensationalized, and presented in the most frightening ways.

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