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Lancet Neurol. 2003 Dec;2(12):764-70.

Epilepsy at the movies: possession to presidential assassination.

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Institute of Neurology, UCL, London, UK.


In this review I examine the portrayal of epilepsy, seizures, and non-epileptic attack disorder in 62 movies produced over three-quarters of a century, across four continents, covering nine cinematic genres. While similar reviews of epilepsy in literature have suggested a progression in the understanding of epilepsy over time, this survey of the newer medium found examples of all of the ancient beliefs about epilepsy including demonic or divine possession, genius, lunacy, delinquency, and general "otherness". Nevertheless there has been a progressive trend towards more overt depictions of epilepsy. Male characters with idiopathic epilepsy tend to be mad, bad, and commonly dangerous, whereas characters with post-traumatic epilepsy are usually cast as heroes triumphing against the odds. Epilepsy in female characters tends to signify exotic vulnerability. The dramatic potential of seizures remains highly tempting to film writers and directors alike. Although it is not for the medical profession to dictate or censor cinematic content, a keen eye on these depictions will help us to understand and perhaps combat some of the stereotypes and myths that continue to surround epilepsy in the 21st century.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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