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Hypnosis in Literature and Film


If you know of something that should be on this list but isn't, please send your entry to John Kihlstrom.  Entries not written by him are signed by their respective contributors.


Literary and Genre Fiction

The "Harry Bosch" Series by Michael Connelly.  Harry Bosch is a veteran detective in Los Angeles who was among the last of those trained in hypnosis when LA was training police to do hypnosis, a controversial project that was terminated. However, Harry remembers his training, and in a few of the novels there are discussions of the pros and cons of using hypnosis in particular cases. One novel includes a hypnotic interview, and another demonstrates that Harry is able to slip yes-set and hypnotic patters into his interview style at times, trying to avoid actual hypnosis. After first happening upon an intelligent mention of hypnosis in one of his books, I read every one of his novels and took notes -- the most enjoyable research I have ever done. After many requests - all right, I begged and told his people that I was confident Connelly had had contact with LA's hypnosis-trained detectives -- I was able to get some questions to Connelly and some answers in return. As a crime reporter, he knew some of the hypnosis-trained detectives, almost all now retired. It is not clear whether he studied transcripts or witnessed demonstrations -- Connelly is very reticent and protective of his sources -- but he acknowledged through his people that he had been privy to discussions of hypnosis involving that cohort of hypnosis-trained detectives. He appreciated my interest, but declined a more extensive conversation. He explained that he makes a point of never revisiting or discussing his old novels -- his vision is always toward the current and the next project.  [RPK]

Death By Suggestion: An Anthology of 19th and Early 20th-Century Tales of Hypnotically Induced Murder, Suicide, and Accidental Death (2018) edited by Donald K. Hartman -- the first volume in a series, "Hypnotism in Victorian and Edwardian Era Fiction".  From the book's Amazon webpage: Death by Suggestion gathers together twenty-two short stories from the 19th and early 20th century where hypnotism is used to cause death -- either intentionally or by accident. Revenge is a motive for many of the stories, but this anthology also contains tales where characters die because they have a suicide wish, or they need to kill an abusive or unwanted spouse, or they just really enjoy inflicting pain on others. The book also includes an introduction which provides a brief history of hypnotism as well as a listing of real life cases where the use of hypnotism led to (or allegedly led to) death. Donald K. Hartman's Death by Suggestion is a melange of crime fiction featuring stabbings, clifftop suicides, hangings and the odd strangulation. Hartman offers an admirable introduction, exploring the history of hypnotism and defining the terms "mesmerism" and "hypnotism". He discusses the positive and negative applications of hypnotism today before looking at modern criminal cases as well as those well-reported cases relating to his selection of stories. Times Literary Supplement (01/15/2019). 

The Hypno-Ripper: Or, Jack the Hypnotically Controlled Ripper; Containing Two Victorian Era Tales Dealing with Jack the Ripper and Hypnotism  This is the second volume in the "Hypnotism in Victorian and Edwardian Era Fiction" series, again edited by Donald K. Hartman.  The two stories collected here were published during the time of the Jack the Ripper killings, and they are among the earliest fictional accounts dealing with the Whitechapel murders. Both of these stories have Jack the Ripper being an American, who travelled from New York City to London to commit the murders, and the Ripper commits his crimes while under the influence of hypnotism. The first story, "The Whitechapel Mystery; A Psychological Problem ("Jack the Ripper")," is a novel authored by N. T. Oliver, and originally published in 1889 by the Eagle Publishing Company. The second story, "The Whitechapel Horrors", is a short tale, published anonymously in two American newspapers, shortly after the murder of Mary Jane Kelly in November 1888.Also included is a lengthy biographical profile on Edward Oliver Tilburn.  N. T. Oliver was a pseudonym for the highly interesting Edward Oliver Tilburn. Besides being an author, Tilburn was a minister, actor, lecturer, secretary for several cities' Chambers of Commerce, snake-oil salesman, Christian psychologist, as well as an accused embezzler, shady real estate broker, and a self-proclaimed medical doctor.

A Hypnotic Suggestion (2009) by Allison Jones.  The plot of this cozy murder mystery centers on a forensic hypnotherapist.  Jones is the pen name of Madelaine Lawrence, a forensic hypnotherapist who has published another hypnosis-related mystery under her own name: Why Kill A Parapsychologist? (2011).  In a third mystery, A Pocketful of $20s (2020), involves Dr. Susan Kemper, the hypnotherapist who appeared in the earlier books, helping to solve a case in which a woman may have stabbed and killed her husband.  A sequel is in the planning stages. ML

The Hypnotist (2009, 2011) by Lars Kepler (2009, 2011).  A boy, sole survivor (and witness) of the killing of his family, is helped by a hypnotist to cope with the trauma and recover his memories.  "Lars Kepler" is the pseudonym of the husband-and-wife writing team of Alexander and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril).  Originally published in Swedish in 2009, it was a best seller there.  The American edition, published in 2011, The Hypnotist made it to the New York Times best-seller list on July 17, 2011 -- an unusual accomplishment for a first-time author).   RPK

La Horla by Guy de Maupassant: a man is victimized by posthypnotic suggestions that cause him to have unexplained anxiety attacks.

Litle Demon in the City of Light by Steven Levington (2014).  Recounts the 19th-century French case of Gabrielle Bompard, who claimed that her participation in a murder was coerced by hypnosis -- the author says it was one of the first celebrity murder cases.. 

Mesmeric Revelation (1840), a short story by Edgar Allan Poe.  A physician hypnotizes a dying patient, who reveals the secrets of the immaterial world.  See also the play of that title by Aaron Henne.

Mesmerism, a poem by Robert Browning.

Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France, a children's book (ages 6-9) by Mara Rockliff, illustrated in Iacopo Bruno.  Tells the story of mesmer and the Franklin commission, illustrating the scientific method and the virtues of empirical evidence over reliance on authority.

Oscar Wilde and the Vampire Murders (2011) by Gyles Brandreth.  One of a series of mystery novels involving Oscar Wilde and his circle, this one features a British psychiatrist, a follower of Charcot, and some of Cahrcot's former patients from the Salpetriere, now performing as "hysterics on the stage".  RPK

Sister Marthe by Charles Epheyre -- the pseudonym of Charles Richet, himself a prominent 19th-century hypnotist.

Trilby by George DuMaurier (1894).  The granddaddy of all hypnosis fiction, set in the Paris of La Boheme.  Trilby is an artists' model who is transformed into a singer by the hypnotist Svengali.  Her career ends (and she herself dies) when Svengali dies and she is released from his power.  The source of many "Svengali" movies -- and at least one play, written by du Maurier with Beerbohm Tree.  Edward Purcell, in his essay on "Trilby and Trilby-Mania: The Beginning of the Best-Seller System" (1977), argues that Trilby -- well, inaugurated the best-seller system in publishing, not to mention an epidemic of "Trilby mania".  See also Trilbyana: The Rise and Progress of a Popular Novel by Joseph and Jeanette Gilder (1895), which shows that the impact of Trilby was apparent immediately after its publication.

Link to a discussion of the Svengali myth, published in the Australian Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis in 1987.



Mesmerism and the End of the Enlightenment in France (1968) by Robert Darnton. 

Franz Anton Mesmer arrived in Paris from Vienna in 1778 and began to promote a new theory of "animal magnetism" with, Darnton argues "offered a serious explanation of Nature, of her wonderful, invisible foces, and even, in some cases, of the forces governing society and politics".  Darnton shows how Mesmer's ideas proliferated through Parisian society.  He argues that Mesmer's group of disciples, the Society of Universal Harmony, fostered an anticlericalism and bourgeois liberalism that fed into the radical politics leading to the French Revolution, and also contributed to the shift from the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment to the 19th-century Romantic Era. 

Dickens and Mesmerism: The Hidden Springs of Fiction (1975) by Fred Kaplan.  Mesmer's theories (though not his cures) were discredited by the French Royal Commission, but mesmerism remained popular on the Continent and in England.  The mesmeric  as an important intellectual and spiritual movement.  work and his personality. In so doing he describes a significant intellectual and spiritual movement and provides new and controversial insights into Dickens' fiction.  Kaplan shows how the mesmeric movement in England during the 1830s and 1840s shaped social attitudes and interactions, and fostered Dickens's own self-image as a sort of doctor of the mind.

Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages by Phyllis Rose (1983).  To support her case that marriage is "the smallest political unit" ("the primary political experience in which most of us engage as adults"), rife with power relations, Rose presents short biographies of five famous Victorian couples: Jane Welsh/Thomas Carlyle, Effie Gray/John Ruskin, Harriet Taylor/John Stuart Mill, Catherine Hogarth/Charles Dickens, and George Eliot/George Henry Lewes.  It's a wonderful book, especially if you want to reflect on your own marriage(s).  But she also begins her chapter on Hogarth and Dickens (the latter "an early and enthusiastic practitioner of mesmerism") with a vignette of the Carlyles attending in 1847 a demonstration of mesmerism -- complete with catalepsy.  The mesmerist (who was not Dickens), offended Jane, who was nobody's fool, by both his lower-class speech and his claim that mesmerists were morally and intellectually superior to their subjects, defied him to magnetize her:  "[W]hat I doubt is whether anyone could be reduced to that state without the consent of their own volition".  Quoting from the "Prelude" to Rose's treatment of Dickens (based on Jane's 12/13/1847 letter to her uncle):

So Mrs. Carlyle gave him her hand, and he made some passes over it, and she thought to herself, "You must learn to sound your A's, Sir, before you can produce any effect on a woman like me!" and then, to her horror, she felt her body seized from head to foot by a galvanic flash.  Fortunately, she retained enough self-control to keep him from seeing  state, thus disproving his theory of power through superiority.  For had it not taken superiority to keep him from seeing her response?  At the same time, it was disturbing to learn that her theory of the need for a consenting will was also nonsense.

Little Demon in the City of Light: A True Story of Murder and Mesmerism in Belle Epoque Paris (2014) by Steven Levingston.  In 1898, a century after Mesmer left Paris, the city was shocked by the Eyroud-Bompard murder case, in which Michel Eyraud, an amateur hypnotist, allegedly used hypnosis to coerce Gabrielle Bompard, who may have been his mistress, to seduce Toussaint-Augustin Gouffe, a Paris bailiff and well-known womanizer, who was later found murdered.  The case went to trial in 1899, at the time that Paris was hosting both a World's Fair and the First International Congress of Hypnosis, and major figures from the world of medical hypnosis, including Charcot and Freud, attended the trial.  The case was discussed by Jean-Roch Laurence and Campbell Perry in Hypnosis, Will, and Memory: A Psycho-Legal History (1988), and given book-length treatment by Levingston, a journalist and editor at the Washington Post.  Richard P. Kluft, a psychiatrist and prominent authority on hypnosis, in an extensive review of the book in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis (2021), suggests that Eyraud was the model for Svengali in Daphne DuMaurier's Trilby, whose serial publication began in 1894.  

Cinema, Television, and Theatre

For a comprehensive discussion of hypnosis in film and television, see the following articles, from which much of this list is derived:

Barrett, D. Hypnosis in Film and Television. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 49(1), 13-30, 2006.  [DB1]
Barrett, D. L. Hypnosis in Film and Literature in Barrett, D. L. (Ed.) Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy (2 vol.): Vol. 1: History, theory and general research, Vol. 2: Hypnotherapy research and applications, NY, NY: Praeger/Greenwood,  Nov. 2010. [DB2]

Barrett (2006) notes that many films employ hypnosis at a plot device to coerce individuals to commit a crime, or in the service of sexual seduction.  Another large body of work depicts the use of hypnosis to recover memories or promote age-regression -- testimony to the extent and depth of this myth about hypnosis.  

Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).  Also Abbott & Costello Meet the Killer (1949) and Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951). DB1

Abracadabra (Pablo Berger, 2017).  A hypnotic comedy.  HR

Agnes of God (1985).  DB1

Allan Quartermain (1937).  DB1

Anastasia -- The Story of Anna (1956).  DB1

Audrey Rose (1977).  DB1

Ein Ausgekochter Junge (1931).  DB1

Augustine (Alice Winocur, 2013). Jean-Martin Charcot finally gets his movie. In this french film (English subtitles), the pioneering neurologist and psychiatrist (played by Vincent Lindon), on the erge of great discoveries concerning the nature of hysteria, but also struggling for financing with public demonstrations of his hysterical patients' symptoms, falls in love with Augustine, a new patient (played by Soko). Pierre Janet makes a cameo appearance. JFK

The Bells (1913).  Remade in 1914, 1918, and 1926.  DB1

Bewitched (1945).  DB1

Bez Konca (1984).  DB1

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)  DB1

Black Magic (1949).  DB1

Black Sunday (1961).  DB1

Blind Alley (1939).  DB1

Blink of an Eye (1991).  DB1

Body of Influence (1992).  DB1

The Bostonians (1984).  Based on the Henry James novel. In one scene, Henry has a little fun at the expense of his brother William.  DB1; JFK

Broadway Danny Rose (1984).  DB1

Buford's Beach Bunnies (1993).  DB1

Calling Dr. Death (1943).  DB1

Carefree (1938).  DB1

The Case of Becky (1921).  DB1

Casino Royale (1967).  DB1

Cat People (1943).  DB1

Chandu the Magician (1932).  DB1

Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939).  Also Charlie Chan in Rio (1941) and Charlie Chan: Meeting at Midnight (1944).  DB1

The Climax (1944).  DB1

Coach (1978).  DB1

Cold Turkey (1971).  DB1

Condemned to Death (1932).  DB1

Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001).  DB1

Cure (1999).  DB1

Cult Rescue (1994).  DB1

Dark Tower (1942).  DB1

Daughter of the Dragon (1932).  An entry in the "Fu Manchu" series.  DB1

Dead Again (1991).  DB1

Dead on Sight (1994).  DB1

Deadly Lives of the Ninja (n.d.).  DB1

Death Warmed Up (1985).  DB1

The Devil Doll (1964).  DB1

The Devil's Undead (1972).  DB1

Don't Go Breaking My Heart (1999).  DB1

Dick Tracy (1937).  DB1

Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler (1922).  Also Dr. Mabuse, The Testament (1932).  DB1

Dracula (1931).  Remade in 1979; also a Spanish version (1931).  DB1

Dracula's Daughter (1936).  DB1

Dying to Remember (1993).  DB1

Divorce American Style (1967).  DB1

The Element of Crime (1984).  DB1

Eternally Yours (1939).  DB1

Equus (1977). DB1

Escapement (1958).  DB1

Europa (1991).  Also titled Zentropa.  DB1

The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977).  DB1

Get Out (2017), directed by Jordan Peel.  "[T]he role of the "conversational" hypnotist Missy Armitage is extremely well played by Catherine Keener. This is by far the most realistic and accurate representation of trance work I have ever seen on film, far away from the usual clich├ęs... I unfortunately do not know who advised the director Jordan Peele on the matter, this being his first movie. The film was recognized as one of the top 10 films of 2017 by the American Film Institute." DM

Hypnotic (Matt angel, Suzanne Coote, 2021). A Netflix suspense film in which a software engineer meets a hypnotherapist.  JFK

Hypnotic (Robert Rodriguez, 2023).  Ben Affleck plays a detective, haunted by the kidnapping of his daughter, who encounters a group of "hypnotics", who all dress in red blazers, and can control other people by means of words and thoughts.  Reviewed by Glenn Kenny in A Twisty Thriller Sends Ben Affleck on the Run", New York Times, 05/13/2023.  JFK

Hypnotik: The Seer Will Doctor You Now (2011), a play by Colm O'Shea, Marie Glancy O'Shea, and Ildiko Nemeth, received its premiere at the Theater for the New City in 2011-2012 (see the review by Jason Zinoman in the New York Times, 01/02/2012).  Set in the Weimar era (think Cabaret), the play focuses on The Seer, a stage hypnotist who gets his subjects to reveal their true selves. JFK

The Hypnotist (Lasse Hallstrom, 2012).  A detective pairs himself with a famous psychologist on a case involving a traumatized young witness to a crime (IMDb database).

The Mad Genius (1932), a kind of follow-up to the 1931 version of Svengali, directed by Michael Curtiz with Marsh as a dancer and Barrymore as an artist's promoter.

The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer, 1962).  An American POW in the Korean War is brainwashed as an unwitting assassin for an international Communist conspiracy [  IMDB].  A great movie, based on the novel by Richard Condon, starring Frank Sinatra in one of his best roles (also Jennifer Leigh, Lawrence Harvey, and Angela Lansbury as a mother from Hell.  Remade in 2004 by Jonathan Demme, with the setting moved to Iraq, starring Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, and Meryl Streep in the Angela Lansbury role.  See also the Search for the Manchurian Candidate (1978) by John D. Marks, an investigative reporter (and brother of UCLA psychologist Patricia Marks Greenfield) who was among the first to expose research sponsored by the CIA to defend against Manchurian Candidates -- or perhaps create our own.

Maurice (2012), by Roger Parsley and Andy Graham, adapted from the E.M. Forster novel.  Set in Edwardian England, Maurice (pronounced Morris) is a closeted, distressed gay man who at one point consults a therapist who tries hypnosis to cure him of his condition. Premiered by the New Conservatory Theater Center in San Francisco. JFK

Mesmer (1994).  [SP]

'Mesmeric Revelation...'(2012)  By Aaron Henne, inspired by the story by Edgar Allan Poe (see above), Franz Antoine Mesmer confronts Antoine Lavoisier, representing the French Royal Commission.  Who's the scientist, and who's the fraud? Premiered by the Central Works theater company in Berkeley, California.   JFK

Ritual: A Psychomagic Story (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 2013.  An erotic thriller.  HR

Svengali.  The granddaddy of all hypnosis movies.  Based on the novel Trilby by George du Maurier.  There have been at least five filmed versions of the Trilby-Svengali story: 

  1. Svengali (1911), an early silent filmAnd another silent from 1914.  DB1  

  2. Svengali (1922), a silent film directed by Richard Tully.

  3. Svengali (1931), the classic, directed by Archie Mayo and starring John Barrymore and Marian Marsh.

  4. The Mad Genius (1932), a kind of follow-up, directed by Michael Curtiz with Marsh as a dancer and Barrymore as an artist's promoter.

  5. Svengali (1955), directed by Noel Langley, with hildegard Neff as an actress and Donald Wolfit as a teacher.

  6. Svengali (1983), made for television, with Jodie Foster as a rock singer and Peter O'Toole as a washed-up musician who takes her under his wing. 

The novel was first rendered as a play in 1895 by du Maurier himself, in collaboration with Beerbohm Tree; that same year, another version by Paul Potter, was a hit on Broadway (New York Times, 04/16/1895).  JFK

Link to a discussion of the Svengali myth, published in the Australian Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis in 1987.

Trance (2013). An employee at an art-auction house helps steal a Goya painting, hides it, and then receives a concussive blow to the head when renders him amnesic. A hypnotherapist is brought in to help him recover his memory. JFK

The Woman in Green starring Basil Rathbone as Holmes, Nigel Bruce as Watson, and Henry Daniel as Professor Moriarty. The plot is built around hypnosis, and Holmes solves the crime by pretending to be in a deep hypnotic trance. [DE]

Zentropa (1991).  Also titled Europa.  DB1

Additional Contributors

Dierdre Barrett

Dabney Ewin

Richard P. Kluft

Madelaine Lawrence

Denis Mirlesse

Stephen Pauker

Heinz Ruegg

This page last updated 05/13/2023.