Mike Flanagan’s horror series, Netflix’s The Fall Of The House Of Usher, reinterprets Edgar Allan Poe’s renowned collection of short stories in the 21st century. Providing a Succession twist, the series follows a morally compromised CEO of a pharmaceutical firm confronting his dubious history as a series of enigmatic and brutal deaths befall his own children.
Netflix’s The Fall Of The House Of Usher sees the American uber-rich Usher Family descend into madness, fueled by their greed, immorality, ambition, and obnoxiousness. The series highlights the dark side of the pharmaceutical industry, exploring serious mental health disorders like:
- Substance use disorder
- Performance anxiety
- Low self-esteem
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Narcissistic personality disorder
- Sex addiction, etc.
However, the fictional titular inspiration for the same, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall Of The House Of Usher, written as far back as 1840, explored mental illness ahead of its time. It provided a compassionate gaze into the eternal struggle with mental illness, delving on themes like the genetics of mental illness, isolation, and metaphysical identities.
A seminal work of American Gothic literature, the short story has endured as one of the greatest portrayals of mental illness in popular culture. Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall Of The House Of Usher explores the enigmatic and eerie world of the Usher family, particularly focusing on Roderick Usher’s descent into madness and the impact of this mental illness on the story’s setting, plot, and characters.
The story’s setting plays a crucial role in conveying the atmosphere of psychological distress and decay. The Usher mansion itself is depicted as a dark and oppressive place. Its physical characteristics, such as the fissure in the house and the tarn that surrounds it, mirror the fractured state of Roderick’s mind.
The decaying, oppressive mansion serves as a metaphor for his deteriorating mental state. The house, with its gothic architecture and the seemingly sentient eye-like windows, creates an atmosphere of dread and unease, reflecting the house’s capacity to both reflect and exacerbate the mental turmoil within its inhabitants.
Roderick Usher, the protagonist, is an embodiment of mental illness. His symptoms, which include hypersensitivity, anxiety, and acute sensory perception, mirror several elements of psychological conditions like generalized anxiety disorder and sensory processing disorders.
His fear of the external world, the oppressive weight of his family’s history, and his intense artistic inclinations all contribute to his growing sense of isolation and despair. Poe skillfully illustrates Roderick’s inner torment by describing his acute senses, as he hears and perceives things beyond normal human abilities. This heightening of the senses is a classic symptom of mental illness, particularly in the realm of anxiety disorders.
The relationship between Roderick and his twin sister, Madeline, in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall Of The House Of Usher adds another layer to the portrayal of mental illness in the story. The twins share an inexplicably strong connection, and Madeline’s mysterious illness, presumed death, and her eventual horrifying return from the grave all serve to exacerbate Roderick’s mental deterioration.
Their close bond can be seen as a representation of the complex, often codependent relationships that can develop between individuals with mental illnesses, particularly within families. The interplay between their psyches and the blurred line between reality and hallucination reflect the impact of mental illness on interpersonal relationships.
The story’s plot is driven by Roderick’s mental instability. His fear of death and the supernatural permeates the narrative, causing him to be consumed by the family’s dark history and the belief that the mansion itself has a malevolent sentience. The climax of the story, where Madeline’s return from the tomb and her subsequent death, is a harrowing portrayal of a person’s descent into madness. Roderick’s inability to distinguish between the real and the supernatural, and his eventual violent outburst, are emblematic of the disintegration of the human mind under the weight of mental illness.
The writing style in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall Of The House Of Usher contributes significantly to the portrayal of mental illness. His use of gothic elements, vivid and grotesque imagery, and the unreliable narrator technique all serve to immerse the reader in Roderick’s deteriorating mental state. The dark, foreboding tone and the dream-like quality of the narrative create an atmosphere that mirrors the surreal and nightmarish experiences of someone struggling with mental illness.
Moreover, the story’s conclusion, where the house itself crumbles and sinks into the tarn, symbolizes the final collapse of Roderick’s sanity. The destruction of the house mirrors Roderick’s mental breakdown and his inability to escape the darkness that has consumed him. This catastrophic ending underscores the theme of mental illness and its inescapable consequences.