- Hypnotherapist Karl Smith rates 10 hypnosis scenes in movies and television for realism.
- Smith discusses how hypnotism works and why it can’t be used for mind control.
- He also comments on audio hypnosis, remote hypnosis, mass hypnosis, and other hypnosis techniques.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Mugatu: Prime minister of Malaysia, bad! Kill naughty man! Kill naughty man!
Karl Smith: Can you make people do funny things? Yes. Can you make people want to kill the president of Malaysia? It’s not gonna happen.
Hello, my name’s Karl Smith, and I’m an international hypnotist and hypnotherapist, and I’ve been teaching people how to use hypnosis and hypnotherapy around the world for about 15 years. Today, we’re gonna be looking at clips of hypnotism and judging how real they are.
“Get Out” (2017)
Missy: Now you’re feeling very sleepy. We do use focal points sometimes to guide someone into a state of heightened suggestibility.
Karl: She is actually right that hypnosis is a pure state of focus. That’s all hypnosis is, is a pure state of focus. Nothing more, nothing less. To start the hypnosis process, I could just say, “Just think about your little toe.” People would be listening to me now, but now they’re now thinking about their foot. I’ve already altered your state of consciousness.
[Missy’s spoon clinks]
With the cup-stirring and the way that she’s making that noise, to be quite honest, that’s not anything to do with hypnosis. If I was doing that in a session with somebody, they would get really irritated. That type of conditioning wouldn’t really work.
Missy: You think it was your fault.
Karl: The young lad has got his eyes wide open and having a reaction, as in starting to let go of emotions. That’s quite common. A lot of people think that in hypnosis your eyes have to be closed. It doesn’t. Your eyes don’t have to be closed. They can be fully open, and you can still have reactions and still feel and have sensations of emotions being released and revisit a traumatic event and go through the whole lot, and they’re just staring at you and going through it.
Missy: How do you feel now?
Chris: I can’t move.
Karl: In hypnosis, we can have a bodily reaction called catalepsy. It’s the stiffness and rigidity of muscle groups, or the looseness. And it is possible for somebody to feel rigid or feel like they’re stuck in a chair or feel, like, a light weight being pushed down on them. You can’t move.
Chris: Why can’t I move?
Missy: You’re paralyzed.
Karl: This is another misconception. You cannot take somebody into hypnosis without their knowledge, without anything, without them putting up a fight. If I say I’m a hypnotist and they go, “I don’t want to be hypnotized,” that’s the end of the story. It’s not happening. Go down the streets of London, just grab people by the arm, and go, “Sleep,” and see what happens.
There has to be a pre-talk and a preamble. There has to be something prior to the event. There are conversational techniques that you can use. But on this length, no, that’s not happening
Some people have that sensation of falling or drifting or floating, so it is quite plausible that this could happen. The young lad is viewing the person as a third person, and that’s quite common as well.
I would give this movie a 3. It was more counseling and misconceptions than anything.
“Office Space” (1999)
Peter: Ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it.
Karl: So, the most common things that I see people for are phobias, anxiety,
, stop smoking. And I predominantly work within the field of post-trauma.
Hypnotherapist: Relax every muscle in your body, beginning with your toes to your fingertips. Now I want you to relax your legs.
Karl: This is what’s called a progressive muscle relaxation, where you would get somebody to relax from the tips of their toes up to the top of their head and go through every single muscle group to get them to relax. It’s been squashed for the TV. It would be a little bit longer but on the same token. This is quite normal for the session.
Hypnotherapist: Lay down. One.
[The hypnotherapist has a heart attack and becomes unconscious]
Karl: In this scene, we see the therapist have some type of cardiac arrest. All it would take would be somebody in the room to just say, “Open your eyes,” “Wakey, wakey,” or, “Come back into the room.” It’s not down to the hypnotist’s voice that they’re gonna be locked in. People get worried about that. They get worried about getting stuck in hypnosis. You can’t. You can’t get stuck.
I’ll give it an 8, because it is quite realistic. However, it has been amplified just for TV, so it does give a misconception of what we really do.
Mugatu: Let this wonderful ’80s classic soothe you. Just a nice, warm, happy time.
Karl: Video hypnosis works, but not to the same extent if somebody sat in front of me. You don’t have to be in the same room. The biggest drawback is there’s nothing better than having a human being in the same room, because there are certain things, as a hypnotist, that I’m looking for. Body language, twitching.
The idea behind the swirlies is that as you’re looking at it going inwards like that, all you’re doing is focusing on the middle of that. So you’re just keeping focused. You can do the same principle by just holding your finger up.
Mugatu: Prime minister of Malaysia, bad! Martial arts, good! Kill naughty man! Kill naughty man! Kill naughty man!
Karl: Can you make people do funny things? Yes. Can you make people change beliefs in certain things, maybe relationship issues, smoking, you know, post-trauma, the way that they feel about it, perceptions? Yes, absolutely. Do you want to kill the president of Malaysia? It’s not gonna happen. People’s beliefs and morals would kick in. And that’s, you know, if you want somebody to do something that’s outside of their scope or their morals and beliefs, they’re gonna stop. But I do like this movie.
I’ll rate this movie 1 out of 10.
“The Simpsons” S13E5 (2001)
Homer: I am in your power. Boss me around.
Karl: The pocket-watch side of things. It’s 1870s, 1860s theatrics. It’s got nothing to do with hypnosis. You could use the pocket watch just to cause the focus, but that’s about all it is.
Mesmerino: When I snap my fingers, you will transform into a … famous historian.
Homer: Look at me! I’m a famous historian!
Karl: When anyone performs like this, would they do that with hypnosis or without hypnosis? Because the chances are is that they would do it without hypnosis.
Mesmerino: You are a young boy, yourself at 12 years old.
Homer: It’s a beautiful summer day at the old swimming hole.
Oh, my God!
Karl: It is possible that you may go up on stage to go do something that’s for fun, but the subconscious unconscious goes, “Well, while we’re up here, we’ll clear this out.” So there may be a traumatic event that may want to come out. And as a hypnotist, you have to always be prepared for that. Hypnotism can go wrong in the wrong hands. It takes years and years and years of skill crafted. Watch people to understand.
I’d give that a 4 because some of it was real, but it’s so hard when you’re dealing with a caricature.
“Now You See Me 2” (2016)
Merritt: By focusing and following the flow of my words as you’re flowing and floating [snaps], which is why you’re [snaps] focusing on my commands.
Karl: We watched the hypnotist walk up behind the person and then start to talk in some weird and wonderful hypnotic language. We have hypnotic language, but that wouldn’t happen in this scenario. With hypnosis, there has to be a pre-talk, a preamble. The person needs to know where they’re going. They need to know that it’s hypnosis.
The snapping side of things, I utilize snapping when I’m clicking my fingers, but not in this scenario. What they’re trying to do here is just add on to what they’re doing so it amplifies the state, when actually it doesn’t. When I use clicking or I use a clap, it’s to jolt the subconscious unconscious to bring an emotion to the surface.
Merritt: Look at the light. Listen to your own voice.
Merritt: Now, I’ve made the claim that —
Hypnotized Man: Now, I’ve made the claim that Octa 8 is pure magic.
Karl: But the truth is, that’s just one of those things I say. The team apparently giving the young man instructions via an earpiece. You could do that normally. I find it very difficult to believe that somebody, in that very short space of time, could have got somebody into hypnosis. It’s not realistic.
It’s possible for some people to have a natural hypnotic voice, but to put it on, you don’t have to do that. The way that I’m talking to you now is identical to the way that I would hypnotize somebody. I would give this clip a 5 because some of it is hypnosis, the subliminal work in the background, but most of it was compressed and condensed really for theater. It wasn’t real hypnosis.
So on that, I’ll give it a 5.
“Friends” S3E18 (1997)
Rachel: Come on, it’s a hypnosis tape. This woman at work used it for two weeks straight, and she hasn’t smoked since.
Karl: So, hypnosis MP3s and tapes, for hypnotists and hypnotherapists out there, I’m gonna really upset them. My personal opinion on these, on MP3s, is they’re placebo. I think if you tell somebody from a state of authority, if you go, “If you listen to that for two weeks, that will change your life,” it will change your life. Not because of the suggestions, but because of your belief.
In a hypnosis session, you would do a lot more than what they’re doing just here. You would make them hate cigarettes, really amplify the smell of cigarettes. I don’t want that cigarette. I don’t need it. I don’t want it in my body. You want the person to do that.
Recording: You are now completely asleep. You don’t need to smoke.
Karl: When people talk about hypnosis, they believe that it’s a form of sleep. It’s not. It’s got nothing to do with sleep. Hypnosis was a word that was coined because nobody knew a word in the late 18th century, what to call it. So what they did is they said, “Oh, Hypnos, god of sleep. We’ll use that, and it’s hypnosis.” It’s to do with just pure focus. Nothing more, nothing less.
I’m gonna give this clip a rating of 2.
Natalie: Palms up. Very good. Resist. Resist. Resist.
Karl: In this scene, we’re seeing what’s called a hypnosis induction. The mechanics of what we’re seeing in here, of the hands are pushing down, that’s realistic. I’ve done that. Where we push down, push down, push down, offer resistance, and then let go slowly so they feel their body going. He feels and believes that the state of hypnosis is being amplified by that induction. You don’t actually need one. It’s what’s happened prior to that event that you need. Hypnosis starts when it’s mentioned.
Roscoe: My hand. They tied my hands with something. It’s straw.
Karl: What we’re seeing here is, like, a recollection of events. And the stuttering and the way that the person’s talking is quite reflective of somebody that’s been through a traumatic incident. You can see within the body language a fear of something that’s going on as well. That’s common.
During hypnosis, people’s speech patterns can change. The tonality, the speed, maybe languages as well.
Roscoe: The smell of something ro — rotten.
In this scene here, we’ve got the five senses. He brings up smell first, which is quite common. When I’m dealing with post-trauma, it’s normally the smell that comes out first
I’m gonna go for an 8. The way that it was drawn out was quite realistic. The only thing is, for the viewer, people who don’t know about hypnosis, it was quite a quick process. It’s still good.
“The Great Buck Howard” (2008)
Buck Howard: You have come to the right place. This is the ideal locale to lie down and take a rest.
Karl: Lots of stage hypnotists would do this, but it’s not something that I would recommend, for safety reasons. Because if you’re gonna make people go into hypnosis while stood up, the variables are out the window. You just can’t control it. You could have people falling over left and right. You could have people all over. So that’s just a safety point for me. It’s important that people realize that safety comes first when we’re doing any of this stuff.
Valerie: Jeez, he did it.
Karl: It is quite possible to hypnotize that amount of people at one time and do that. It is, but it has to be controlled. And I would have more than just me there just dealing with that. To have 100% like that, I’d like to know what happened before, but I would expect maybe five or six people out of that still to be standing, to be brutally honest.
And I’d give it a 9, because it is quite accurate.
“Donnie Darko” (2001)
Dr. Thurman: What else makes you feel regret?
Donnie Darko: That I did it again.
Karl: One of the misconceptions for hypnosis is the therapist couch. You do not need to lay on a therapist couch to do hypnosis. As for outbursts, it is quite possible for people to sit there and say really dark things. You know, you’re looking at the person and they’re saying really terrible things and they’re laughing at the same time, which obviously indicates there is something far more deeper and a need for medical support.
Dr. Thurman: What is going to happen?
Donnie: Frank is gonna kill.
Karl: Is it possible for a client to get up during a session and walk around and grab something? Yes. Is it possible for a client to self-harm? Yes, because I’ve seen it myself. That, the only thing you do is just make sure that you reassure them, stop them from doing what they’re doing, and just make sure they’re safe. In this scenario, I would refer this person straight back to a GP or a physician straight away anyway.
Dr. Thurman: If this world were to end, there would only be you and him. I don’t touch people in sessions.
Karl: There are certain scenarios when you can use touch for making somebody feel like they’re going deeper into hypnosis. I’ve had people where they’ve started grinding their hands and started attacking their hands and scratching their face as well. That’s happened in hypnosis sessions. That’s the only time that I would intervene or touch.
I’m going to give it a 7. I mean, bad acting and a bad therapist, the 7. The way that the scene was constructed is right. It’s more theatrics for the movie rather than realism.
Elizabeth: I want you to close your eyes.
Simon: We’re starting, right?
Elizabeth: And now your mind is starting to think. I can get hypnosis in under 60 seconds. So, I could start hypnosis with somebody in a room that’s come to see me who knows I’m a hypnotist and have hypnosis in roughly 60 seconds. 60 seconds to three minutes is what I’m looking at. However, it’s not just about me just getting somebody who doesn’t know who I am and sitting them down and saying we’re gonna do it, because I need time to educate them and show them and get the belief system fired up rather than just pouncing straight into it.
[Simon is startled out of hypnosis]
Karl: It’s more of an irritant or embarrassment than have any effect on the hypnosis. A lot of people think it needs to be a nice and quiet room. That’s professionally, we’d like that, but you don’t need it.
Simon: Was I hypnotized?
Karl: That’s quite an interesting statement, “Was I hypnotized?” That is a very, very common statement of people that have been into hypnosis and lose time. They lose time. It’s very common for if I’m working with people for around 45 minutes to go, “Oh, we’ve been doing work for 45 minutes,” and they’ll say, “45? I thought I was only in for five.” But, yeah, it’s quite common. That is quite peaceful, as well, to do it.
If I was to give this movie a rating out of 10, because of the theatrics in it, I’ll give it a 6. There’s some realism in it, but obviously compressed for movies.