We’ve discussed storytelling techniques focusing on a character’s conflict with external forces versus nature, the supernatural, and another character. However, this time, the enemy lies within the surface as they struggle with internal conflicts.
In this guide, we’ll dive into the details of Person vs. Self-conflict and the ten best movies showcasing this conflict!
Questions We’ll Answer About Person vs. Self Movies:
- What Is Person Vs. Self Conflict?
- What Are The 10 Best Movies With Person vs. Self Conflicts?
What Is Person Vs. Self Conflict?
Person vs. Self, or Man vs. Self, is a conflict in storytelling where, quite simply, a character faces themself.
However, it’s really not that easy. Sometimes, your ultimate enemy is yourself; we see this in movies where person vs. self conflicts take center stage.
These conflicts usually occur in the character’s mind—what goes on in their head, their struggle with their thoughts, self-doubts, worries, and fears. This is a crucial storytelling style where tension occurs from within, often holding a character back from their ultimate potential.
The films we’ll discuss below use the person vs. self as the main character’s primary source of conflict, including some of the most extreme examples such as characters facing identity disorders like in M. Night Shyamalan’s Split or a softer example of a character who lives in solitude in animated films like UP.
There may be some light spoilers below, so we recommend skipping ahead if there are any films you are especially keen on watching!
10 Movie Examples of Person vs. Self Conflict
Based on a novel by Chuck Palahniuk and directed by David Fincher, Fight Club is a 1999 film that tells the story of an unnamed character (Edward Norton), an insomniac burned out of his white-collar office job.
On his way home from a business trip, the character meets soap salesman Tyler Durden on a plane. After a series of wild and violent events, the two start what would be called Fight Club, where a group of men meet after work and fight at the bar’s basement.
Without ruining too much of the film, we learn that one of the characters has a severely split personality, distorting the reality he thinks he lives in. The character’s “other personality” is the manifestation of a person he wishes he could be, doing what he wishes he could do.
Runtime & MPAA Rating: 2h 19m | R
IMDB Rating: 8.8/10
This tearjerker Disney Pixar film directed by Pete Docter tells the story of Carl (voiced by Ed Asner), a widower who travels to a place called Paradise Falls in a house lifted by balloons.
Early into his adventure, he discovers Eight-year-old Russell (Jordan Nagai) has become his accidental stowaway.
The story revolves around Carl and a conflict he has with himself. His years of solitude have made him sad, lonely, and grumpy—a result of losing the love of his wife early and him later on living in a neighborhood slowly being replaced by skyscrapers.
His journey to Paradise falls with Russell, where they meet new friends: Dug, the talking dog, and a giant bird named Kevin. As the story unfolds, Carl learns how to deal with the heartbreaks and finds joy in people (or animals) he meets along the way.
The film won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film and is a must-watch!
Runtime & MPAA Rating: 1h 36min | PG
IMDB Rating: 8.8/10
Adapted from the Dr. Seuss book of the same name, this film tells the story of The Grinch, a furry green creature with a heart “two sizes too small.”
As Christmas approaches in the nearby village of Whoville, he decides to ruin and “steal” the festive holiday from the residents. A six-year-old girl named Cindy Lou Who, however, changes his life.
While it may not be apparent immediately, this film is truly about the Grinch’s struggle to fit in. We learn late in the movie that his meanness, which drives people away, is caused by a traumatic childhood.
MPAA Rating & Runtime: 1h 44min | PG
IMDB Score: 6.3/10
Almost Famous is an Oscar-winning film written and directed by Cameron Crowe, starring Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, and Kate Hudson.
Almost Famous takes place in the early 1970s and follows William (Fugit), a teenage journalist who will write his first article for Rolling Stone. He joins the band Stillwater on their tour and meets Penny Lane (Hudson), a groupie (or “band-aid,” as she would call it).
While surrounded by many different personalities—a touring band, his mother, Penny Lane, and her fellow band-aids, and rock magazine editors—William navigates life alone.
At its core, Almost Famous is a coming-of-age story about a young writer who learns about himself while on the road.
Runtime & MPAA Rating: 2h 2min | R
IMDB Rating: 7.9/10
Loosely based on the classic German fairytale by the Brothers Grimm, Tangled is Disney’s adaptation of the story of Princess Rapunzel, most famously known for her long, magical hair.
The film introduces Rapunzel living alone for her entire in a tower in the woods, raised by a foster mother who is using her magic hair to stay young.
After years of loneliness and following her foster Mother Gothel’s endless selfish wishes, Rapunzel is curious about the outside world. Still, she feels guilty and obligated to stay in the tower for her mother.
As the film develops, we see Rapunzel embrace her love for exploring the world she’s been locked out of while still dealing with the guilt imposed on her by Mother Gothel.
Runtime & MPAA Rating: 1h 40min | PG
IMDB Rating: 7.7/10
This Darren Aronofsky-directed psychological horror film stars Natalie Portman, who plays Nina Sayers, a ballet dancer who got the part of playing the lead role in a production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.
The ballet requires a ballerina to play the White Swan, a perfect role for Nina. It, however, also needs someone to play the part of the Black Swan, which is ultimately played by “rival ballerina” Lily (Mila Kunis).
The movie centers on the pressures Nina feels as she competes for the role and, after she gets the position, the build-up to the actual performance of the ballet.
Black Swan is an Oscar-winning film and is one of the most iconic and intense displays of person vs. self-conflict in a movie. The film is also a fantastic example of intimacy vs. isolation in cinematic storytelling!
Runtime & MPAA Rating: 1h 48min | R
IMDB Rating: 8/10
ME, MYSELF AND IRENE
On a lighter note, the film Me, Myself & Irene is a comedy about Charlie, a state trooper diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Early in the film, Charlie develops the Dissociative Identify Disorder and suddenly deals with a split personality named Hank Evans.
Charlie is typically kind to a fault, and you’ll see how often he’s taken advantage of in the film. Hank Evans, however, is the polar opposite – rude and violent; Hank is the persona that takes over Charlie when he’s under a lot of stress.
The film follows Charlie and his struggle to control Hank Evans in a hilarious but well-captured example of self-conflict in cinema.
Runtime & MPAA Rating: 1h 56min | R
IMDB Score: 6.6/10
Directed, written, and starring Zac Braff, Garden State tells the story of Andrew Largeman, who returns home to New Jersey to go to his mother’s funeral.
While visiting his hometown, Andrew gets together with old friends, and it’s revealed that he is clinically depressed. Andrew has been on mood-stabilizing medications and antidepressants since he was 10.
We follow Andrew as he navigates his life, emotional trauma, and a girl who would change his life.
MPAA Rating & Runtime: 1h 42m | R
IMDB Rating: 7.4/10 | R
This M. Night Shyamalan-directed film psychological thriller stars James McAvoy, who plays Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man suffering from dissociative identity disorder with 23 distinct personalities.
When we first meet Kevin, he can control most of his personalities with the help of his therapist, but we learn quickly these personalities won’t be held for long.
Dennis, one of the personalities, kidnaps three teenage girls, and we follow the girls as they attempt to escape and confront all of Kevin’s 23 personalities.
While this film is undoubtedly a different portrayal of self-conflict than the other films in this list, it’s a unique (and extreme) perspective seen from the eyes of the antagonist.
MPAA Rating & Runtime: PG-13 | 1h 57m
IMDB Rating: 7.3/10
THE SIXTH SENSE
Another film by M. Night Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense, is a psychological thriller about child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Willis), who a former patient shot at the beginning of the movie.
A few months later, Malcolm starts working with nine-year-old Cole Sear (Osment), who reveals that he sees dead people walking around like the living.
We can’t go much further without spoiling some significant parts of the film, but trust us, it’s an impressive showcase of internal conflict in cinema!
Runtime & MPAA Rating: 1h 47m | PG-13
IMDB Rating: 8.2/10