High anxiety: film, music, games and art for the paranoid

From Dalí’s eerie streetscape to the fearful little crewmates in Among Us, our critics recommend culture for the irrationally threatened


The world may be celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Godfather right now, but for paranoia aficionados, the biggest Francis Ford Coppola semi-centennial is still two years off. The Conversation came between the first two instalments of his operatic mafia trilogy but is stunningly different in mood. Starring an extraordinary Gene Hackman as a surveillance expert who fixates on a fragment of dialogue he has recorded, it culminates in Hackman tearing up his apartment as if he’s tearing at his own skin, all because of the tectonic shift in meaning that can come from a minute change of inflection. A lonely, desperate, guilt-ridden masterpiece. Jessica Kiang



Salvador Dalí.
Dread zone … Salvador Dalí. Photograph: Paul Almasy/Corbis/VCG/Getty

The maverick surrealist Salvador Dalí claimed to find his fantastic images by projecting his “paranoia” on to the world, seeing strange connections and double images all around him. That paranoid perspective rushes towards you in Suburbs of a Paranoiac Critical Town, his 1936 painting of an eerie town crumbling in delirium. An equine statue, empty armchair, mourning figures, deserted temple and impoverished street are all set against a barren plain of empty dread. The disconnected images are part of his paranoia, linked in an illogical narrative of fear. Yet his anxiety was justified, since this was painted in a Europe hurtling towards catastrophe. Dalí’s paranoia is disturbingly prophetic. Jonathan Jones


Video games

Among Us.
Lost in space … Among Us. Photograph: InnerSloth

On a space station, a crew of cartoon astronauts busily go about their duties. Except one of them is an impostor and, before long, crewmates start turning up dead. A group meeting is called, and everyone had better hope the blame isn’t pinned on them: the accused are ejected into the void; and in space, nobody can hear you scream. Is it any wonder that a multiplayer game as spectacularly paranoid as Among Us took off during the pandemic as, starved of social interaction, we found this mafia-inspired adventure to be the perfect arena for socially distanced suspicion? Keza MacDonald



TYREE - I Fear The Night - single - 1987

What woman hasn’t feared an imagined (or very real) danger following them on late nights? As such, it’s striking to consider what possessed Chicago house DJ Tyree to create the 1986 paranoia anthem I Fear the Night, articulating the dread that strikes when you are walking around on dark evenings. Although the lyrics are macabre (“Help me, please / It’s out to get me,” the vocalist known as Chic sings), its effervescent production makes the sound of impending doom deceptively fun; there’s something about the rhythm that makes nightfall less ominous and more thrilling. Christine Ochefu



Bo Burnham’s Inside.
Isolation rules! … Bo Burnham’s Inside. Photograph: Netflix undefined

You feel the walls closing in. You think everyone’s watching you. Everyone is watching you! You’re scared to leave the house. You’re not allowed to leave the house! Sounds like a hoot, right? It wouldn’t be, in anyone’s hands but Bo Burnham’s, the teen YouTube star turned big-brained, broken-souled purveyor of genre-bending music-meets-comedy. In 2021, Burnham distilled Covid-era, internet-addled modernity into one of the greatest ever Netflix specials: Inside. In its claustrophobia, its unhinged isolation, its fear that we’re all chained for ever to the doom-scrolling, content-generating wheel, Inside is as paranoid as it gets – or would be, if it weren’t all so true. Brian Logan


Jessica Kiang, Christine Ochefu, Keza MacDonald, Brian Logan and Jonathan Jones

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