Tag Archives: mental illness in movies

The Mad Women’s Ball

You have to hand it to the patriarchy: they set up an entire society designed to oppress women, to deprive them of any meaning or purpose in their lives, and then they act all surprised when it drives them crazy.

Of course, Eugénie (Lou de Laâge) isn’t actually crazy, but she does speak to the dead. But even just nonconformity is reason enough to lock her up, and in the not-so-long-ago (1885), all you needed was one male relative to want to get rid of you, and a woman could be imprisoned in an insane asylum for life. Eugénie is in Salpêtrière, a Parisian asylum, where she befriends wins over a skeptical nurse, Geneviève (Mélanie Laurent). This nurse no-nonsense and scientifically inclined, but when her dead sister starts sending messages through Eugénie, even she must admit that this woman doesn’t belong here. Together, they plan Eugénie’s escape under the cover of Le bal des folles, the mad women’s ball.

Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, this film is based on real events. Salpêtrière was a real asylum that locked up women and threw away the key based on some very flimsy excuses – and any who were actually crazy were mostly driven that way by the very men who committed them. The women were subjected to barbaric experiments, abused by staff, and the film (and the book upon which it is based) exposes the misogyny inherent in medicine at the time (not all of which has been eliminated today).

Thomas Jefferson once said “The measure of society is how it treats the weakest members,” a scathing indictment of himself, a slave owner, and every psychiatric hospital ever. The Mad Woman’s Ball was indeed a real event hosted ever year, inviting Paris’ high society to come and gawk at the mentally ill, all dressed up in cast-offs and costumes.

Mélanie Laurent writes and directs a story she makes seriously cinematic and strikes a timeless chord, showing the universality of society’s most interesting women being silenced, in board meetings or at the stake, but always one way or another. At the time, women were diagnosed “hysterical” for having an opinion; today she’s called “shrill” or “feminazi” or “sjw.” Bottom line: yes, there’s a message, a grimly timely one, but it’s also just a beautiful film that’s well-acted by an asylum’s worth of talented actresses, with a story to remember.

The Mad Women’s Ball (Le bal des folles) is an official 2021 selection of TIFF.

Look for it on Amazon Prime!

Florian’s Knights

In director Panayioti Yannitsos’s new documentary, a bunch of firefighters in New York City, Toronto, Detroit, and Vancouver discuss the difficulties of working this job. As first responders, they’ve seen some shit, the worst of which is difficult if not impossible to ever forget. They bring those disturbing images and experiences home with them, intentionally or not, colouring their entire lives, affecting time spent with family. For a long time, the mental health aspects of the job just weren’t discussed. They attended each other’s funerals, never mentioning the word suicide but knowing what it was nonetheless. The post-traumatic stress is real, whether it’s named or diagnosed or not. This job takes its toll.

This documentary offers up an interesting cure. Florian’s Knights is a motorcycle club for firefighters. “Wind therapy,” one of them calls it. There’s something about the quiet and peace of the open road that allows them the time and space to process the pain and foster brotherhood with people who actually understand. [Florian is the patron saint of firefighters, fyi]

Silence and solitude have been the default and dominant methods of ‘dealing’ with the demands of the job for as long as holding a hose has been someone’s job. Finally, this club offers up the chance to actually express themselves in a safe space where family and work don’t have to be separated. It’s a solution they found themselves, and by offering new chapters to fire departments in different cities and countries, it seemed Florian’s Knights were likely to be a healthy alternative for battling the effects of PTSD.

Except not all motorcycle clubs are created the same, and some have an incredibly long history of violence and criminality. Once associated with the Hell’s Angels (in part by wearing 3 piece patches, emblematic of outlaw MCs), Florian’s Knights flounders. What will happen to men who have nothing else if this is taken away? Who wins?

Broken Diamonds

The Premise: Scott (Ben Platt) is finally following his dreams all the way to Paris to become a writer. But the universe is a bitch, and by way of obstacles, Ben’s got a newly dead dad, a mother lost to dementia, and a sister, Cindy (Lola Kirke), who is normally hospitalized with schizophrenia is about to become unhospitalized, unmedicated, and very much Scott’s problem. Is he his sister’s keeper?

The Verdict: Movies about mental illness often flirt with exploitation, and while Cindy’s character, and her plight, do serve her brother’s growth and character arc, Broken Diamonds tries to paint a full picture of an illness that is disruptive and damaging and sometimes just part of the package. Platt and Kirke are both very good, very watchable, and the story benefits from its small scope. Schizophrenia is a family disease. Their family has suffered together, and apart. It has left its members battered. It has demanded sacrifice. Platt is of course very good at showing us the inner turmoil of deciding when enough is enough, but it is Kirke who has the heavy load, allowing Cindy to be a woman who is more than just sick. Emotional but undemonstrative, Broken Diamonds is character-driven and intimate, an interesting exploration of the complicated equation between siblings.

Directed by: Peter Sattler, starring Ben Platt, Lola Kirk, Yvette Nicole Brown; find it July 23rd in theatres and on demand.

Run

Chloe (Kiera Allen) is a super smart teenager who’s hounding the mail carrier every day for some news of her college acceptances. With many medical challenges including diabetes, a heart condition, and paraplegia, Chloe’s been home schooled all her life by devoted mother Diane (Sarah Paulson), but that’s left her incredibly sheltered, with no friends and no other family, she has very little contact with the outside world.

Which makes it extra difficult when she begins to suspect that her mother might be dosing her with medication she doesn’t need…or medication that’s deliberately making her sick. The more Chloe tries to get to the truth, the more her mother tightens the vise. It’s not until Chloe is trying to escape that she realizes her mother has carefully constructed a prison.

Run is an incredibly effective thriller. Diane is inarguably deranged and psychotic but Sarah Paulson underplays her to such perfection that we never truly know what to expect from her, and the ambiguity makes her feel even more threatening because of it. Allen, a newcomer to the big screen, is surprisingly strong playing her opposite. Director Aneesh Chaganty runs a tight ship; Run’s pacing leaves you breathless, it keeps ramping up the stakes and then exceeding your expectations. Chloe is obviously a vulnerable young woman but Allen plays her with such grit and strength she’s got more staying power than you can possibly imagine.

If the film has a flaw it’s that it suffers from the heavy presence of the Munchausen by Proxy subgenre recently. But while the plot may be a little familiar, the suspense is taut and nerve-jangling, to say nothing of the worst terror of all, the one that speaks to our most base fear: that a mother could turn on her child, and hurt her.

Run is available to stream via Hulu on November 20th.

Big ups to Aneesh Chaganty who prioritized casting a disabled actor and found a very strong one in Kiera Allen. Even bigger props for writing a character, not a disability.

I Hope You’ll Die Next Time :)

In light of the recent suicide prevention day, I would love to talk about a Hungarian movie that I think is definitely worth watching. I Hope You’ll Die Next Time 🙂 was released exactly 2 years ago, in September 2018 and I can tell you that I’ve watched it quite a few times since its initial release – especially now that it’s also available on Netflix!

Now, the title of the movie is pretty shocking on its own – who on earth would put a smiley face at the end of such a sentence? Well, I’ll not tell you the exact reason why it is there as I really do not want to drop a major spoiler but all I can say is that the smiley’s there for a good reason: this is a movie about teenagers living in Budapest, the Hungarian capital and just like any other teenagers in the world, they normally use emoticons while texting each other.

So, what is the movie is about? You may have already guessed from the title that it’s about suicide. But it also talks about other problems of teenage life such as cyberbullying, relationships with friends and parents, love and sex. And well, they’re pretty interesting topics, aren’t they?

Synopsis

I Hope You’ll Die Next Time  tells the story of a Hungarian high school girl, Eszter, who is just like any other teenage girls – she loves manga, does cosplay and she has a crush on her English teacher – okay, I am not entirely sure whether having a crush on one’s English teacher is considered to be average but I guess it’s happened to some of us in our high school years. I mean, I too had a crush on one of my teachers.

I know it may sound pretty much like a Hollywood romcom. But it’s not. Eszter’s life seems to be pretty happy but obviously something bad needs to happen. And in her case, things will start to take turn for the worse when her English teacher (Csababá) announces that he’ll leave the country for a foreign job.

Will Eszter forget him? Of course, she won’t. And I guess it will not be a major spoiler if I tell you that our teenage protagonist starts a sexting relationship with her ex-English teacher – who’s actually married by the way – and that’s when things really start going out of control.

Well, I will not carry on with the story but I think it’s pretty obvious that this whole situation will not end well. And by the end of the movie, you’ll also learn why the movie’s title is “I Hope You’ll Die Next Time”.

Oh and I think I should also mention about the beautiful visuals of the movie and about its great pastel colours (just love the atmosphere!). And another thing that I loved was that it includes video calls, text messages which make the whole thing look more realistic.

And at the end of the day, the most important thing is the message of this movie. The characters have a seemingly perfect life, living in one of the prominent Budapest neighborhoods but this doesn’t mean that they do not have their own problems such as bullying, self-esteem issues and other mental health problems. And parents often realize that there’s a problem when it’s already too late….

Where To Watch?

The movie is available on Neflix and also on HBO Go – but as far as I know, their catalog varies greatly depending on your region.

Guest post by Mark Wester. Mark is a 27 years old guy from Central Europe who has suffered from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) for most of his life and thought sharing stories and personal experiences could help people living with the same condition. Visit him at his blog, Overcoming OCD.

Cracked Up

Darrell Hammond will go down in history as one of the greatest SNL cast members of all time – and he was the longest-tenured until Keenan Thompson unseated him recently. Both are alike in that they were never the show’s breakout stars, but their supportive performances aren’t just crucial, they are in fact the glue that makes it possible for the cast to coagulate at all. Darrell Hammond is a master impressionist and holds the record for doing the most on SNL – 105 – among them, rather famously,  Dick Cheney, Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Chris Matthews, Sean Connery, and Regis Philbin.

But while Hammond was making America giggle, in private he was battling debilitating flashbacks of childhood trauma; addiction and self-injury served as coping mechanisms until it all inevitably came crumbling down. It took 50 years for a doctor to diagnose his pain correctly, unleashing the painful memories his mind couldn’t bear to address.

He wrote about this in his autobiography and he shares further in director Michelle Esrick’s documentary, which can be found on Netflix. I hope he has some appreciation for how profoundly talking so openly about these things can impact not just an audience but indeed a culture. There is power in owning your story and understanding that any associated shame is not yours: is not the victim’s, but the perpetrator’s.

Childhood trauma is a far-reaching poison. Hammond, of course, has had the privilege and the resources to pay it the kind of attention necessary for taming it. Healing may be a lifelong journey, but it’s clear Hammond has found a healthier head space and a new appreciation for and ability to celebrate the good things in his life.

All The Bright Places

Violet and Finch meet atop a bridge. He is running across it, she is teetering on its ledge. He offers her a hand, and she takes it.

It’s a powerful and awful way to start a relationship, saving someone’s life. Violet (Elle Fanning) goes to Finch’s school. She is struggling with her sister’s death, a car accident Violet was in the passenger seat for. Finch (Justice Smith) sort of takes her under his wing, coaxing her out of her comfort zone under the guise of a school assignment. They travel to the wondrous places of Indiana, which will kill any thoughts of tourism you may have been harbouring because the wonders are underwhelming at best but Finch presents them with whimsy and charm, and how can Violet resist? But for all his saviour posturing with Violet, Finch has some pretty deep emotional scars of his own.

Despite its title, All The Bright Places can go to some very dark places. The leads are meant to be 17 but the story gives their characters some pretty heavy burdens and some serious sophistication. Fanning and Smith have great chemistry and give grounded performances, saving the film for what might have been maudlin or overwrought. Still, with Violet and Finch confronting grief, abandonment, and struggles with mental health, All The Bright Places is quite weighty for a teenage romance. I’m not sure the film quite handles itself correctly all the time; at times it feels a little superficial and easy. But on the whole I found it quite enjoyable. It’s based on a YA novel by Jennifer Niven and it feels like it. Which is not a criticism, actually, and it does deviate quite a bit from the book, it’s just that it wants to impart some wisdom, it wants to make some profound discoveries, and it doesn’t mind being rather obvious about it, like a parent or a guidance counselor might. Like, if you wanted to extrapolate that you should become your own bright place, the film will nod at you encouragingly while quietly nudging a box of tissues in your direction. Take the box.

Phil

Phil (Greg Kinnear) is a depressed dentist who becomes obsessed with his patient Michael (Bradley Whitford) who seems to have it all. Chasing the secret to happiness, Phil more or less stalks the guy and his perfect family. Phil’s as surprised as anyone when Michael suddenly, and seemingly inexplicably, commits suicide. If the guy who has everything takes his life, where does that leave guys like Phil who most decidedly do not?

If you answered black-out drunk on Michael’s grave, you answered right! That’s where Michael’s widow Alicia (Emily Mortimer) finds him the next morning, hung over with a face full of dirt. But it does not account for why Phil decides on the spot to impersonate Michael’s long-lost Greek friend Spiros as a way of ingratiating himself into the grieving family. Before you know it, he’s renovating their bathroom while digging through Michael’s belongings trying to answer the age old question WHY?

I get it. Suicide is one of those tricky things, like cancer, that leave us feeling vulnerable. We want to know why so that we can feel safe. If someone got cancer because they smoke, we feel relieved because we ourselves are not smokers. Bullet dodged. If someone commits suicide because they have huge gambling debts, lucky us again, because we aren’t gamblers. Phew. We need these tangible markers to help us feel insulated from these scary possibilities. When a vegetarian marathon runner gets cancer, well, that reminds us how random it can all be. And when someone who lives a good life ends it – well, don’t we all sleep a little worse at night wondering why?

Both Phil and Michael’s widow Alicia would like to understand Michael’s motivations, but the truth is, those aren’t always knowable. Mental health is complicated and the things that make one person feel hopeless and helpless don’t always translate. Is better, then, to have each other – even if one of them is not who they claim?

Greg Kinnear stars and directs himself in Phil, a very dark comedy that doesn’t work more often than it does. And it’s not just the tricky subject matter, though it’s difficult to feel good about watching one man find the meaning in his life because of another man’s suicide. Doesn’t quite feel right. Or maybe it’s just not pushed far enough to be convincing. It’s obviously got dark undertones but Greg Kinnear often pushes the goofy side, and those two things don’t always pair well. The script is clunky and the direction doesn’t help – even the performances struggle to rise above. Phil is fine, a mild disappointment I suppose. There’s worse to watch but better too, so I suggest you scroll a little further before clicking on this one.

Tomorrow is Another Day

Mrs. Wong (Teresa Mo) is too exhausted to care that her husband is having an affair. She tolerates it in order to keep her family together, especially important since her 20 year old son Kwong (Man-Lung Ling) has autism, and developmental disabilities, that require stability and a lot of care. But one day the young mistress (they’re always young) stops by the house and agitates Kwong. After a terrible fight, Mr. Wong (Ray Lui) leaves. He leaves them. Now the burden of caring for her disabled son falls to Mrs. Wong entirely, and with his father gone, he’s acting out more than ever. If she was tired before, she’s beyond tired now. There’s almost nothing in Mrs. Wong’s life that’s just for her – her only indulgence during these dark days is to plot revenge scenarios against the dreaded mistress.

Teresa Mo, Ray Lui, and Man-Lung Ling make for a very attractive family; you’d hardly MV5BY2U2OTQ2ODQtNjQzMC00YTdiLWJiZTYtOWQ3MGI1OTE3NTJjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzI1NzMxNzM@._V1_believe from the outside all the difficulties they face. But Mo and Lui are good at communicating a marriage strained by years of putting someone else’s needs above their own, of never having the time to honour their coupledom. We know that this is not Mr. Wong’s first dalliance, and we see the toll it’s taken on their marriage.

Ling’s portrayal of special needs is perhaps not the best we’ve seen on screen, but it’s Kwong’s relationship with his mother that is the most essential of the film. He’s normally cheerful and energetic; he skips along, vocalizing sounds more than words. But his meltdowns are ferocious. A full-grown man, when he starts self-harming, Mrs. Wong really can’t cope on her own. By showing us the enormity of her caregiver’s role, director Chan Tai-lee (the guy who wrote Ip Man) highlights a dearth of resources, of respite. Mrs. Wong shoulders it all, without complaint, facing down discrimination like that’s to be expected. All of her anger and resentment are saved for the mistress (a one-note, selfie-taking villain); murder fantasies are her only escape.

Her social life’s only balm is a group of housewives with whom she sews and sings karaoke. But these are the same women who will uncover her plot. And then what? You’ll have to watch to the end to find out.

First Reformed

The Reverend Ernst Toller is the minister at First Reformed church, a small congregation in upstate New York. Mary, a young woman in the community, asks him to counsel her husband, who is struggling with her pregnancy. Michael is an environmental activist who is gripped by despair and hopelessness – he cannot imagine bringing a child into this world. Ernst (Ethan Hawke) takes him on, but it’s a tough case, and he relates more to the wife (Amanda Seyfried) than to the husband, who seems unreachable.

But the truth is, the Reverend is in no condition to counsel anyone. He’s messed up. MV5BYjA3OTJlODAtZjNlNi00ZTE1LTkxNzctNzJlNjQ5NjQxZTcyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDkzNTM2ODg@._V1_SX750_CR0,0,750,999_AL_And Michael’s question “Can God forgive us for what we’ve done to this world?” messes him up even more. He defends god, but struggles privately. He takes up Michael’s obsession but continues to pollute his own body, as we watch his physical and mental health spiral downward.

The first half of the movie is a lot of Ernst feverishly and guiltily Googling, while also drinking himself to death. It’s is not overly compelling stuff. But it’s super jarring when there’s suddenly a scene that feels like a complete divergence from everything that came before it. It’s almost like director Paul Schrader is shaking things up to allow room for the spiritual. He reminds us that we’re not in charge. We may think we know what’s happening, but we don’t.

And that’s true. I was very caught off guard by the ending, and there’s not many stories in the world that I don’t see coming a mile away. I mean, we know this dude is having a breakdown in a major way. But things get extreme, and, um, open to interpretation? This movie is getting a lot of love from the critics, but it does boil down to: 90% boring, 2% omg wtf, and I guess 8% wrapping your head around Cedric the Entertainer’s casting. It’s one you’ll have to see for yourself.

Ethan Hawke is quite good, and he has to be because this character embodies so many conflicts – faith & science, love & fear, strength & despair, consecration & desecration. It’s hard to really put this one into words, which I think is kind of the point. Schrader tackles the inexpressible, he goes there, and treats spirituality with more seriousness than I’ve seen from a movie in a long, long time. It does not make for fun viewing. Can you hack that? Is that how you want to spend 108 minutes?