The Fisher King

The Fisher King includes several brief depictions of physically disabled people, as well as Robin Williams in a not-exactly-clinically-accurate-but-lovable! depiction of a former professor suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (After witnessing the brutal murder of his wife at the hands of a mentally ill man, he spends some time catatonic “in a mental place on Staten Island” and emerges believing he’s a knight on a holy quest.) The gunman, clearly very lonely and seeking advice on talking to a woman, had been goaded into shooting up a popular bar by radio shock-jock protagonist Jack. When he learns of the effect of his bullying, Jack in turn becomes suicidally despondent and attempts to drown himself. In a twist of fate, Jack is introduced to Parry (who is accompanied by a couple other homeless men, one using crutches) and experiences the painful flutterings of an awakening of conscience.

Parry takes him back to the basement he’s been crashing in, where it becomes obvious that he not only has auditory hallucinations but tries to enlist Jack on his quest for the Holy Grail. Jack tries to give him a little money instead, but Parry’s kind “landlord” (who wears an old-fashioned hearing aid in one ear) explains that Parry needs much more than a few dollars to regain what he had lost. Perry tells Jack the story of the Fisher King and the festering wound he received, mirroring the wounds they’ve received in life (and manifest in Jack’s bandaged hand).

Both a motorized wheelchair user and a little person wearing a business suit are milling about in the background when Parry takes Jack to see Lydia, the woman he admires from afar. Parry then shows Jack the “castle” of wealthy philanthropist Landon Carmichael, from whom Parry intends to steal the Grail. (In this high-rent district, there’s another person in a wheelchair, this time an elderly lady being pushed by a uniformed attendant.)

Jack balks at the dangerous plan and suddenly tries to confront Parry with the reality of his identity. Parry is quickly overwhelmed and has a screaming fit, running away to a nearby park where he snaps out of it to come to the aid of an injured and incoherent gay man. Jack and Parry take “Venice” to a crowded, dirty public hospital for medical attention, and Jack’s introduction to the disparities in health care between the rich and the poor.

Jack’s education continues with a trip to Grand Central, where he strikes up a conversation with a disabled veteran begging for spare change. Someone tosses a coin on the floor where the wheelchair-using man can’t reach to pick it up.

“He didn’t even look at you.”
“Well, he’s paying so he don’t have to look.”
“Say, guy goes to work every day eight hours a day, seven days a week. He starts questioning the very fabric of his existence. Then one day about quitting time the boss calls him into the office and says, “Hey Bob, why don’t you come on in here and kiss my ass for me, will you?”
“Well,” he says, “hell with it. I don’t care what happens. I just want to see the expression on his face as I jam this pair of scissors into his arm.”
Then he thinks of me. He says “Wait a minute. I got both my arms, I got both my legs. At least I’m not begging for a living.” Sure enough, Bob’s going to put those scissors down and pucker right up. See, I’m what you call a moral traffic light, really. I’m, like, saying “Red. Go no further. Boop… boop…”

A successful first date with Lydia sets up an internal conflict for Parry, and he has a showdown with The Red Knight, the symbol of his trauma. He becomes stupefied with fear, and is taken back to a mental hospital. Lydia oversees his care, providing cutesy sheets and demanding he be clad in pajamas instead of a hospital gown, but this isn’t enough to wake the prince. Jack presents the Grail and Parry magically wakes up, restored to sanity (and with no side effects from the psychoactive drugs he was probably pumped full of) and ready to lead a chorus of “the bungled and the botched” in song.

The Story of Luke

The Story of Luke deals with a young man with autism, abandoned in infancy by his mother and raised by his grandparents. His grandmother, as his primary caregiver, had perhaps sheltered him more than she should have. Luke gets home schooled and/or takes distance learning classes for high school. He lacks vocational training or any sort of transition plan. When his grandmother dies, he is forced to move in with his Uncle Paul and Aunt Cindy, who have issues of their own (she’s on antidepressants, and he’s just a pill), and two younger (presumably) “normal” children. There are some scenes where “what to do about Luke” is discussed among others, and he overhears. Aunt Cindy has delicate sensibilities, and must have deep pockets as well, because she has the grandfather admitted to a nursing home following an incident where he attempts to grab her posterior, and offers her $20. At a rest stop on the way to the nursing home, Luke’s grandfather tells him that Luke is now a man and must live his own life, including getting a job and finding a woman who “is willing to travel and doesn’t nag too much”. At the rest stop, Luke meets a sympathetic convenience store clerk who gives him a pile of pornographic magazines when he asks about “screwing”. Luke’s final conversation with his grandfather has a strong impact on the boy, who decides, despite the challenges faced by his condition, to try to get a job and a girlfriend. These pursuits are made more challenging than they had to be by the fact that he lacks transportation, and his aunt is initially against him attempting to get a job. She comes around, when she realizes that enforced idleness and lacking the opportunity to acquire an adult role could be harmful and depressing to him as well.
Luke is not the “stereotypical autistic”. He speaks and responds to others, though stilted delivery and the repetition of common sayings act as an indicator that he does not have the spontaneity that others do, and the clearly-shown anxiety with every challenging situation he encounters hints at what lies beneath the polite well-groomed young man’s attempt at maintaining a socially-appropriate mien. He walks down the street covering his ears when loud sounds overwhelm him, and significantly sits in the seats reserved for the handicapped when he takes the bus. Some situations provoke a bit of mild “stimming”. Though he discloses some talent at preparing dishes he had seen made on cooking shows on TV, he denies any specialized or savant skills. When asked about his condition, though some call him “a retard” or say he has autism, he claims “my grandmother told me that I defy clinical categorization”.
The grandfather, who seems physically healthy other than an incident of incontinence and the revival of a smoking habit, dies conveniently the next time Luke is given the opportunity to visit the nursing home.
After he settles in with his aunt and uncle, Luke at first unsuccessfully pursues both work and love, signing up with a temp agency where he meets an older black woman “with nice tits”, who works as the receptionist, and is later the first woman he asks for a date. He finds out about a company that could help him, with a program called the Smile, which hires and trains people on the autistic spectrum for menial jobs within corporations. The owner, in fact, has an autistic son who works for him, Zack, supervisor of the new apprentices. Zack is bitter and abrasive, and feels a need to prove himself to his father. Luke is then hired as an apprentice and in spite of Zack yelling at him and being less than clear about some of his initial job responsibilities, he proves himself able to adapt. His resourcefulness and desire to ask out the girl at the temp agency hits Zack, who decides to try to help him, which has the result of helping himself at the same time.
Zack teaches Luke to carefully observe and mimic the body language and non-verbal interactions of “NTs”, or “neurotypical” people, and then shows him simulator software he developed which has on-screen virtual faces and personas responding in real time to Luke’s interactions with them. In spite of this unique training tool for human interaction, Luke still gets rejected when he asks the woman on a date. Zack ends up getting it used for customer service within the company, and hopefully, redeeming himself in his father’s eyes. Luke starts looking exceptionally personable and capable, and lands a long term job with the company.
In the meantime, Luke’s aunt, uncle, and cousins have been warming up to him, and discover the whereabouts of his mother. Zack helps groom Luke for the occasion and accompanies him when he decides to meet his mother. Luke discovers that his mother has another grown son and a family who doesn’t know about Luke, and she would prefer to keep it that way. Though Luke is disappointed that his reunion with his mother wasn’t a happy and loving one, by NT standards, he does get closure on why she acted as she did: “I didn’t think I would ever hear you talk to me” she said.

Hemingway family mental illness explored in new film

from CNN.com: Hemingway family mental illness explored in new film
By Elizabeth Landau, CNN
updated 8:57 AM EST, Wed January 23, 2013
(CNN) — Every family, even famous ones, have secrets. The Hemingways are no different.

“We were, sort of, the other American family that had this horrible curse,” says Mariel Hemingway. She compared her family to the Kennedys — but the Hemingway curse, she said, is mental illness.

Hemingway, granddaughter of acclaimed author Ernest Hemingway, explores the troubled history of her family in “Running from Crazy,” a documentary that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday. Barbara Kopple is the director; Oprah Winfrey is the executive producer.

“Knowing that there’s so much suicide and so much mental illness in my family, I’ve always kind of been ‘running from crazy,’ worried that one day I’d wake up and be in the same position,” Mariel Hemingway, 51, said at a support group for families of suicide, as shown in the film.
Hemingway told CNN last week she wanted this documentary to be an unveiling of her family history, and to give people permission to express their own “stuff,” to realize they’re “not alone in the world of dysfunction.”

The documentary guides the viewer through the turmoil of her parents’ marriage and the troubled relationships between her and her siblings. It includes archival footage from when her sister Margaux Hemingway, who took her own life in 1996, had been making a personal family documentary.

“Suicide has no rhyme or reason,” Hemingway said. “Some people think about it for years and plan it. Some people, it’s 20 dark minutes of their life that they decide to take their life that comes out of the blue. It’s very random, it’s very frightening.”
Hemingway doc looks at mental illness

Whether Hemingway is jumping on a trampoline or submerging herself in a cold stream, with her pointed nose and bouncy blonde hair, her message in the film is one of achieving mental well-being and overcoming one’s own problems. These scenes contrast with newspaper clippings, still photos and melancholy video clips from her family’s past.

Seven members of Hemingway’s family have died by taking their own lives, including Ernest and Mariel Hemingway’s older sister Margaux, she said. Mariel Hemingway had denied her sister’s death was a suicide until an event hosted by the American Association for the Prevention of Suicide in 2003.

Ernest Hemingway, who won the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature, struggled with depression and killed himself in 1961, just months before Mariel Hemingway was born. But suicide wasn’t something that was talked about when she was growing up.

“Nobody spoke about anything,” she said. “It was a different generation.” Even her sister’s suicide was not talked about, she said.

The film’s biggest revelation, which was the most difficult part of her family history for Hemingway to reveal, is that she believes her father, Jack Hemingway, sexually abused her sisters Margaux and Joan, nicknamed “Muffet.” Hemingway drops this information bomb only briefly in the film — the first time she has revealed this publicly. Jack Hemingway died in 2000.

Hemingway told CNN she does not remember her father abusing her, but notes that she did sleep in the same room as her mother, who had cancer, possibly as protection from her father. She is not sure if her mother knew what was going on. It’s possible that her father didn’t even remember doing it, she says, because he was drunk. Alcohol abuse also runs in the family, she said.

Mariel Hemingway began her screen acting career as the younger sister of a character played by Margaux in the 1976 film “Lipstick.” Critics praised Mariel and dissed Margaux, which strained their relationship.

But Mariel Hemingway said she had been in touch with her sister the week before she died. “She was seemingly OK,” she said. “But you never really know with suicide what’s going on in a person’s mind.”

Prior to the film, Hemingway only saw her sister Joan Hemingway about once a year. Muffet Hemingway lives in Sun Valley, Idaho; Mariel Hemingway lives in Los Angeles.

Muffet had experimented with LSD when she was young, and received a diagnosis of manic depression. Mariel Hemingway has discussed her sister’s struggles in numerous interviews over the years.

“She represented being, you know, ‘crazy,’ ” Mariel Hemingway said last week. “I always feared that I would wake up that way, or that maybe I was that way and I didn’t even know it.”

But since doing the film, they have seen each other a bit more often, including at Christmas. Making the movie has made Mariel Hemingway get over her fear of seeing her sister, whom she describes as “such a loving, kind person.”

“My dream is to be able to have enough money to take care of her myself, and really take over her care,” she said.

Attempts by CNN to contact Joan Hemingway were unsuccessful. An April article in the Twin Falls, Idaho, Times-News said her artwork was being featured in a business in Ketchum, the town adjacent to Sun Valley. Business owner Nicola Potts told the newspaper that Joan Hemingway, 61, leads a “very happy, very private life.”

Mariel, too, said she has had depression and suicidal thoughts, and recalls suffering insecurity and being fearful and depressed growing up. When she overcame that, “I was like, ‘I’ve spent all my life being that way,’ ” she said.

To move past these feelings, Hemingway says she has “done everything” — psychotherapy, gurus, holistic doctors — and each of the methods she has tried have given her something of value. On her blog, for instance, she recommends that everyone take a few minutes of silence in the morning and before sleeping to be still and silent, which helps her to be more calm and focused.

Practices such as these, in addition to exercise, spending time in nature, and eating right, have all helped her achieve peace, she said. It’s only within the last four years that she feels she has completely overcome depression.

“It’s amazing to me that I’m not sad anymore, and that I don’t worry and that I don’t fear,” she said.

These days, Hemingway and her boyfriend Bobby Williams have a lifestyle company called TheWillingWay (“He has the ‘will,’ I have the ‘way,’ ” Hemingway said). Health and wellness are her passion.

She also advocates for suicide and mental illness awareness. She is open and communicative with her two daughters about their own mental health, too.

“I think people need to talk about it a lot,” she said of mental illness, “Making it OK that it’s in your family.” She added, “It doesn’t shame anyone, and it doesn’t make anybody’s family an ugly, bad family.”

That is a challenge to which this Sundance film also rises.

For immediate assistance, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) if you or someone you know is contemplating suicide.

Filmmaker Sheds Light on Mental Illness

From Huffington Post.com: Filmmaker Sheds Light on Mental Illness
by Gregory G. Allen
Adversity and Diversity author
There is a new film hitting the film festivals with a very heavy subject. French filmmaker Jonathan Bucari has written and directed a short film about mental illness and the effects it has on a family. There are many families across American (and the world) that silently deal with this daily and after viewing “Illness”, I knew I wanted to speak to Jonathan.

Gregory G. Allen: Having seen a screening of your film, Jonathan, I can attest firsthand how powerful it is in depicting the lives of this one family. What drew you to this story?
Jonathan Bucari: The topic of mental illness has been on my mind for many years. I grew up with a sister who has Downs Syndrome and when she was little she lived in an institution. She was living with children with all kinds of different backgrounds and emotional and mental disabilities. I recall visiting her and meeting kids with a variety of mental disorders. On one of my visits when I was about 7 years old I saw a very young boy having an “episode” and I was very shocked. I wasn’t prepared, I didn’t understand and nobody explained it to me. After 20 years, I can still remember that scene, which was the initial inspiration for the story of “illness.”

When I came to the United States, I was struck by the fact mental illness was often associated with violence and mass shootings, reinforcing an assumption that people with mental illness were dangerous to society. In fact, people who suffer from mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators and, of course, discussions like these only reinforce the awful stigma that surrounds mental illness.
Allen: I grew up as a foster family and recall one child having some major emotional breakdowns. At the time, we weren’t sure if mental illness was to blame or not as he came and left our lives so quickly. You capture that so adeptly in your film. How was it to work with the young children in your film on this mature topic?

Bucari: I thought at first that working with such a young cast would be difficult, but working with Noah Silverman and Julian Murdoch was a real pleasure. Both of them have real maturity for their age and seemed to understand the topic well for boys their age. I was actually very honored to work with Noah, who plays Timothy. One of Noah’s older brothers suffers from Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety and Depression, so the topic was really important to him. Not only did Noah want to make sure the film was accurate, but he also wanted to make sure that we wouldn’t portray Timothy as a bad person or a monster.

Finding Timothy’s little brother was more complex. I had worked with Julian before so I was confident in his acting capability, but I was a bit worried about the maturity of the material. Julian is extraordinarily mature for his age and his family has been extremely supportive of the film. They are also very interested in raising awareness of mental illness.

It really was a pleasure working with all of the young people in the cast. We made sure that everyone felt very safe and comfortable. The first time the cast met, everyone seemed to bond and become a real family instantly. Cheryl Allison, who played the mom in the film, really went out of her way to connect with the boys to make sure that they felt at ease. We were also very lucky to have Renae Baker on the team, who is a great child acting coach. It was a pleasure working with all of them.
Bucari: When I was writing the story I needed a catalyst, something dramatic enough to raise awareness of the reality of children’s mental health issues and to raise an important question: what could happen if a child has a mental illness that is left untreated? Even though the shooting is barely mentioned in the film, it was important to me to connect the story of this family to what is happening in the real world. Every mother can relate to our mother in the film, especially when she learns about the shooting. What happened in Newtown was a tragedy beyond words, but it seemed to be the first time that people started discussing mental illness in a way that acknowledged that the underlying problem is lack of treatment. One out of every five kids suffers from a mental health disorder at any given time.
Allen: Those are amazing numbers. I had no idea. People usually fear what they don’t know – and I’m sure many people do not understand what happens behind closed doors in the families of someone with mental illness. Were you at all concerned about the light your film shines on this illness?

Bucari: Mental illness seems to be treated like cancer was 20 years ago. Everyone is afraid of the word and no one fully understands how it is affecting us. Some parents just don’t want to label their kids and many other are just afraid and blame themselves. They live in shame that the society will never accept them and don’t know where to turn for help.

Allen: I know you share several facts in the teaser for the film, but have you talked to many families that live this life either before writing it or since screening it?
Bucari: We were very fortunate and honored to have Randi Silverman as our associate producer. She is a cancer survivor and a parent of a bipolar child. I met her after writing the first draft of the story and she was blown away by how realistic and powerful the script was. I didn’t realize until I spoke with her about her personal experiences just how close to reality I was. She helped make sure that the script was as realistic as possible and spent a great deal of time talking with us about what it really is like to raise a child with a serious mental health disorder.

My story became her story. Our goal was to make sure that the character with a mental illness was not portrayed as a monster or a sociopath, which is what we have seen before on films. We wanted to tell a story of a wonderful, smart kid who is struggling everyday day with an illness so terrible that no words can describe it.

What makes our film special is the fact that in real life Noah was the little brother in my story. Now he is playing the part of the older brother suffering with the illness.
Allen: The story surrounding the film seems just as powerful that so many involved had a stake in it. What is your hope for the film? What do you want people to take away from it?

Bucari: Our hope for the film is to share it with as many people as we can and screen it wherever we can.

One of the next steps for the film is to wait and see where the world premiere is going to be and which Festival will be the first. We already submitted to more than 35 festivals all over the world.

After a year or so of promoting it through Film Festivals, we would like to give the film a Second Life by using it to promote awareness of children and adolescent mental health issues and to fight the stigma associated with mental illness. Ultimately, our main goal is to help families get help for their kids and restore hope for them.

Allen: Where can people find more information about it?

Bucari: You can find information about the movie on IMDb and of course on our Facebook page.

Allen: Thank you for not only bringing this topic into focus, but spending time to discuss it with me today. I do believe the more people that discuss a topic (whatever that may be), the less fear people will have about it.

Official trailer of Illness available via IMDb.

‘OC87’: A First Film, Personal And Hard-Won by Andrew Lapin

‘OC87’: A First Film, Personal And Hard-Won by Andrew Lapin
from npr:
[url]http://www.npr.org/2012/05/24/153293489/oc87-a-first-film-personal-and-hard-won[/url]
‘OC87’: A First Film, Personal And Hard-Won

by Andrew Lapin
May 24, 2012

Bud Clayman is not the sort of person who typically attracts cameras. Pudgy, with a droning voice and a cackle his own father says makes him sound like a chicken, Clayman harbored dreams of becoming a filmmaker in Los Angeles after college — dreams complicated by his Asperger’s syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder and depression.

Three decades and several breakdowns later, he’s made his first film: a document of his own struggles with mental illness.

OC87, named for the year Clayman experienced his initial breakdown (and the shorthand he uses to describe his altered state of mind), is one man’s attempt to exorcise his demons.

But it’s not exactly a singular vision. Clayman has difficulty making decisions, and so shares director’s credit with psychologist Scott Johnston and veteran documentarian Glenn Holsten (Saint of 9/11), who keep the camera focused squarely on Clayman.

They alternate interview segments with some inventive scripted sequences, the latter re-creating the internal debates Clayman has when confronted with basic social situations like buses and restaurants.

The film isn’t really about all the hurdles listed in its unwieldy subtitle — The Obsessive Compulsive Major Depression Bipolar Asperger’s Movie — as much as it is about Bud Clayman. Ultimately it’s someone else’s diary. There are many moments where Clayman’s experience speaks to something universal, but other details feel too private, too specific, for our eyes.

We watch Clayman’s first student film, a tour video for his Jewish high school where, strolling through the grounds, he sings the praises of the “confidence” the school provides.

We observe him at a speed-dating event, where he chats about movies with every rotation.
Clayman on the set as subject and co-director of OC87.
Enlarge Fisher-Klingenstein Films

Clayman on the set as subject and co-director of OC87.

And we see his struggles with the film itself, as he argues with his co-directors over his right to lean back in his chair. Over the course of some embarrassingly poor, zoom-happy camerawork — not Clayman’s doing — we rarely leave the man’s side.

This insularity becomes stuffy after a while. Claustrophobia is the point, of course, since Clayman’s daily struggles take place inside his own head. And he has an endearingly wry and self-deprecating on-screen presence, laughing at his disheveled apartment and overstuffed wallet.

Yet as viewers, we may instinctively crave more than what Clayman alone can offer us. Segments where he cedes screen time to others, including the bipolar General Hospital actor and mental-health advocate Maurice Benard, are a relief.

As impressively candid as Clayman is on camera, he’s still holding back, often lapsing into psychology-approved terminology. How close did he come to the edge? How did he spend his years in treatment? Does he think, at the conclusion of this movie, that he’d be capable of directing one by himself? His climactic revelation, a staged showdown with his “darker side” modeled after a Lost in Space episode, is fun but empty, and makes for an unsatisfying conclusion.

More revealing are Clayman’s interactions with his parents. His faithful mother, Lila, selflessly donates her level head to the gargantuan task of cleaning the apartment, while his watch-mogul father, Mort (who reluctantly bankrolled the film), still harbors doubts about the validity of the therapist’s diagnosis. Bud was just “lazy,” Mort insisted when the problems started. The label is telling about the contrasting ways the two men interpret the world, and its quick mention makes for one of the film’s most profound moments.

But Bud’s not lazy, not by a long shot. In OC87 he represents a group of people who are rarely offered any media exposure, and he comes bearing a message of hope rather than just a sob story. He has something valuable to offer, even as we wish there were more like him on screen.

Charlie Bartlett

Prep school student Charlie Bartlett is caught forging driver’s licenses and expelled yet again, setting him up for a transfer to public school and a prescription for Ritalin. Charlie ventures onto a school bus for presumably the first time, and encounters an overly friendly fellow who we are meant to consider intellectually challenged. (In a clear allusion to Of Mice and Men, the guy is named Len Arbuckle.)

Len offers to share his unwrapped lollipops with Charlie, and is (surprisingly) not rebuffed. Similarly, Charlie accepts gracefully when Len asks to sit next to him at lunch on his first day of school; an act which, as every schoolchild knows, will determine his social status for the rest of the year. Accordingly, he quickly becomes a target of the school bully Murphy Bivens.

Charlie hits upon a plan to both elevate his social standing and get rid of his unwanted doses of Ritalin; he uses Len to bodily compel Murphy into meeting with him, and has him sell the rest of his pills. The aftermath of the school dance where almost everybody is high includes Len chasing two giggling half-naked girls down the school hallway, wearing a bra and someone’s dress as a superhero cape. Good thing the school administration is largely absent, because a stunt like that is sure to get a special education student labeled as a sex offender in real life.

Soon the depressed and disaffected know that Charlie can get them the drugs that they have no access to, and Charlie brings their problems to a string of psychiatrists all too eager to write him a quick prescription without double-checking how many other drugs he’s supposedly using.

But if Charlie’s motivations in bilking his doctors and health insurance privileges in an effort to reassure his fellow students that “everything will be ok” are well-intentioned, he clearly hasn’t considered that he could be abusing the privileges afforded him. It’s always poverty-stricken Murphy holding the contraband, and easily-manipulated Len as the heavy. Should things hit the fan, it would be those two suffering the consequences. Len would be labeled violent and consigned to the worst circle-of-hell group home when he comes of age. Fortunately, Charlie is convinced of the folly of his methods before it’s too late, and pulls out of the drug-pushing business. Len is barely seen again in the film, except for a brief glimpse of him wistfully watching Charlie’s girlfriend singing.

Biutiful

Biutiful is a tale about Uxbal, a middle-aged man who is suffering from prostate cancer which becomes terminal during the course of the movie. In a struggle to save money in order to pay the rent and be able to leave money to care for his children financially after his death, he engages in a number of dodgy enterprises, including but not limited to drug dealing (in addition to using) and brokering the cheap labor of smuggled Chinese immigrants. It is later on, as the end becomes nearer, that he tries to repair his karma by confronting the snakeheads and trying to right this and some of the other wrongs he has commited in his life. When a Senegalese associate dies, he takes in his wife and child (and later ends up telling the wife to take care of his kids and handle the money). Uxbal remains physically active until near the end of his life, though he periodically enters the hospital for chemotherapy and other treatments. He is walking till the very end, though the toll the cancer takes is shown in scenes where he urinates blood, and walks home from a chemotherapy session whereupon he upchucks on the street. Near the end of the movie, he is shown wearing an adult diaper, which symbolizes the fact that the cancer is affecting him more physically, but he is keeping his suffering to himself.

Though he is far from an ideal parent to his two young children (the older of the two turns ten during the course of the picture), living in a shabby apartment and serving cold cereal piled high with sugar for dinner, he tries to be “present in his children’s lives” as he expresses it when he adds that his mother died when he was young, and he had never met his father. His grandfather had also been an absentee father.

While he is separated from the children’s mother Marambra, they do see and interact with one another on a regular basis. The children also spend some time visiting and, at times, temporarily living with, their mother, who initially seems to be the “more fit” parent, based on her more well-kept apartment and well-stocked refrigerator.

Marambra’s ability to be a properly functioning parent is negatively affected by her bipolar disorder. One one visit, Uxbal refers to her past alcohol abuse, and engages in some “checking up” on her. It is made clear that she has engaged in impulsive behavior in the past during manic states, and implied that she may be “self-medicating”. In one scene where she appears to be in a manic state, she is lively, gossiping, and amusing, as well as doting on the children. But on another occasion, she locks the little boy in the basement as a disciplinary measure. Somewhat later, it is made clear that the depressive phase of her condition is coming on. While I do not have any information about the state of affairs in Spain’s mental health system, Marambra makes reference to having previously gone to a “clinic” for her mental illness, where she was “tied up”. No psychiatric medications are seen or spoken of, and nor is electroshock.

Perhaps Marambra realizes she needs to regain her equilibrium for the sake of her children, because she goes to the clinic in spite of the deterrent of being restrained. Uxbal takes the children for the duration, and tells the children the truth, but he also tells them that while she needs to “rest” at the moment, they will be able to visit her later on “any time they want”. She is still in the clinic when Uxbal’s condition becomes worse and he dies.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is a classic of American cinema, and Jack Nicholson’s most well-remembered cinematic role. The movie was based on an earlier theatrical production, and upon the the Ken Kesey novel of the same name, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which had been loosely based upon his experiences working as a janitor or orderly in a VA mental hospital in California, where he also volunteered for LSD experiments.
A lesser-known fact is that having been released in 1975, as a cinematic retelling of a story set some 10-20 years earlier, it is an extremely realistic portrayal of what State mental institutions were like until fairly recently, insofar as how the facilities were set up and what the available treatments were.
Nurse Ratched is easily vilified and has become synonymous with representatives of institutionalized cruelty in our age, and McMurphy observes that she likes to “play with a rigged deck”. However, though some of her policies are merely protective of institutional inertia (what can putting the World Series game on the ward’s television hurt?), certain of her actions are an attempt to impose order upon chaos and good habits upon pathology; in many cases, she engaged in such restrictive measures as withholding other patients’ cigarettes in an effort to stem the negative influence upon the other patients on the part of McMurphy, who had started gambling with the other patients and had won much of their existing supply of money and cigarettes. Though the patients possess wishful thinking of winning these items back, if enabled to gamble some more, Ratched holds out no such hopes and is immune to McMurphy’s charisma. She thinks the regimen of the institution, if strictly adhered to, can at least partially “fix” McMurphy and the other patients, but McMurphy’s fellow inmates welcome the excitement and fun McMurphy’s stunts bring into their drab world. In an interview with Dr. Spivey, the chief psychiatrist, Randall Patrick McMurphy admits that the reason he got sent to prison, and subsequently to the mental institution was, “as near as I can figure out, it’s ’cause I, uh, fight and fuck too much”. This movie is as much about the way society deals with such a nonconformist as much as it is about the personal conduct of such an individual himself; as the behind-the-scenes deliberations of the doctors and Nurse Ratched are shown and the workings of the various bureaucracies dealing with McMurphy are put before the audience. The treatment team make the fateful decision to “keep him (McMurphy) on the ward”, rather than exercising the other options available to them of sending McMurphy to another ward with more “disturbed” patients, or, as the head of the hospital wanted, sending him back to the prison work farm, on the grounds that McMurphy wasn’t technically mentally ill, and that therefore he could well be returned to the penal system, rather than remain in the mental health system.

Though the medical and psychiatric knowledge of the time had decided that McMurphy was “not crazy, but he is dangerous”, modern-day audiences view this picture with a different perspective than people did when it was released in the 1970s. These days, folks are likely to ask, upon seeing McMurphy’s provoking manner, if perhaps, he “has ADD”, which, back then, was not considered possible in an adult. Some speculate that he might have been a sociopath. Modern audiences also express shock at what was then a common procedure, and, during the time period referenced by the original book upon which the movie is based, the only game in town, electroshock therapy without anesthesia, which is now banned in the US, being widely considered barbaric and cruel.
At one point when a melee erupts in the ward, and McMurphy and the Chief are among those taken away immediately to get electroshock treatment, ostensibly to calm their agitated, violent states, but actually because it is the prevailing punishment this particular bureaucracy can dispense. While McMurphy and the Chief are sitting on a bench outside the electroshock room, waiting their turn, McMurphy does the chief the small kindness of offering him a stick of gum. Chief thanks McMurphy for the gum, and with surprise, McMurphy notes that the Chief “can talk” and is thus not “deaf and dumb” as he had previously been described by others in the ward. (Chief actually came off more as a catatonic to me). The Chief warns McMurphy about people “working on him” by telling him the tragic story of his own bedevilled and alcoholic father. Nevertheless, McMurphy continues his antics and continues to get himself and others into escalating amounts of trouble.
Though the predominant disability portrayed in this movie is mental illness in various forms and degrees, both by actors and by authentic patients who had roles as “extras”, there is the occasional wheelchair user shown at various times and places in the hospital, and it is not uncommon to see stray manual wheelchairs left unattended, and easily commandeered by the able-bodied. Though the hospital was built well before the ADA became law, and is probably not designed with wheelchair accessibility in mind, the patients’ swimming pool has a concrete ramp on which an older male patient in a wheelchair is gently rolled into the pool, wheelchair and all.
There were no shortage of “acquired disabilties” in the mental institutions of the time: in the past, when electroshock was the predominant form of treatment, and was given in much the same way in real life as it was to Jack Nicholson, it was tacitly acknowledged that some brain damage was part of the deal.
Lobotomies were a common form of treatment in mental institutions in the past, and while dramatic loss of intelligence and personality was not always the direct result of lobotomization, in this movie, an individual who has had a lobotomy is portrayed as a drooling, incontinent zombie, and McMurphy is shown as passive and silent, and no longer “him”, following his lobotomy.

It’s Kind Of A Funny Story

It’s Kind of a Funny Story, a movie based on It’s Kind of a Funny Story by former NYPress columnist Ned Vizzini, is a (mostly) realistic portrayal of a high-achieving teenager who also has a case of high anxiety and projectile “stress vomiting”. Craig Gilner, a 16 year old in a prestigious, competitive NYC high school with a stable, middle-class family, has a lot of “little” problems, but the pressures to succeed academically, join a prestigious summer program, and work towards going on to a good college and a good job are building up on him, and he is having suicidal thoughts, including a vivid dream of jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge.

He initially calls a suicide hotline, but ends up just showing up at a fictional hospital, walking into the ER, and checking himself in on the grounds that he is suicidal. In the waiting room of the ER, he meets Bobby, a character he initially thinks is a doctor, but whom he later discovers to be a patient in the hospital’s psych ward when he ends up there.

Craig and Bobby in the ER

Craig and Bobby meet in the Emergency Room

One of the deleted scenes included on the DVD version of the movie shows a call to a suicide hotline which is largely ineffective except for the volunteer’s recommendation that he should go to a hospital because “suicide is a medical illness”. As such, when he gets to the hospital, he fully expects to be given a pill or a shot, along with a few words of encouragement, and quickly released. Not so. He is told that he will be staying for at least 5 days.

To Craig’s surprise, the adolescent wing is “under renovation”, thus requiring the hospital to place adolescent patients in the adult psychiatric ward. In New York, it is perfectly legal to have adolescents 13 and over committed to mental hospitals and wards serving an adult population. It is also legal to send children age five and over to mental hospitals where adults are committed.

In fact, such a situation is more common than not in New York City. New York has a dearth of adolescent mental health services, and adolescent-only wards or institutions are small population and relative rarities.

Craig is given the tour of the ward and discovers that his new roommate is a middle-aged depressive named Mustafa who never gets out of bed. Unlike Mustapha, Craig still “functions” and does so well enough for there to have been no obvious problems (he didn’t lose his place as an honor student, although he displays some serious anxiety about this possibility) other than his previous prescription for Zoloft. Bearded Bobby soon becomes a mentor and a father figure.

Among the unrealistic elements in the movie, patients routinely don doctors’ white coats and scrubs and sneak out of the psych ward incognito in this fashion. In of these instances, Bobby bribes the janitor with a couple of pills to let him and Craig have the use of an unrealistically large gymnasium, where the pair shoot baskets, and Bobby gives Craig advice on asking out Noelle, another teen patient in the facility. It might be realistic that in such a situation of adolescents confined with adults, an adult patient may become a mentor to a teen, but it is just as realistic that adults might take advantage of teens in multitudinous ways not shown or discussed in the movie, but implied when it is pointed out that there is no lock on the shower room door.
One of the other realistic elements in the portrayal of the psych ward would be the practical problems disclosed by many of the patients in the adult psych ward. Rarely do they have any money beyond petty cash, and even that takes some time and ingenuity to pool to have enough for a patients’ pizza party. Those who are getting released have to figure out where to go and what to do next. This is indirectly portrayed by muted but anxiety ridden phone conversations on the part of other patients who say things like “I don’t have a job lined up yet”, and Bobby’s upcoming interview for admission to a group home, for which Craig lends him a button-down shirt belonging to his father, because Bobby does not have a dress shirt with him in the ward, or anyone on the outside willing or able to bring him one.
Also somewhat unrealistically, in his five days in the hospital, Craig manages to cure his eating disorder, successfully develop a relationship with Noelle, find a record with Egyptian music that gets Mustapha out of bed and joining the patients’ pizza party, realize he wants to take an art class, stand up to his father, and becomes determined to return to the hospital and volunteer there.

Angel

Almost a parody of Edwardian romance novels, Angel is based on a novel of the same name. Our heroine Angel is a young woman whose only disability is a tendency to delude herself, but it serves her well; she quickly becomes a famous novelist with her talent for overblown romantic prose, acquires a mansion named Paradise, and a handsome yet moody artist husband Esme.

The first hint of reality intrudes when Esme returns home from the war sans one limb. Oblivious as ever to his inner turmoil, Angel assures him, “You’ve lost your leg, but it’s not like you’re dead. I’ll buy you a wheelchair and you can go wherever you like.”

With her soldier husband returns as an amputee, Angel plans to buy him a wheelchair.

Though Angel is now reluctant to make love to Esme, when Esme confesses to being in debt, Angel vows to write another book to pay off his creditors. She’s just about done when Esme comes home stinking drunk one night and attempts to rape her, saying in an almost cartoonishly evil way that he’d like to give her a baby… “with one little leg!” Her cries for help are heard by his sister, who barges into their room and drives him off with his own crutch.

Nora attacks a very drunk Esme with his crutch, defending Angel

Esme leaves, but by the next day Angel is already asking for him. He’s busy spying on his erstwhile mistress, though, and sees she’s found a replacement for him. He returns to Paradise to an enthusiastic welcome from Angel, who is eager to show him the wheelchair that just arrived.

Nora wheels in the wheelchair Angel bought for Esme

Esme and his sister look crestfallen, and the next morning Esme is found hanging from the ceiling in his studio. Angel copes with being a widow quite well, telling herself and a reporter that Esme was happy and died of a heart attack. But the discovery of a letter from his mistress sends her sinking into a depression of her own… collecting several cats along the way.

Winter’s Bone

The winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, Winter’s Bone is about 17 year old “Ree” (played by Jennifer Lawrence) who’s living in terrible poverty in the Ozarks, the sole caregiver to her 2 younger siblings who have no apparent disabilties beyond being 6 and 12 years old, and a mother who is non-functioning. In some scenes, the mother seems to be catatonic or otherwise non-responsive, but in a few she is seen doing some simple tasks (i.e., folding a shirt).

It is not made clear to the audience exactly what it is the mother has, how long she’s been this way, or her prospects for recovery. (Possibilities include depression or other mental illnesses, brain injury from drug use, and Multiple Sclerosis.) In one scene, Ree tells someone that her mother has been taking medication, but it’s not been helping. Her father has been missing for two weeks.

While the situation is not easy, Ree is managing things well enough, until a bail bondsman comes to the house and informs her that her father had put up the house as a bond, and if he fails to show on his court date, they are entitled to seize the house. With no alternative income or legal protections, Ree is forced to try to track down her father by asking what seems to be everyone in the immediate community.

Nearly all of them have some distant, unspecified kinship tie to her (that, the squirrel-shooting and skinning scene, and the fact that a number of people own banjos and know how to play them, initially led me to believe that this picture was set in Appalachia. I hadn’t known there was for all practical purposes an Appalachia in Missouri.) but for the most part, they are distinctly unhelpful even though they most likely are aware of her plight. Ree must tell the younger children “Never ask for what should be offered freely.”

At one point, an associate of her father’s takes her to an abandoned, burned-out meth lab and tries to sell the story that her father had died in the explosion. But she’s not buying it. She knows her father is well-known for producing methamphetamine without blowing himself up, and the weeds in that place are waist-high. She assumes her father is living but on the lam, until he misses his court date. Then, foul play becomes the most likely scenario.

Like the mountain people of the Eastern Seaboard, or the mafia in big cities, there is a “code of silence”, an omerta, if you will. The main industry of this area was meth, and because Ree’s father had planned to inform to law enforcement, persons unknown had killed him and hidden the body. Ree is faced with the difficult situation of going against the culture of her community to find out what happened to her father, and prove her father’s death to the law enforcement system. Though Ree’s immediate environment contains few people who can be said to be good role models by conventional standards, as most of the adults she encounters are either producing or using illegal drugs of one sort or another, she says “no” to drugs, though they are frequently offered to her. Perhaps because she’s intelligent enough to see the consequences of the drug trade in the faces and places she sees everyday. Eventually, she finds a way to make a compromise between her conscience, her practical needs, and the community ideal of not “being a rat”.
A scene where Ree has a talk with an Army recruiter, having seen a poster that promised a $40,000 bonus for enlisting, makes it clear that while the money would be the answer to her prayers, mainstream society, with arbitrary barriers and no exceptions, offers her few legal and legitimate ways to solve her financial and sociological problems.

Helen

Helen starts out as a seemingly happy, successful college professor with a teenage daughter, a second marriage, and a spacious house and a car.  The onset of Helen’s major depression comes slowly, almost imperceptibly, as she sits brooding in the dark and tells her husband “it’s nothing”.  It only starts to become more obvious that she has a combination plate of depression and anxiety when she has a seemingly unprovoked panic attack when returning student essays in class.

The true depth of Helen’s problem only becomes apparent when her husband finds her curled in front of the clothes dryer in a fetal position.  When he brings her to the hospital, the doctor sends them to a neurologist, who goes through the depression inventory as Helen sits sullenly, and her husband initially answers the questions.  To his surprise, her husband discovers that she has made a previous trip there 12 years ago, several years before they married.  He expressed amazement that he had missed seeing the serious nature of her condition for so long.  The neurologist told him; “some people hide it very well.  You should see some of the clowns we have on suicide watch”.  He prescribes an antidepressant and Ativan for the anxiety.

Meanwhile, one of her music students is experiencing a similar, albeit more dramatic, downward spiral into clinical depression.  The movie intercuts to show the parallel track they take as their conditions increasingly impair their peace of mind and ability to function in society.

(I love the scene where Mathilda bangs her head against a glass partition in the hospital and cracks it.  The The image very plainly portrays the collective frustration of any number of people with the medical and mental health systems as they exist in America today.)

When Helen’s medication seemingly fails to work and she makes a suicide attempt, her husband goes to the psych ward for help, and gets a different doctor who says she will change Helen’s medication, but will not hospitalize Helen against her will.  Her husband is clearly frustrated, as Helen has made more suicide attempts, and he feels he can’t watch her constantly; to him, her need to be hospitalized seems obvious.  This is not the case for the doctors who are not living with Helen, and who cite mental health laws as being meant “to protect people like her”, in this instance, by not society having people committed at the drop of a hat.

Meanwhile Helen grows worse, and her teenage daughter eventually ends up leaving her home to move in temporarily with her biological father (who has conveniently been waiting in the wings)

It is only after Helen experiences another non-lethal mental health crisis (she has taken too many Valium and won’t wake up) that the powers-that-be allow her husband to have her committed involuntarily.

It is then that Helen wakes up in the hospital.  Helen and Mathilda meet as fellow psych ward patients and become friends and peers in a way that they probably would not have, had they remained teacher and student.

Of the two, Mathilda is the more damaged, and she is not only damaged by depression herself, but also indirectly.  Her mother committed suicide and left her a house (a nice, clean beach house with giant picture windows) all ready for her and Helen to move in.  Somehow, they seem to have enough money for groceries and utilities, even though neither of them have jobs, or were seen to file for disability benefits (I wonder how many of the mentally ill have prime beachfront real estate?).

Helen initially panicked at ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) being suggested for her, and argues when the doctor tries to talk her husband into consenting to ECT for her, but later, after her release from the hospital, chooses ECT of her own volition when she comes to the belief that by making the choice to have ECT, she is actively choosing the state of sanity.  “Modern ECT” complete with general anaesthesia, an oxygen mask, and more, is depicted.  The ECT experience is portrayed as a dream (the convulsions being muted by succinylcholine), and she is seen waking up (undoubtably with a huge headache) from a soft bed with a pillow.

This movie could be considered a modern-day morality play for the mental health system. As Helen spouts platitudes about mental health, and is presumably continuing her medication, she slowly returns to her normal activities prior to the depressive episode, and the dimmer switch in her home is turned up.

Mathilda, by contrast, deteriorates conspicuously.  She is non-compliant (whether or not her medication(s) actually work and what sort of side effects they have is not made clear to the viewers), drinks alcohol (if you are in fact taking SSRIs, you are officially advised to steer clear of both alcohol and pot), and has sexual encounters in alleys with different men.  It is not made clear whether she is engaging in the unconventional sexual activity from her own free will, or if the men involved are threatening or blackmailing her, or if she’s paying  her living expenses with prostitution.

After Helen leaves the house for the ECT (it takes at least a day to recover from the anaesthesia given in modern ECT, and she apparently has a couple of ECT sessions in a row, so the timeframe amounts to at least a couple of days) she returns to find the home environment showing evidence of neglect, disorganization, and “impulse control issues”.

The cast interviews included on the DVD were revealing.

Ashley Judd said that the scene where Helen is eating dinner with her family while undergoing major depression reminded another movie crew member of what it was like for her family when her mother had major depression.

Alexa, who played Helen’s teenage daughter Julie explained that the character she played went to live with her biological father for the sake of self-preservation even though she knew her mother “would be devastated by it”.  Alexa added that she wasn’t sure if she’d be strong enough to do what her character did if she were in a similar situation with her family.

“The people around the person that’s depressed are often affected as well, and this film does a good job of showing that”.