Cronicas Chilangas

Cronicas Chilangas is one of those films following several characters whose lives intersect in some dramatic fashion, two with different disabilities. We’re introduced first to schizophrenic “El Jairo” who comes to believe the Men in Black are trying to recruit him; his fellow gangsters try to give him a wide berth, but since he’s related to the bossman he can’t easily be disarmed or taken off the kidnapping job they’ve been assigned. Jairo’s hallucinations land everyone in a load of trouble, though, and his co-workers stuff him and the ransom money in the trunk of a stolen car to try and get him to safety.

Physically disabled Chabelita is first seen lying in bed with her hands contracted, attempting to turn the pages of a book with a mouthstick that may have been an improvised wooden spoon. She does not appear to have any paid home health care, useful work to do, or even a wheelchair, and her aging parents Juvencio and Anita worry about where the next mortgage payment will come from and who will take care of her when they’re gone without including Chabelita in their discussions. She has no idea they’re down to selling their car to make ends meet one more month, or why their dog is barking madly, or who her parents are talking to so urgently in the next room, or what that mysterious thud was. All we can say is, it’s fate.

The Rite

The Rite is notable in its portrayal of a teenage girl whom seasoned exorcist Fr. Lucas describes as demonically possessed, but whom doubting seminarian Michael Kovack sees as a “sick girl” who “needs medication” when, having expressed doubt about the whole concept of demonic possession in the exorcists’ class he is taking in Rome, he is referred to Fr. Lucas by his instructor at the Vatican training course for future exorcists, and invited to observe this particular exorcism.

During the course of the class, Kovack had expressed “reasonable doubt” that persons thought to be possessed, having been described by the instructor as “having periods of lucidity” and reletive normal behavior, could be suffering mental illness, because “paranoid schizophrenics have periods of lucidity, too”.

While taking the course, Kovack meets a female reporter who is also following the course as a means of gathering background information on the subject of Church policy and belief on the subject of demonic possession, and what motivates and drives a man who becomes a priest-exorcist in this day and age. To that end, she follows him as he participates in the course, and his involvement with an individual exorcism and his relationship with Fr. Lucas grows. She has a personal interest in the question of whether certain individuals are “possessed” or “mentally ill”, and how to tell one from the other, because, as she later reveals to Kovack, she has a brother who had been diagnosed as mentally ill who now lives in an institution.

Kovack discovered that the girl was a victim/survivor of incest (her father is responsible for her pregnancy, the reason she is not taking medication) and the girl, impregnated under circumstances, he presumed “clearly didn’t want her baby”, leading to his speculation that with the purpose of harming the fetus inside her, she had swallowed the large, old-fashioned nails she is seen to cough up following the exorcism. However, unlike most mentally ill persons who engage in self-harm, it is made clear that she knows things about Kovack that she could only have gained knowledge of telepathically, which initially seems lost on Kovack, though she refers to specific items and incidents in his life which she could not have possibly known about upon meeting him for the first time and having no knowledge of his background.

When they discuss her case after the exorcism session, Fr. Lucas acknowledges that mental illness may well be part of the picture, but although he claims that he _is_ (also) a doctor (details are not given, nor is his status as such verified in the picture), he refrains from characterizing mental illness as her primary diagnosis or as an alternate explanation for her symptoms, which in his role as a Catholic priest, he characterizes as typical of demonic possession, a separate and distinct phenomena in its own right.

When the girl gets worse instead of better, she is taken to a hospital (presumably a conventional hospital, rather than a “State Hospital”) where she is characterized as mentally ill, and thus given medication and put in 4-point restraints. (Whether the old enameled iron bedstead and cavernous Renaissance-looking building, coupled with modern patient-monitoring equipment is a realistic portrayal of a hospital in Rome, is another story.)

Four-point restraints, as depicted in The Rite.

In yet another mystery that keeps the element of reasonable doubt in her case, she nevertheless manages to suffer sudden “massive internal hemorrhaging” causing both herself and the baby to die, though she had remained physically chained to the hospital bed.

Jane Eyre

This most recent motion-picture version of Jane Eyre is a somewhat different cinematic re-telling of the novel with a greater emphasis on the idea that it is a gothic novel, and that therefore the set and settings must be dark and dreary as is the greater part of the plot. Many of the indoor scenes take place at night, and are lit by only a candle or a lamp, and there are a number of outdoor scenes which take place at dusk or in overcast weather. Though I can’t say I am entirely comfortable with the sheer amount of darkness thus utilized in the film, I have to take my hat off to the lighting director and staff for actually carrying this off without the obvious blue-filtered fake “night” so often seen on screen.
Unlike many other cinematic adaptations of Jane Eyre, which center on her adult career as a governess/village schoolmarm, and the restraint she practices when the legal and social impediments first to her relationship and then to her marriage are made clear, this one goes into greater detail about Jane’s unhappy experiences in childhood, with Amelia Clarkson, a young girl actress, playing Jane at a young age at the beginning of the movie. Jane Eyre lost her parents in her preteen years, and is adopted by an aunt who had promised her father on his death bed that she’d take Jane in. But Jane’s spirit and willingness to stand up for herself don’t sit well with the aunt, who favors her own older boy. Things come to a head when the boy tries to steal a book from Jane that had belonged to her uncle and they tangle in a physical fight, in which the boy ends up hitting her head so badly that blood comes out of her ear. (Yes, Jane may have ended up with head injuries and/or inner ear injuries as a result of these fisticuffs, and she only ends up the worse for it when the aunt and servants break up the fight). Jane ends up being the one punished for the perceived transgression by being locked in the “red room” (a parlor with red damask wallpaper) concerning which she expresses a belief that it is haunted. It is after this incident that the aunt decides to solve her familial problems and “cast-off’ Jane, sending her to the strict boarding school where dull gray dresses, a Calvinistic guiding philosophy, and corporal punishment are the order of the day.
In one incident at the school, Jane is caught looking elsewhere while the teacher is talking. She is made to stand on a high-legged chair while being caned, and the headmaster, upon witnessing the incident, declares an additional punishment for Jane: she is to stand all day upon “the pedestal of infamy” and is to be denied food and water, as well as the friendship of others at least for the day. One girl, Helen, defies the ban and sneaks Jane some buttered bread after the headmaster and the class have gone and Jane is standing alone in the empty classroom. Helen later sits with Jane in the garden and tells her that there is “an invisible world” of spirits all around her, whose purpose is to protect her. (She knows this because she “can see them”. Helen is thus quite an advanced mystic for a little girl, or a schizophrenic, or perhaps a bit of both.) This being the Regency era, when people frequently died of infectuous diseases, Helen shortly thereafter becomes obviously sick, and worsens to the point of dying. The boobs running the school continue to allow Helen to remain in the common room inhabited by the rest of the girls, a circumstance which allows Jane to be with her on her deathbed. Helen declares she is happy to be going home to Heaven, and expresses an optimism the authority figures in Jane’s life don’t have about Jane joining her there at a later date.
Jane’s adult career begins with her being given a choice between being governess of a little girl who speaks only French living in a grand house where “the master” comes home only infrequently, or teaching “cottagers’ daughters” in a village school.
Though she initially shows a willingness to take the village schoolteacher position, she ends up taking the grand house governess gig (perhaps because finding one who speaks fluent French is so rare in the far-off English countryside?) and building a relationship of rough equality with Rochester which would lead to a proposal, followed by public displays of affection (in their world, that was “action”) and a double-time trip to the altar, which was interrupted by a concerned party who revealed the continued physical existance of Bertha Mason, Rochester’s previous wife. (Unlike in other cinematic portrayals of Jane Eyre, in this one, Jane finds out about the existnce of the other woman after having been successfully led to the marriage ceremony and has even more cause than in the other movies to tell Rochester, “sir, you are deceitful!” and to remove herself from his household, as the “proper” and “moral” thing to do according to the sensibilities of the times, even though she still has feelings for him.)
Rochester justifies his conduct and his withholding of information about the situation of his first wife from her by saying that mortal human laws are a mere guideline and have no bearing upon a situation so obviously unjust, the idea of marriage to a madwoman being effectively rendered null and void by very reason of her insanity, but unrecognized in that time and place as grounds for legal divorce, or, apparently, nullification on the part of the church.
He rationalizes having essentially imprisoned Bertha in a secret room in the house and concealed her existence as a humane alternative to having taken her to one of the existing institutions of the day for the mentally ill, which were often conspicuously inhumane, such as “Bedlam, where they bait the inmates and use them for sport”, and where tours were held for the amusement of the public (from which the tradition of “grand rounds” doubtlessly derived), the mentally ill not having the benefit of the privacy laws of our day.
(It was only in the late 19th century that Dorothea Dix conceived of professionally managed State-run institutions in the USA as a humane -for the 19th century- alternative to the mentally ill being sent to prison or being kept in such dubious circumstances in their family homes).
The fact of the Bertha’s continued existence and the hidden cell for her with a concealed door behind a tapestry cleared up a few suspected-to-be paranormal incidents earlier in the movie: the mystery of how a small fire got started in a room near the hidden chamber, and why Adele, the French girl, believed that there was a woman with long wild hair and “sapphire eyes” who walked the halls of the manor house at night, and was a vampiress.
Bertha is not shown as a fully-developed character in this movie: when the door to her cell is opened in Jane’s presence, Bertha shrinks away like a vampire exposed to garlic. Moaning and whimpering, she comes back to the threshhold to embrace her husband, her long, thick hair obscuring her features.
While the mental illness of Rochester’s wife is unspecified, Jane’s aunt may well be a sociopath. While working for Rochester, Jane receives news that her distant uncle with whom she had lost contact as a child had died, and that the aunt who had sent her away had a stroke upon hearing the news. She goes to the aunt, who makes a quasi-deathbed confession. Finally feeling a touch of remorse for her deception, after having previously accused Jane of deception when she was a child, Jane’s aunt confesses that she “wronged her twice”, first by sending her to the boarding school when she had promised Jane’s father that she would take Jane in, and later on, in an incident which Jane had no knowledge of, while Jane’s uncle was still living, in an effort to do Jane out of her inheritance, she lied to him when he wrote asking for Jane’s contact information, misinforming him that Jane had died of typhus while at the boarding school.
Jane manages to convince her uncle’s executors of the truth, and they eventually track her down, and she is informed that she is to be a wealthy woman, which is good news primarily on the grounds that wealth buys independence.
In order to physically separate from Rochester, she takes the village school job. It is however, while she is working at the village school job, that she is proposed marriage by St. John on pragmatic rather than romantic grounds to join him as a Protestant missionary in India.
Though she had been itching to see the world (she looked wistfully at the globe when she taught her young charge geography and voiced regret at never having seen a city as well as frustration with the fact that women were not permitted to do a lot of things and “have adventures” in her time) she turns him down because she is still carrying the torch for Rochester.
In an ambiguously happy ending, she reunites with Rochester, but only after his legal wife escapes the secret room, successfully burns down the house and commits suicide by jumping off the roof. As Rochester had been blinded in the fire, he recogizes Jane by gently feeling her hands and face.

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.

My Own Love Song

My Own Love Song is a story about life after a car accident for a women who survived paraplegia and a stay in the psych ward. The movie opens with Jane Wyatt, a former singer, being chatted up by a man in a bar who seems to be into her, but realizes that he “has to go somewhere” after he spots her wheelchair.

Jane Wyatt has a son, but her child had been taken away to foster care by the State after the accident. While disability, sudden or not, should not mean that your children are taken away, it may be that the jurisdiction where the story is set has a law similar to the one in NY that states that when parents get a diagnosis of mental illness and/or become inpatients in a psychiatric hospital, their children must be removed from parental custody. There is lobbying in NY to get this law changed, though there are some merits to this approach.

It is because Jane feels that her house, her finances, and her capacity to act as an effective, loving parent after having been absent from her son’s life for so long are inadequate, that she hides a letter from her son, inviting her to his Communion party. The concealed letter is found after some snooping around the house on the part of Joey, her “buddy”, a black man with a stammer and a seeming anxiety problem who serves as her informal personal care attendant and “shadow”, and describes himself during the course of the picture as “an ex-fireman” and “her bodyguard”.

The problem is that he is also a “specialist who can talk to ghosts”, sees angels in the sky, and gets into physical confrontations with people who mock this belief in the supernatural. It is implied that Joey is a schizophrenic. There are a couple of well-designed scenes which depict his perception and the angels he presumably sees in a subtle fashion. (Just as magically and mystically, the parking lot of the motel where they sit and look at the moon has a petite wooden wheelchair ramp leading from the curb to the blacktop.)

While it is clear that Jane, who met Joey in the psych ward, does not share his beliefs about the supernatural, and is put in untoward situations with the neighbors and the authorities when he decompensates or escapes from the psychiatric hospital, she nevertheless considers that The System gave him a raw deal, lying to cover for him when the police and mental health authorities come to her door, looking for him and reminding her of the penalty for harboring a fugitive. (Situations like these are enough to make a schizophrenic paranoid.)

The two decide to leave town until the situation cools off, and set off in a car that, soon after, catches fire. Any self-respecting paraplegic would have thrown themselves out of the smoking car, but Jane waits for Joey to retrieve her and her wheelchair. Indeed, Jane often is shown with someone pushing her (which actually annoys many genuine paraplegics to the point that they remove the push handles from their wheelchairs). She largely depends on Joey day-to-day, even though there are times when he has the potential to be a danger to himself and others. She has a manual chair, a regular car without hand controls which someone else (usually Joey) drives.

Life has some unusual hazards for female paraplegics. While Jane seems to have the ability to go some places without Joey–she attends physical therapy sessions outside the home, how she gets there is not shown–she is on several occasions confronted with situations that range from vaguely creepy to genuinely dangerous, like the man she meets on her journey who offers to give her a shower, or a bubble bath, and asks if she can “feel anything”. He explains by saying “for a long time, I couldn’t feel anything in here (indicating his heart). I can walk, but I think I’m crippled, too”. He proves it when he takes off in her new (to her) car after nothing happens between them.

Jane, Joey, and Billie (a non-disabled woman they pick up who becomes something of a love interest for Joey despite her erstwhile married status) must continue their journey on inaccessible buses and trains. On one train platform, Billie decides to return to her plain life, without the nuts.

The movie comes to a presumably happy ending after Jane resumes her singing career (she somehow gets on stage at a honky-tonk in spite of there being no wheelchair ramp to the platform being in evidence), reconnects with her son and performs with Joey on guitar at the Communion party, and embarks on a relationship with Joey; schizophrenia, angel sightings, and all.

Warning: deaf and hard-of-hearing folks should not rent this movie from Netflix or buy it. Legende Films deliberately removed the captions from the rental DVDs in order to force people who need them to buy the DVD, and Netflix did not see fit to declare such disks defective. For this reason, My Own Love Song goes in the Disability Movie Hall of Shame.