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.

Shooter

Sniper movie Shooter has a relatively minor (but pivotal to the plot) character with a disability, Michael Sandor. Michael is first seen rolling up to Colonel Isaac Johnson and some official-looking military guys, recommending Gunnery Sergeant Bob Lee Swagger (USMC, retired) for a job, and accompanying them silently as they visit Swagger to make the offer. They want Swagger to use his specialized knowledge as a sniper to help them foil an assassination attempt on the President, figuring out where some other sniper will likely take his shot. By the time Swagger realizes his job is actually to be the patsy, the visiting Archbishop of Ethiopia has been assassinated by a rifle triggered by remote control, and he’s the target of a manhunt.

Swagger seeks refuge with Sarah, the girlfriend of a buddy who died in action, and together they make contact with Memphis, the FBI agent blamed for dropping the ball after the assassination. When Sarah is kidnapped by Johnson, Swagger and Memphis seek out a grizzled old sniper for wisdom. The guru tells them that only one other sniper in the world could make the mile-plus shot, a sadistic Russian who had no compunctions against shooting people who came to aid the wounded. He was believed dead after a building collapsed around him, but surprise surprise, he’s the enigmatic Russian in a wheelchair.

Why Colonel Johnson and Sandor needed to involve Swagger in the assassination plot is not clear; Sandor seems to have use enough of his arms to propel himself and use of his fingers to take notes. He’s perfectly capable of modifying weapons to suit his needs (and indeed, certainly pulls a trigger later). Many people with more severe disabilities than Sandor still enjoy hunting with rifles mounted to their wheelchairs, so why did he need to outsource the planning?

Colonel Johnson tells Sandor he’s to be used as bait and essentially tied to a tree, and he’s set up in a house with minimal guards. Swagger and Memphis attack, and get an explanation from Sandor; that he was complicit in the massacre of hundreds of African villagers in order to set up an oil pipeline, and the Archbishop had been planning to expose the genocide during his speech. The implication is that Sandor’s disability has opened his eyes to the enormous guilt he bears for causing such death and destruction. Sandor shoots himself in the head, and Swagger and Memphis do nothing to interfere. His taped confession is brought before a congressional committee, but destroyed by Swagger on the grounds that they were the people who ordered the genocide in the first place.

How to Die in Oregon

Physician-assisted suicide documentary How to Die in Oregon comes down almost solidly on the side of legalized euthanasia. A man with advancing ALS decides to self-terminate before his mobility problems get to be too much. A woman with cancer decides to kill herself so that her end would be tidy, with no messy emotions or bodily fluids.

The only dissenting voice comes from a cancer patient who was denied a second round of chemotherapy on the grounds that it would not be cost-effective, and offered the option of physician-assisted suicide instead. Trembling with anger, he denounced the writer of the chilling letter that pronounced his death sentence, and was granted his second chance at chemo. But the incident illustrates what disability activists fear most about physician-assisted suicide; that those who want a chance at living with a disabling or chronic condition, or living as long as possible with a terminal condition, will not be offered treatment or services because of the cost. In the eyes of the state, the right to die will eventually become the duty to die.

Code of the Freaks

Fans of Salome Chasnoff’s previously linked Hollywood Images of Disability (since disappeared) can breathe a little easier now; it hasn’t gone away for good, it’s just being reworked into a full length documentary titled Code of the Freaks.

War-Torn 1861-2010

Wartorn 1861-2010 does a very good job of showing, through letters and articles written by past veterans of the Civil War and World War I, continuing with candid discussions about dysfunctional behavior on the part of World War II veterans, and the daily lives of Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, that exposure to traumatic sights and experiences during their military service had similar effects on returned servicemen and their families during very different historical eras in which very different technologies and cultural mores prevailed.

What is now known as PTSD was called by different names at different times: in World War I, “Shell Shock” in recognition of the paranoia caused by the sight and sound of what was then new weapons technology which brought impersonal deaths and maimings; in WWII “battle fatigue”; these various terms describe a psychic wounding which takes different forms, but in some instances has led to suicidal ideation, social isolation and feelings of anomie in those who are convinced that the people around them (in most cases the civilian population) do not understand them.

Societal attitudes (and often, those of the military) in the past, did nothing for them at best, and exacerbated the problem, at worst. “Battle fatigue” was “not something you wanted to have on your record’ one WWII veteran said in the context of a discussion of PTSD-induced behaviors on the part of several of his cohorts at a meeting of a veterans organization. Another chimed in that it was equivalent to being called a coward. Though the “side” of the military Establishment of the present day is shown in the documentary, with one high-ranking officer saying that the Army is taking steps to become more effective in reducing soldier suicides and “recognizing and treating” what he referred to as “PTS”, there is still a long way to go, and this particular officer’s attitude is apparently has not always been shared by many of his contemporaries in the service.

Another issue is that Traumatic Brain Injury (which is getting a lot more recognition, both public and official, in this particular American war) and PTSD share some common symptoms and may in some instances go hand-in-hand.

Some returned soldiers who _did_ commit suicide are discussed by their families. In one instance in the documentary, a soldier who sought professional help through the proper channels while on active duty was faced with a situation in which the military psychologist spoke to him for only a few minutes, dismissed the fact that on the paperwork, he’d checked off the box saying that he was thinking of suicide, and claimed he was “faking it” and sent him back to barracks…with his weapon. This turned out to be a situation in which not only did the military bureaucracy dismiss and fail to attempt to treat the problem, they effectively facilitated the suicide.

Another left the service, after which a downward spiral commenced characterized by self-loathing and culminating in suicide.
Then there are the returned soldiers who not only replay their wartime experiences in dreams and imaginings, but do things which may have been conducive to their survival in wartime situations, but which get them into trouble in the civilian world. One former soldier who killed a Middle Eastern cab driver got a lengthy prison sentence, his conduct was explained by the notion that due to his PTSD, he had a waking hallucination of a wartime situation and killed a harmless individual in civilian life, but the PTSD was not a legal defense in their state, and the California penal system provided no treatment for the PTSD.

This documentary, perhaps of necessity, limits itself to discussion of PTSD in the military developed under combat circumstances. One criticism of this documentary is that it presents a bleak picture and prognosis for people actually living with PTSD, and says very little about what resources are available to veterans and active duty servicemembers with PTSD. The official documentary website has a list of PTSD resources and websites for veterans and family members, as well as some more nuanced interviews with former soldiers suffering with PTSD and/or their family members in which they go into more detail about the interventions available, the bureaucratic hurdles to getting help, and what worked for them. It also does not go into very much detail about current methods and means of treatment, and whether they are actually helping returned veterans, though the DVD also contains footage of a separate panel discussion in which several individuals from government departments and various capacities in the services discuss the need for a more proactive approach by the services to identifying and treating PTSD in those on active duty, before they leave the military.

Alas, the panel discussion footage is uncaptioned.

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.

Made in Dagenham

Disabled veteran George doesn’t get much screentime in Made in Dagenham, but that merely belies the size of the role disability and caregiving plays in the women’s rights movement. George would likely be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder today, and his wife Connie is not only the breadwinner for the two of them (working as a machinist in Britain’s Ford factory), but also George’s sole, unpaid caregiver. There was little understanding and even less treatment available for PTSD back then, and Connie can only describe George to others in her labor union as “touched”.

Connie, Rita O’Grady, and the other machinists in their all-female leatherworking shop realize that they’re being paid much less than their male counterparts for skilled work, and organize a strike. Connie has been the worker’s representative to management up to that point, but when relations break down she explains to Rita that she’d prefer to take a backseat in the struggle because she has to put George first.

To illustrate her domestic worries, one night shortly thereafter George wakes up screaming, and becomes combative when Connie tries to soothe him. Agitated, he makes for the door, worried that Connie will “try to put [him] away”. Connie embraces and reassures him. In a later deleted scene, Connie gives the confused and forgetful George his medication just before leaving for a union meeting, reminding him that he knows where she’ll be.

Made in Dagenham

Connie prepares a powdered medication for George and reminds him to drink it.

Later when Connie returns, she finds that without supervision, George has committed suicide.

Her fellow union machinists support her during George’s funeral, and later Rita uses George’s story to garner support for equal pay among the male workers. George’s service and the need to fight for what they believe in speaks to the union men in terms they can relate to, and they vote to support the women. With that and the help of Labour politician Barbara Castle, the female machinists win concessions from the British government, and a guarantee of equal pay in the future.

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.

Guzaarish

Guzaarish (Hindi for “Request”) is the Bollywood remake of “Whose Life is it Anyway?”, and yet another example of the “right to die” disability movie trope.

The story centers around Ethan Mascarenhas, once a famous magician, who became a quadriplegic when his best friend betrayed him during a dangerous trick. Ethan has seemingly done well as a quad; he wrote a popular book and appears to have toured to promote it, he’s a Radio Jockey of a popular program called Radio Zindagi, has a romantic if gloomy mansion on a hill, two live-in servants and a nurse, and a sip-and-puff motorized wheelchair. From his home-based studio he exhorts his radio listeners to find beauty in their lives and boasts about his program being the most joyful on the air.

That’s why it’s so surprising when, on his 14th anniversary of becoming a quadriplegic, Ethan suddenly announces that he wants to end it all, and instructs his best friend (a lady lawyer) to file a petition with India’s courts for euthanasia. (Or, as he calls it on his radio program, “Ethanasia”.)

He also suddenly begins snapping at his caregivers and even makes a sexually harassing remark or two to Sophia, his nurse. Disabled viewers probably start wondering if Ethan has some underlying mental health issues at this point.

While it is impossible to deny that many people with disabilities–particularly the newly disabled–are indeed suicidal, “right to die” movies such as Guzaarish are problematic because movies are the primary vehicle for the able-bodied to learn about the lives of the disabled. Suicidal tendencies among the disabled are seen as a perfectly rational, and even noble, response to their condition; a movie such as this only reinforces such perceptions. Depression is thus left untreated and available services unapplied for. Studies show that once disabled people are offered adequate services, pain relief, and adaptive equipment to maximize their independence, they become much less likely to be suicidal.

And indeed Guzaarish bears this out; during the court hearing, it is revealed that Ethan’s mansion is mortgaged to the hilt, and he only has enough savings to cover Sophia’s salary for two more months. Further cracks in Ethan’s cheerful facade begin to appear upon examination. He may have a proper motorized wheelchair, but he only uses it in the beginning of the film. The rest of the time, he’s hauled about slumped in an ill-fitting manual wheelchair. Perhaps his town isn’t particularly wheelchair accessible, nor does he seem to have access to an adapted van or paratransit services. But that doesn’t explain why he hasn’t installed himself on the first floor of his mansion instead of the second, nor added ramps about the extensive grounds. Perhaps he wouldn’t be so depressed if he made an effort to get out more than once in a decade?

Ethan meets a priest friend in front of one of the pools on his property

Ethan meets a priest friend in front of one of the pools on his property.

Any quadriplegic viewing the above image is now wondering why Ethan bothered to go through the court system, when the means of offing himself are already at his disposal. Clearly Ethan is crying for help, and those cries are amplified when he puts Ethanasia up for a vote on his radio program after the courts deny his initial petition. Most callers vote no; a handful, including Ethan’s former lover, crushingly vote yes. If Ethan wasn’t depressed before, he surely is now.

The Super Duper Quad Club

A group of disabled nursing home residents calling themselves the Super Duper Quads vote no.

Sister Julia

A nun calls in to vote no, and somewhat condescendingly sings a children's song about God's love.

A judge decides to hear Ethan’s case, and even moves the courtroom to the foyer of Ethan’s home to accommodate his trouble getting around. Ethan uses showmanship to lock the prosecutor into a trunk, and when he begs for release before a minute is up, Ethan tries to make the point that the prosecutor couldn’t tolerate being confined for even a minute. The judge still denies his request, but Ethan has one more ace up his sleeve: Sophia.

Sophia and Ethan declare their love for each other, and she agrees to marry and then kill him, damn the consequences. They have the most uncomfortable wedding imaginable, with the groom dressed up on his deathbed insulting his guests one by one. Ethan’s doctor friend nearly leaves, but is convinced to stay. All pile on the bed to wish him farewell. If there’s one thing to be grateful for, it’s that Guzaarish narrowly avoids the disability movie cliche of the disabled character dying onscreen.

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.

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”.