Let’s face it, mental health isn’t the most inviting subject when it comes to cinema. Stigmatised, complex, and often misunderstood, it can be off-putting at best and easy to misrepresent at worst. That’s why it’s so important to recognise, and celebrate, movies that treat mental illness with integrity; an issue that will affect approximately one in four people at least once in their lives.
It’s not just about being bold enough to address the subject, but also that the best movies about mental illness represent it in the right way. Below you’ll find the films that do. There’s no schlocky exploitation here. No cheap delusion as lazy plot device. No raving killers or quirky heroes who were imagining the alien conspiracy all along. Whatever tone they take, whether gritty, light-hearted, or even abstracted, these are the films that understand the gravity of their subject matter, and hit it with respect. And even, sometimes, a few laughs. Read on for the best movies about mental illness this World Mental Health Day.
- 20. X + Y
- 19. The Virgin Suicides
- 18. Benny and Joon
- 17. We Need to Talk About Kevin
- 16. The Hours
- 15. The Fisher King
- 14. As Good as it Gets
- 13. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
- 12. Finding Nemo
- 11. Donnie Darko
- 33 Fantastic Films Whose Main Characters Have Mental Disorders
- 1. Leonard Shelby, Memento
- 2. Edward Norton, Fight Club * SPOILER ALERT
- 3. Joel Barish, Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind
- 4. Donnie Darko
- 5. Lucy Whitmore, 50 First Dates
- 6. Dory, Finding Nemo
- 7. Patrick Bateman, American Psycho
- 8. Anne, Amour
- 9. John Nash, A Beautiful Mind *SPOILER ALERT
- 10. Charlie, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower
- 11. Mac, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
- 12. Humbert Humbert, Lolita
- 13. Simon, The Double
- 14. Teddy Daniels, Shutter Island *SPOILER ALERT
- 15. Lester Burnham, American Beauty
- 16. Howard Hughes, The Aviator
- 17. Travis Bickle, Taxi driver
- 18. Regan MacNeil, The Exorcist
- 19. Rosemary Woodhouse, Rosemary’s baby
- 20. Jack Nicholson, The Shining
- 21. Drive
- 22. Tiffany Maxwell, Silver linings playbook
- 23. A Space Odyssey
- 24. Dennis Hopper, Blue Velvet
- 25. Gollum, Lord of the Rings
- 26. Hannibal Lecter
- 27. Trevor Reznik, The Machinist
- 28. Norman Bates, Psycho
- 29. Alex, A Clockwork orange
- 30. Charles Foster Kane, Citizen Kane
- 31. Justine, Melancholia
- 32. Nina Sayers, Black Swan
- 33. Jasmine, Blue Jasmine
- Here are five popular fictional characters with mental illness:
- Scarlett O’Hara (Gone With The Wind)
- Winnie The Pooh and all his friends
- Ariel (Disney’s Little Mermaid)
- Charlie Brown (Peanuts)
- 8 Movies That Got Mental Illness (Mostly) Right
- 1. “Silver Linings Playbook”
- 2. “Frozen”
- 3. “Black Swan”
- 4. “Girl, Interrupted”
- 5. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”
- 6. “Perks of Being a Wallflower”
- 7. “Donnie Darko”
- 8. “Inside Out”
- More From This Series
- 6 Movies That Got Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms (Mostly) Right
- 1. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”
- 3. “Silver Linings Playbook”
- 4. “Star Wars” Episodes II and III
- 5. “Prozac Nation”
- 6. “Fatal Attraction”
- This article is co-written by Jay Boll, RtoR’s Editor-in-Chief and Veronique Hoebeke, RtoR’s Associate Editor. Both of them have used their combined knowledge of mental illness, psychology and love of film to come up with 6 of the most popular movies that get both the science and the realities of mental illness wrong. Warning: This article contains spoilers.
- 6. Total Recall (1990)
- 5. Psycho (1960)
- 4. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
- 3. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
- 2. Shutter Island (2010)
- 1. The Visit (2015)
- Recommended for You
- Jay Boll, Editor in Chief
- Related posts:
20. X + Y
The story: Having landed a spot on Great Britain’s team at the International Mathematical Olympiad, a maths prodigy (Asa Butterfield) finds new friends and confidence on a trip to Taipei.
What it tackles: A criminally under-seen British movie, X + Y (renamed A Brilliant Young Mind in the US) depicts an autistic mind, specifically the way that savant Nathan (Butterfield) sees the world as a result of the spectrum condition (autism on its own is not a mental illness). It’s a terrific performance from Butterfield, in an tricky role that avoids sentimentality and elevates the movie to being more than just the English Rain Man.
19. The Virgin Suicides
The story: Based on Jeffrey Eugenides’s novel, five teenage sisters are effectively put into confinement by their religious parents after one of them commits suicide.
What it tackles: Sofia Coppola’s harrowing movie pulls no punches in its depiction of depression which, in the case of the five Lisbon sisters, turns into a sort of group experience leading to a tragic suicide pact. It aligns the condition with puberty and growing up, as well as showcasing how outsiders (in the movie, a group of boys attracted to the sisters) sometimes don’t comprehend how mentally affected people are.
18. Benny and Joon
The story: A cinephile (Johnny Depp) starts up a relationship with the mentally ill Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson) when he moves into her apartment, shared with her brother Benny (Aidan Quinn).
What it tackles: Though it received some criticism for sanitising schizophrenia, Benny & Joon succeeds due to the winning trio of lead performances, especially from Mary Stuart Masterson as Joon. It’s a turn that isn’t over-sentimental and, unlike some movies which cover mental conditions, doesn’t stop her character from interacting and connecting with those around her.
17. We Need to Talk About Kevin
The story: Adapted from Lionel Shriver’s novel, a mother (Tilda Swinton) has to come to terms with her son and the terrible crime he has committed.
What it tackles: Brilliant in depicting the potential tragic consequences of antisocial personality disorder and how it affects those closest to the sufferer, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a bleak, but vital, watch. It deals with the condition from a human perspective rather than utilising it for shock value, and Ezra Miller is sensational as the troubled older Kevin, with Swinton also excellent as his empathetic and believable mother.
16. The Hours
The story: Charting the lives of three women of different generations, who are all affected by the novel Mrs. Dalloway, including author Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman).
What it tackles: Adapted from Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Hours covers how mental illnesses, including depression and bipolar disorder, can lead to suicide. Opening and closing with Woolf’s suicide, the movie also shows pregnant housewife Laura (Julianne Moore) consider suicide, only for the movie’s central novel to change her mind. Kidman won the Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of Woolf, which is both stunning and moving.
15. The Fisher King
The story: Saved from suicide by a homeless man (Robin Williams), a radio DJ (Jeff Bridges) seeks redemption for a mistake he made that led to a restaurant massacre.
What it tackles: Both lead characters in Terry Gilliam’s comedy-drama are linked by a single event. Bridges’ radio DJ has sunk into depression for causing a caller to commit a massacre, which directly affected Williams’ Parry who begins to suffer with schizophrenia after his wife is killed in the same tragedy. The movie also features one of Gilliam’s finest on-screen moments, involving a romantic dance in a train station.
14. As Good as it Gets
The story: A misanthropic author with obsessive-compulsive disorder (Jack Nicholson) strikes up a relationship with a single mother (Helen Hunt) and a friendship with a gay artist (Greg Kinnear).
What it tackles: While the movie’s view on how to deal with obsessive-compulsive disorder may be over-simplified, Nicholson is terrific in depicting the condition’s potential symptoms, including the fear of contamination, and how it can alienate people from those around them. You’ll be happy to be by his side though, thanks to the movie’s perfect mix of humour and heartbreak.
13. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
The story: When love comes into his life, Gilbert (Johnny Depp) has to adjust how he cares after his younger brother (Leonardo DiCaprio) and obese mother (Darlene Cates).
What it tackles: A heartfelt adaptation of Peter Hedges’ novel, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape features DiCaprio excelling in one of his earliest roles as Arnie, who suffers from a developmental condition, including autism. The movie also features depression in the form of Bonnie (Darlene Cates), who has given up on life after the suicide of her husband.
12. Finding Nemo
The story: When his son is captured, a clownfish afraid of the open ocean sets out on a journey to bring him home, accompanied by a forgetful companion.
What it tackles: It might seem left-field, yet Finding Nemo contains several smartly conveyed mental illnesses. Dory is the obvious case, suffering from short-term memory loss, which certainly isn’t played just for laughs, and later in the film, the fish Nemo meets in the dentist have exhibit from obsessive-compulsive disorder to anxiety issues. Marlin, Nemo’s father, is also very much motivated by anxiety stemming from trauma. Pixar would later tackle depression with similarly crowd-pleasing emotional finesse in Inside Out.
11. Donnie Darko
The story: Plagued by visions of a giant bunny, a teenager (Jake Gyllenhaal) is manipulated into carrying out crimes as he fears the world is about to end.
What it tackles: A cult classic, Donnie Darko is open to numerous interpretations, but can serve as a welcome and believable account of how schizophrenia can affect someone without a violent outcome. Donnie (Gyllenhaal) eventually – seemingly – sacrifices himself for the good of his family and the others around him. That might not actually be the case, but that’s the genius of the movie: we are right in Donnie’s shoes as even we don’t know what to believe.
33 Fantastic Films Whose Main Characters Have Mental Disorders
There is something about mental disorders that makes a movie all the more enthralling. Here are 33 of the best examples of how mental disorders have been featured in films.
1. Leonard Shelby, Memento
Name: Leonard Shelby
Symptoms: remembers events of the past e.g. his biographical memory; cannot form new memories; cannot encode short-term memories into long-term; stuck within a limited timespan
Possible causes: probably a severe accident causing brain injury
Diagnosis: profound anterograde amnesia
2. Edward Norton, Fight Club * SPOILER ALERT
Name: unnamed protagonist (Edward Norton)
Symptoms: hallucinations of another person (Brad Pitt); dissociative identity behaviour i.e. alternating between himself and Brad Pitt; hearing and listening to voices; memory impairment; sudden, aggressive and overtly sexual behaviour
Diagnosis: shows schizophrenia-like tendencies, but most likely to be multiple personality disorder
3. Joel Barish, Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind
Name: Joel Barish
Symptoms: deleted memory; no recollection of specific episodes of his life, specifically moments with his ex girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet)
Cause: memory deletion— a process that is still relatively far from becoming a reality
Diagnosis: an abundance of love for Clementine
4. Donnie Darko
Name: Donnie Darko
Symptoms: hallucinations of menacing, giant rabbits; delusions about time-travel; hearing and listening to voices telling him what to do, including burning a house; high irritability and extreme paranoia
Possible causes: a genetic predisposition (e.g. relatives also have mental disorders); abuse of substances such as cannabis; living in a rural area— Most likely a combination of these.
5. Lucy Whitmore, 50 First Dates
Name: Lucy Whitmore
Symptoms: short term memory loss; cannot form new memories; goes on a date with Henry Roth (Adam Sandler) only to forget who he is on the next date (X50)
Diagnosis: anterograde amnesia
6. Dory, Finding Nemo
Symptoms: short-term memory loss; cannot form new memories
Possible causes: damage to the frontal lobe; damage to hippocampus; brain intoxication due to waste (?)
Diagnosis: anterograde amnesia
7. Patrick Bateman, American Psycho
Name: Patrick Bateman
Symptoms: a SUPEREGO; deviant morality; sadistic tendencies; inability to distinguish between reality and imagination; extreme narcissism
Diagnosis: extreme case of narcissistic personality disorder
8. Anne, Amour
Symptoms: paralysed on the right side of her body; cognitive impairments such as memory loss and inability to produce coherent speech
Cause: 2 strokes, one following another on the left side of the brain. Also due to surgery going wrong
Diagnosis: severe stroke patient expressing symptoms similar to dementia
9. John Nash, A Beautiful Mind *SPOILER ALERT
Name: John Nash
Symptoms: extreme intelligence (pioneering work on game theory); hallucinations of a roommate named Charles ; awkward and socially-inept.
Diagnosis: paranoid schizophrenia
10. Charlie, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower
Symptoms: quiet, sensitive and generally introverted personality; flashbacks of traumatic episodes in his life; has had a trance-like episode.
Possible causes: a sexually abusive aunt; the death of a close friend in childhood; genetic predispositions.
Diagnosis: mild form of autism (?); post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) along with social anxiety and depression
11. Mac, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Name: Randle McMurphy a.k.a Mac
Symptoms: radical, anti-authoritarian beliefs; statuary rape of a 15-year-old girl; episodes reminiscent of mania
Diagnosis: no mental illness whatsoever
12. Humbert Humbert, Lolita
Name: Humbert Humbert
Symptoms: obsessive behaviour and sexual urges towards a younger girl (Lolita);
13. Simon, The Double
Symptoms: encounters what appears to be his doppelgänger, James; exhibits multiple personalities; obssession for a girl (Mia Wasikowska)
Diagnosis: not certain whether it is schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder, depression (or a combination of these)
14. Teddy Daniels, Shutter Island *SPOILER ALERT
Name: Teddy Daniels
Symptoms: severe psychosis; inability to differentiate between perception and reality; delusions that he is a detective
Possible causes: traumatic experiences during WWII; socially accepted alcoholism and workaholism; emotional detachment; a bipolar wife
Diagnosis: you would expect PTSD due to the trauma of his 3 kids dying and his wife being suicidal— not to mention the war. However, the condition is more along the lines of delusional disorder
15. Lester Burnham, American Beauty
Name: Lester Burnham
Symptoms: his condition can be summarised by his description:“look at me, jerking off in the shower. This will be the high point of my day. It’s all downhill from here.”
Diagnosis: a profound depression, or just a misanthrope? In any case it is a midlife crisis
16. Howard Hughes, The Aviator
Name: Howard Hughes
Symptoms: paranoid behaviour; washing his hands until they bleed.
Diagnosis: obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
17. Travis Bickle, Taxi driver
Name: Travis Bickle
Symptoms: insomnia (hence him driving a taxi all night); depression-like symptoms such as numbness and socially-ineptness; a need for social isolation; propensity towards extremely aggressive behaviour
Diagnosis: schizotypal personality disorder
18. Regan MacNeil, The Exorcist
Name: Regan MacNeil
Symptoms: superhuman strength; inhuman ability to freak the shit out of people
Diagnosis: not a neurological disorder, just downright nuts
19. Rosemary Woodhouse, Rosemary’s baby
Name: Rosemary Woodhouse
Symptoms: extreme weight loss; sudden paled skin; major mood swings; episodes in which she passes out and imagines a weird orgy with satan and his accomplices
Diagnosis: mothering Satan’s baby
20. Jack Nicholson, The Shining
Name: Jack Torrance
Symptoms: moods fluctuating between extremes; highly irritable personality; takes pleasure in extremely violent behaviour; abuse of alcohol; inability to write more than one sentence on a type-writer: “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”
Diagnosis: possessed by a supernatural presence in the house
Name: unnamed Hollywood stunt performer (Ryan Gosling)
Symptoms: inability to maintain a dialogue; resorts mainly to stone-cold facial expressions; socially incapable; propensity to extremely violent actions
Diagnosis: high functioning asperger’s syndrome
22. Tiffany Maxwell, Silver linings playbook
Name: Tiffany Maxwell
Symptoms: outbursts of emotions both positive and negative (usually negative); promiscuous behaviour; high irritability; a desire to challenge and be challenged.
Diagnosis: bi-polar? very lonely? both?
23. A Space Odyssey
Name: Hal 9000
Symptoms: making unusual mistakes about the conditions of the spaceship; paranoid that he will be disconnected; untypical determination to do whatever possible in order to survive, including having to resort to multiple murders.
Diagnosis: a computer malfunction or a sociopath?
24. Dennis Hopper, Blue Velvet
Symptoms: problems respiring properly; sadomasochistic sexual urges; propensity to kidnap and abuse people; exhibits two distinct personalities: one sadist, the other sensitive; has fits of violent outrage
Diagnosis: multiple personality disorder or simply a sociopathic gangster brought up in the wrong environment?
25. Gollum, Lord of the Rings
Name: Smeagol (Gollum)
Symptoms: unrelenting fixation for a ring; repeatedly transfers from one personality to another; swaps between extremes— from evil to helpful; near-invincibility.
Possible causes: no evidence of substance abuse apart from the occasional “pipeweed” during adolescence (before becoming what he looks like in the image).
Diagnosis: fallen victim to the omnipotent spell of the ring
26. Hannibal Lecter
Name: Hannibal Lecter
Symptoms: a predatory appetite for human flesh; extreme machiavellian intelligence; unusually good at swapping between personas; devious morality (to say the least)
Possible cause: traumatic episode where he found his sister Mischa’s remains after she was eaten up by Nazi traitors who had run out of food.
Diagnosis: a troubled psychopath dealing with horrifying events of the past via cannibalism
27. Trevor Reznik, The Machinist
Name: Trevor Reznick
Symptoms: insomnia—hasn’t fallen asleep in a year; extreme weight loss; highly paranoid attitude; some visual and auditory hallucinations
Diagnosis: not certain. Either schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder or simply an insomniac whose lack of sleep caused radical symptoms
28. Norman Bates, Psycho
Name: Norman Bates
Possible causes: brought up by an abusive and possessive mother; was brainwashed from childhood through adolescence about females being whores and despicable.
Symptoms: talks to himself in his mother’s voice; dresses himself up in his mother’s clothes; stalks people through tiny holes; weird appreciation of stuffed animals.
Diagnosis: dissociative personality disorder
29. Alex, A Clockwork orange
Symptoms: desire to act unlawfully rather than to conform; deceitfulness indicated by his repeated lying to his parents: “I’ve got a pain in me gulliver!”; impulsivity; devious morality and frequent acts of aggression and abuse.
Diagnosis: Antisocial personality disorder mixed with a narcissistic personality disorder
30. Charles Foster Kane, Citizen Kane
Name: Charles Foster Kane
Symptoms: incapable of feeling empathy for others; demands attention from the world; highly narcissistic attitude; irritable personality
Possible causes: abusive father, emotionally remote mother
Diagnosis: narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)
31. Justine, Melancholia
Symptoms: remaining absolutely calm despite a rogue planet about to collide with earth; social anxiety; need for social isolation; little motivation to do things she previously enjoyed; unusual decision making when sleeping with another man despite it being her wedding
Diagnosis: severely depressed
32. Nina Sayers, Black Swan
Name: Nina Sayers
Symptoms: visual hallucinations of people; a perfectionist attitude towards dancing, and life in general; emotionally unstable.
Diagnosis: could be a psychotic breakdown following stress, but could also be schizophrenia
33. Jasmine, Blue Jasmine
Symptoms: a neurotic personality; totally self-absorbed; blaming other people for her own problems; compulsive lying with relationships
Diagnosis: not certain— probably a mixture of neurosis, depression and narcissistic personality disorder
Here are five popular fictional characters with mental illness:
Mental illness touches the lives of everyone: whether they realize it or not. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), mental illness will affect 20% of Canadians at least once in their life. Real people aren’t the only ones to suffer from it. What were once quirky personality traits are in actuality, mental illnesses. With what is known now, there have been a multitude of fictional characters who can be diagnosed with some type of mental illness.
Scarlett O’Hara (Gone With The Wind)
The archetypal character with Histrionic Personality Disorder. The word “histrionic” refers to “theatrical” or “acting”. Symptoms involve constant seeking for approval, inappropriate seductive dressing or behaviour, and being overly dramatic and emotional, traits O’Hara has exhibited especially in Vivian Leigh’s film adaptation. O’Hara lacks the natural love of self so she seeks it from external sources. Through her veil of vanity, she is deeply insecure.
Winnie The Pooh and all his friends
Nothing changes once people start seeing the Hundred Acre Woods characters as manifestations of various personality disorders as they relate to Christopher Robin, the human protagonist who the Canadian Medical Association diagnosed with Schizophrenia. They are all still as lovable as they were.
Pooh was diagnosed by the Canadian Medical Association with having “impulsivity” and “obsessive fixations” towards honey. The impulsive Tigger is a token case for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Poor little Piglet has Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and his constant stress has manifested in a stuttering problem and Eeyore, the eternal pessimist clearly has Depression. A full list of everyone is found here.
Ariel (Disney’s Little Mermaid)
The popular Disney princess has a case of Disposophobia, a fear of disposing of material possessions and an obsessive need to acquire and accumulate. A hoarder. The Little Mermaid has quite the wealth of treasures in her room and has developed a deep obsession for them to the point of even giving them nicknames like her “dingle-hopper”, the fork. But Ariel certainly isn’t the only Disney princess to be diagnosed with a mental illness. Cinderella has Dependent Personality Disorder and Anna from Frozen has a case for ADHD just to name a few.
Charlie Brown (Peanuts)
Another ever-popular character suffering from some form of anxiety disorder like Avoidant Personality Disorder, which the WHO categorizes as Anxious Personality Disorder. Brown has extremely low self-esteem and displays textbook patterns of social ineptitude and extreme sensitivity to negativity. It is a relatable case even for those who don’t have the illness as being embarrassed in public is a fear for almost everyone.
Of all superheroes, the Dark Knight has been the most interesting thanks to his brooding nature and complex moral code. However, Batman exhibits clear signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) mainly in his obsession for preventing what happened to him as a child to the extent of pushing people away and sacrificing a balanced healthier life. Fortunately, combined with his billions, he turned his tragedy into a noble cause.
8 Movies That Got Mental Illness (Mostly) Right
Article updated on May 11, 2019.
Editor’s Note: The following post contains spoilers for the movies mentioned.
Finding movies about mental health — especially ones that accurately represent what it’s like to live with mental illness — can often be difficult. When the media we consume seems to always depict people with mental illness as “dangerous” or “scary,” it can be easy to wonder if compassionate depictions of mental illness exist in pop culture at all.
Luckily, a lot of newer movies (and some older ones too!) have made an effort to “get it right” and show mental illness in a realistic and humanizing way.
These movies — many of which can be watched on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime — can evoke some powerful responses in viewers who may see their own struggles accurately represented on screen for the first time. With recommendations from our mental health community, we analyzed the following eight movies about mental illness to see how they portrayed living with mental health conditions. Use the bookmarks below to navigate the article easily.
- “Silver Linings Playbook”
- “Black Swan”
- “Girl, Interrupted”
- “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”
- “Perks of Being a Wallflower”
- “Donnie Darko”
- “Inside Out”
Here are the mental health movies our community recommended:
1. “Silver Linings Playbook”
“Silver Linings Playbook” follows Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), a man with bipolar disorder who was recently hospitalized and Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence), a woman who has mental health struggles of her own — though she is not given a specific diagnosis in the movie. As both cope with the loss of relationships (Pat’s marriage ended in divorce and Tiffany was recently widowed), throughout the movie, they navigate the process together.
According to Mighty community member Sarah D., “The movie captures a well-rounded sense of bipolar disorder without glamorizing mental illness or sugar-coating it.” In addition to portraying mental illness in a humanizing and relatable way, the movie strives to show that everyone is struggling with something. Director David O. Russell, whose son has bipolar disorder, said of the movie in an interview with USA Today,
Pat’s not the only one with issues. His father has OCD. The girlfriend has issues, the sister-in-law has issues. Even his best friend has issues. All the characters are grappling with something. I wanted to show that we’re all in this together.
And while the movie gets mental illness “right” in many ways, it isn’t without flaws. For example, during the movie we find out that Pat’s character is triggered by hearing the song, “My Cherie Amour,” because it was his wedding song and was playing when he found his wife cheating on him. Pat’s therapist later plays the song in the waiting room before his appointment to see if it was still triggering. As Mighty contributor Crystal Lancaster pointed out in her piece, “My Take on ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ as a Woman With Bipolar Disorder,” the therapist’s action was not only unethical, but unrealistic as well.
A therapist would not stealthily plan to have this song playing the moment you came into the office to see if it still ‘triggered’ you. For one, it’s unfair to you. When you’re at the therapist’s office, your guard is up. Yet, you are still extremely vulnerable. Two, psychiatrists don’t try to trick their patients! Why? Why would they do that? So counterproductive. Cruel, even… Sorry, Hollywood. Gotta ding you for that one.
Additionally, some have criticized the ending for tying up “too neatly.” As Mighty community member Maddie B. said,
Silver Linings Playbook is my favorite movie of all time and it’s very relatable. It falls short though in the ending where it gave an impression they were ‘cured’ by love. I don’t think that was the intention, but it looked that way.
Disney’s “Frozen” is an animated movie that shows Anna (Kristen Bell) and Kristoff’s (Jonathan Groff) adventure to save the kingdom of Arendelle, which is trapped in perpetual winter by Elsa’s (Idina Menzel) icy spell. The movie has drawn audiences both young and old, and for many, it was an accurate depiction of anxiety and depression. According to Jennifer Lee, the writer and director of “Frozen,” this was on purpose. In response to a fan’s tweet asking if Elsa did indeed exhibit signs of anxiety and depression like she seemed to, Lee tweeted back that it “definitely was intentional to show anxiety and depression.”
Mighty community member Lindsey P. was surprised by how much she related to the animated movie.
I was shocked by that movie and how much I related to it. Elsa’s journey is a perfect metaphor for my own battle with depression and anxiety. She believes her ice powers (which are controlled by her emotions) make her a bad person, because of a mistake in her past, so she lives in isolation, trying not to feel. Throughout her journey, she learns that while her emotions can lead to some struggles and mistakes, they can also lead to something very beautiful. In the end, she learns how to control her powers. They don’t go away and there’s still room for error, which I think perfectly represents how you can’t always ‘cure’ a mental illness, but you can treat it and learn to live with it.
Elsa’s trademark song “Let it Go,” has also become an anthem for many people with mental illness who, like Elsa, have been told, “conceal, don’t feel.” Mighty community member Emily F. wrote, “When I’m really in a bad place, I’ll braid my hair and wear a tiara around my house to remind me to ‘Let it go.’”
3. “Black Swan”
“Black Swan” is a psychological horror film that follows Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) as she tries to achieve artistic perfection as a ballerina in the production of “Swan Lake.” The pressure for perfection affects Nina’s mental health, and we see her descend into what many believe to be psychosis.
Carlin Florin, editor and writer for Psychology Today, wrote about how Nina’s mental health struggles are presented.
That process unhinges Nina in a series of scary and heartbreaking scenes that leap between reality and psychosis… Nina compulsively harms herself, scratching her back until she appears to have the wing-shaped ruptures of the swan she so desperately wants to become on stage.
Though the film’s fantastical elements set it apart from a documentary-style expose of the dance world, it does convince viewers that the only reasonable outcome of that career path is mental illness of one form or another: The competition is relentless, the glory is short-lived, the regiment is literally disfiguring to one’s body. Technical mastery is required, and yet, when in character, the dancer is expected to somehow forget the grueling years of training and appear spontaneous and free.
And while the movie perhaps unfairly draws the conclusion that mental illness is the unavoidable conclusion to this type of pressure, it does do a good job of showing a reality many with mental illness face — needing to appear “OK.” Mighty community member Emily F. commented on this saying, “For me, it definitely captured the utter helplessness mixed with the frantic desire to hide it under a perfect façade of normalcy.”
4. “Girl, Interrupted”
“Girl, Interrupted” is set in the 1960s and follows Susanna Kaysen (Winona Ryder), a woman diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) during her stay in a psychiatric hospital following her suicide attempt. During her stay, Kaysen befriends other women struggling with mental health issues, most notably Lisa Rowe (Angelina Jolie).
People who have been hospitalized or have struggled with their mental health may identify with the characters. Mighty community member Christa O. wrote of the film,
I can relate to that movie with so much intensity that every time I’ve ever watched it, I’ve never been able to do so without tears in my eyes. Being hospitalized so many times throughout my life as a girl and as a woman, this resonates in so many ways that the first time I saw it, I felt myself there.
While the movie is humanizing in many respects, some have argued that it goes too far, romanticizing mental illness and equating it with being “cool but misunderstood.” In a post on The Radical Notion, a clinical social worker wrote,
“Girl, Interrupted,” though one of the more well-known books or movies about mental illness, is certainly not the only popular representation of mental illness out there, but it has, maybe more so than others, resonated deeply with young women. There are, of course, benefits to that, but if you zoom out and look at the bigger picture of the way that mental illness is represented through books and movies, there is a problem. The problem is in the way that it is being romanticized. Through the romanticization of it, mental illness is minimized and beautified and almost turned into something that is cool and desirable as opposed to a painful struggle.
5. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is a science-fiction romantic comedy/drama that focuses on the relationship between introverted and anxious Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and free-spirit Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet). The central conflict arises from the existence of a procedure that can erase memories — a procedure Clementine undergoes to forget about Joel.
And while the movie never outrightly states mental health diagnoses of either Joel or Clementine, some people with mental illnesses themselves felt their experience was represented in the characters. BuzzFeed community member Georgia Bowden related to Joel because of her own struggle with depression.
He made me understand my feeling of isolation and loneliness, and the fear that I was really crazy when I had an episode of psychotic depression. He also made me understand and accept that bad memories are just as important as good ones in the process of recovery.
Others identify with Clementine, who some speculate exhibits symptoms of bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder (BPD). As Mighty community member Tricia P. commented,
I identify with Clementine so much. They never say she has bipolar disorder, but , it’s a very clear and real portrayal of it. On top of that, the struggle Joel goes through trying to get close to her, to understand her and love her.
Diagnostic speculations aside, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” does raise an interesting question about whether erasing memories of trauma (relationship or otherwise) is even good for an individual at all. The movie undoubtedly shows the ethical failings of the people who work at the memory-erasing facility (casting doubt on its true validity), but the most poignant example of it not being good for the person is that while in the procedure, Joel and Clem realize they don’t really want to forget each other. And while at times we ourselves may seek to forget our past traumas or pretend they didn’t happen, this movie suggests it might be better to remember — because by getting rid of the “bad” memories, we are also depriving ourselves of the good that can come from processing them.
6. “Perks of Being a Wallflower”
“Perks of Being a Wallflower,” based on the book of the same name, is a coming-of-age story primarily about Charlie (Logan Lerman) and how he adjusts to high school after being discharged from a mental health facility for his struggle with depression.
In an interview with The Guardian, author Stephen Chbosky said he decided to turn his book into a movie because, “It’s harder to feel alone if you see dozens of people around you laughing and crying or nodding their heads at the same issues.”
This is indeed how many felt watching the movie. In addition to Charlie’s experience of depression, some have related to the way the movie handles the mental health effects of childhood sexual abuse. As Mighty community member Bobbie S. wrote,
The movie perfectly captures the devastating impact that sexual violence can have and the mental illnesses that often arise from it. As a person with PTSD from sexual trauma, I related so much to the character because the portrayal was accurate.
7. “Donnie Darko”
“Donnie Darko” is a cult-classic science fiction film focusing on Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he navigates his doomsday visions, what it means to be alive and what it means to love. We see Donnie speak to his therapist about his visions (which often include “Frank” the Bunny), and she tells his parents he exhibits symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia.
In the movie, we never definitively “know” what is real and what isn’t. This kind of “dubious” reality mimics what it can be like to experience symptoms of mental illness sometimes. Because we see the film through Donnie’s eyes, we see reality as he does, and are frustrated and confused alongside him when people don’t see things the same way or discount his warnings.
Good portrayals of schizophrenia are hard to come by, mostly because the media portrays it as a condition that is inherently dangerous. But Mighty community member Rachel T., who lives with schizophrenia, believes “Donnie Darko” does a good job.
I just felt such a complete feeling with this movie. The ‘imaginary’ friend which was really something else in the end. It’s all twisted and I love it because that’s how I feel with my schizophrenia. The feelings. The hallucinations. Everything.
8. “Inside Out”
“Inside Out” is an animated film from Walt Disney Productions and Pixar Animation Studios that focuses on the emotions felt by Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) after she moves from Minnesota to San Francisco. Though “Inside Out” doesn’t explicitly state Riley has a mental illness, many folks with depression relate to the film’s depiction of her personified emotions of Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith) and Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler). Throughout the film Riley learns how to navigate the different emotions she feels — and perhaps most notably, she learns it’s OK to feel sad sometimes.
Mighty community member Emily H., who lives with BPD and depression, said the film is a great representation of what happens to her when she tries to repress her emotions instead of allow herself to feel them.
“It’s the first film that really showed what happens when I try to stop feeling (BPD and depression) in order to keep those around me happy and stop the emotional pain,” she wrote. “Her trauma might seem insignificant to some people, but it accurately depicts the destabilizing effect a big move can have, particularly on young children.”
What movies did we miss? Share in the comments below.
Brie co-wrote and stars in the darkly funny Netflix film based on her own family history of schizophrenia and depression. Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute
“If there’s not a Reddit message board about this movie, I would be shocked and frankly appalled,” Alison Brie tells me on a sunny afternoon in Park City, a day before the Sundance Film Festival premiere of her feature screenwriting debut, Horse Girl. “I want Reddit fans to know we were keeping them in mind while making it.”
To say her twist-filled movie, co-written and directed by Jeff Baena, is difficult to unpack is a bit of an understatement. The surreal, genuinely strange, and often sad film follows Sarah (Brie), the titular horse girl, an awkward young woman whose primary activities are grooming her childhood pony, watching supernatural crime dramas, and selling fabrics at a local crafts store alongside her beloved co-worker (Molly Shannon). But the movie is a bit of a bait and switch: While its title and first half indicate it might be a classically quirky Sundance indie, roughly halfway through Sarah’s story it becomes clear that Horse Girl has a lot more on its mind than revisiting twee tropes. Due to a series of inexplicable events, Sarah begins to believe she’s actually a clone of her dead grandmother, and that she’s being regularly abducted by aliens. She starts to spiral, wondering if she can trust herself or if she’s falling down the same mental black hole that her mother and grandmother once did.
Brie tells me that while the more abstract sci-fi threads are inspired by her own love of the genre, the mental-health aspect of Horse Girl is based on her real-life family history with paranoid schizophrenia and depression, as well as her resulting fears about her own psychology. It’s something she’s never spoken about publicly, though you wouldn’t know that from the calm, easy demeanor she possesses during our conversation, flipping back and forth between deadpanning about aliens to considering her own mother’s eventual response to the movie, which hits Netflix February 7.
I loved this. It’s a real mindfuck!
Thank you! I’m glad you thought so.
When did you first start thinking about making Horse Girl?
My whole life I’ve wanted to make something about my mother and my grandmother. My mother’s mother lived with paranoid schizophrenia, and my mother grew up in a really traumatic situation. And I grew up with the mythology of my grandmother’s mental illness, hearing a lot of stories about my mother’s childhood and how the mental illness affected her. How it trickled down, affected my aunt and uncle and their kids — also how it didn’t affect them. It had different effects on everybody. So when I was younger, my mom would even joke about it with me: “I know you’re gonna make a movie one day about me and my mom.”
Wow, she knew then?
Oh, yeah. It’s a big part of who my mother is. So even though I never really knew my grandmother — I met her a couple of times as a little girl before she died — I knew so much about her. In the making of this movie I did a lot more interviews with my mom, asking more questions for Sarah’s personal backstory more than anything. But as I got closer to really putting pen to paper and writing something, I realized I was leaning toward something much less literal and a little more abstract and surreal. I’ve been kind of wanting to be in a thriller, lean into sci-fi — more things I’m a big fan of. And I started to think about the more personal aspect of the story: Where does my fascination come from, having not known this woman? I started to realize this is much more about my fear of having mental illness in my bloodline. When will it come out? And will I have the awareness to know when it’s happening?
In my own personal struggles with depression, I know the feeling of being helpless, feeling powerless, feeling alone. Right before I wrote this, I went through my deepest bout of depression in my life.
When was this?
In 2018, right before we started writing it. I was in a really low place and I started talking to a therapist. But then I have this secondary anger at my genetics. Like, “This doesn’t have anything to do with me! How am I trapped in a making of my own mind?” And then I realized, okay, the I want to make is about this woman who has this history of mental illness, and what if something real started happening to her? What is something really wild, really scary, started happening and she didn’t have the ability to know whether it was real or not? If she didn’t have the ability to even trust herself or her own grip on reality?
So I went to Jeff and talked to him about it. I didn’t want to write it alone. I’ve never written anything before, and I just didn’t have the discipline. He’d been talking to me about how we should make a movie where I played a horse girl, and kind of lean into that archetype. When I brought him this idea, he said, “I think it’s the same idea.” And that kind of broke everything open. We realized tying in the horse girl to this character helped us figure out her social isolation as an adult.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you haven’t spoken openly about your mother and grandmother like this before, have you?
No, this is the first time I’m talking about it publicly, and it’s been a real overload. I’ve been trying to prepare my mother: “You know, I’m gonna talk about it a lot.” But the movie is such an abstraction of it. We didn’t set out to make a mental-illness movie, and we don’t diagnose my character, certainly, because there’s so much more to what she’s going through. One of our goals was putting the audience in the shoes of the character, letting them go on the ride with her, finding empathy for her and what she’s going through. Rather than standing back, looking at it, judging it.
Has your mom seen the film yet?
She has not.
Are you nervous to show her?
I am nervous. I keep trying to prepare her and let her know that it’s a real departure, it’s very weird. These are the words I say to her to contextualize it, because so often she refers to it as “the movie you made about my mom.” And I’m sort of like, “It’s not a literal movie about your mom.” Obviously there’s so much other stuff going on. But I hope that she enjoys it. She certainly loves the trailer.
The trailer and the title are sort of a fake-out, though. Is that something you and Jeff planned?
A little bit. The title felt like a foregone conclusion. We never thought of another one. It’s such an integral part of who she is. And also I do think that everyone knows a horse girl. It’s an immediate read and makes you think of middle school or high school. But even when we were pitching the movie to the Duplasses and Netflix, we talked about a bit of a — not a bait and switch, but the movie starts out as one thing and changes into something else. It mirrors what happens in Sarah’s mind mentally. You start out the movie and you see me and Molly Shannon doing sweet scenes in a craft store, and it looks like a sweet indie comedy, and you feel very safe. We wanted everyone to feel safe and good and get comfortable, and then very immediately start to play with their grip on reality and on what the movie is.
Did things get blurry at all for you, writing and starring in a movie about your family’s mental illness when you’ve harbored this fear about your own?
A little bit, yeah. I actually think the experience was very cathartic for me. When Sarah talks about her family history, it’s a lot of real, personal stuff. Baena came into the room and was like, “Why don’t you just talk about your grandmother a little bit, the things you know about her?” It just tapped into something I didn’t even realize I was holding onto in such a major way.
But at the same time, while playing the character was a very intense process, I had this other co-writing and producing hat, which was really good. It would’ve been more intense staying in character all the time.
Did writing it help you get out of your depressive period?
Definitely. There were a number of factors. What I have, that Sarah our character doesn’t have, is an amazing support system. So many friends and family members of mine go to therapy and take medication. Everyone I know has destigmatized the idea of mental health. So it was easy to ask for help, to get out of my house, to get moving and go to yoga class and work out. I work out a lot and I think that really helps keep depression in check.
Writing this definitely helped in a career depression kind of way, too. When I’m not working, there can be slumps where I feel like, “I’ll never work again. That was it, I had a good run.” So for me it was very empowering to say, “If I’m feeling uninspired by the roles coming my way or the lack of things coming my way, I’ll write the thing I want to perform.”
Did you feel that way — unimpressed with the roles coming your way?
I wouldn’t say unimpressed. But in 2018 before I wrote this, I was having an existential career crisis, a reckoning with what kind of work I wanted to do. And what people’s perception was of me as an actor versus the types of work I wanted to do. Even though I feel like I’ve been able to play so many different types of characters — and I’ve loved the things I’ve worked on, especially Glow, which is my favorite job I’ve ever done, it’s fulfilling in every sense — I wanted to do something a little different on the film side. I guess I was feeling a little bored or uninspired, and I wanted to crack things open and do something a bit risky.
And it felt that way . There were days on set where I was like, I don’t know about this… This is a big swing and I don’t know how it’ll work out. But it was very validating to sit there and go, This movie is not for everybody. No matter what the reaction, this movie will always be incredibly special to me.
You’ve never looked like this before, either. How did you conceive of her costumes and hair?
Beth Morgan, who does the costumes for Glow, was our costume designer. The thing about Sarah’s wardrobe is that we were trying to tap into a quintessential horse-girl look, but dated. That reflects how she used to have money and be able to ride horses and have familial support from her stepdad, but she doesn’t really have that anymore. It was about her place in society; she’s a bit of a time capsule, because her life hasn’t changed much since her adolescence, and since she experienced certain traumas. As far as the hair, the fantasy initially was that I’d have very long hair, because it’s a horse-girl trope. But we didn’t have money in the budget for a great wig.
I want to hear about your own fascination with aliens and sci-fi, and how these things made it into the movie.
It was really fun to play with the more supernatural elements of the movie. Jeff and I did really fun research on all sides. I interviewed my family about mental health, but we also researched alien abduction and the through lines to different people’s stories who say they’ve been abducted. I researched sleep deprivation, the effects of that, and started to make this Venn diagram of those things and how they can affect people. With Sarah, there’s another component: Are these things happening or not? And with her family history looming over her, it becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy: The more she’s thinking and scared and obsessing over something, does that make it happen more? What’s the cause, what’s the effect?
Did you want everyone to leave the film unsure of whether or not these things are really happening?
Definitely. Our hope is that people have myriad interpretations of the movie. We certainly have a theory about what we think is going on, but I’d venture to say that even Baena and I have slightly different takes about what the truth is; I’m a bit more open to interpretation than he is. It’s been really fun, even in these early screenings, to hear different reactions. A lot of people feel very strongly, “This is the truth of the movie.” And we’ve built a lot of things into it where you can rewatch and discover something new.
Ooh, there’s Easter eggs?
There are. Certainly.
Can you tell me one?
I guess I would say, the things involving possible time loops. I’m curious to see how much of that people are catching … In a flashback sequence in the movie, my character does have really long hair. That may or may not play into the time loop of it all. Sarah’s hair is a newer chop. Since her most recent trauma, she tried to make a change.
Do you want people to be on Reddit, picking this movie apart?
If there’s not a Reddit message board about this movie, I would be shocked and frankly appalled. I want the Reddit fans to know that we did a lot of Reddit-based research for this movie. We’re all about it.
If they don’t, you should start your own.
Will this be the year I finally do an AMA on Reddit? I don’t know. It terrifies me. That’s been a fear of mine for a long time.
What are some of your pet conspiracy theories that made their way into this?
I definitely believe in aliens! Though I don’t know if I’d call it a conspiracy theory.
It’s real science. I’ve read enough stories now about people being abducted, and the through lines are amazing. I’m not a crazy conspiracy theorist, though. I’m a low-key conspiracy theorist, on the DL. I can get revved up but I’m not instigating. If someone gets me going, I’m like, Oh my God. I’ll watch videos about cults and 9/11 and I’ll be like, “My mind is blown.” But then I’m like, “Should we watch another hour of Friends?” I have a short attention span.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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See AllSchizophrenia is a devastating mental illness which affects roughly 1 in a hundred people. It usually strikes first in the sufferer’s teenage years (but can afflict anyone at any age) and leads to a life of visual and auditory hallucinations, delusions, and in many sufferers loss of enjoyment in things they used to find interesting and fun, no motivation and a paucity of emotional feelings. Schizophrenia is an illness which simultaneously horrifies and fascinates people. It has also intrigued film directors for several decades. Usually the director tries to recreate the mental experiences of the sufferer – to take us inside of all the horrors of the disease. A good film on schizophrenia is usually judged on the basis of its verisimilitude – how accurately the disease is portrayed. I have purposefully left out A Beautiful Mind, Through a Glass Darkly and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden as I have reviewed them in a previous article about Films with mental illness as a theme. This time, I wanted to focus in on schizophrenia completely as a theme by itself as it is a fascinating subject and there are lots of brave films that tackle it.
Mental illness runs in families. That’s the underlying theme of the new horror movie “Hereditary,” which premiered at Sundance and opened in theaters June 8. While some aspects of the movie are imaginary or unbelievable, University of Georgia psychology professor Keith Campbell agrees with the story’s underlying premise. “In general, there are significant hereditary factors for mental conditions of all kinds,” he says.
Written and directed by Ari Aster, the R-rated movie follows Annie Leigh (Toni Collette), who is dealing with the recent death of her estranged mother, Ellen. Ellen suffered from dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder) and wreaked havoc on her family. Annie’s brother suffered from schizophrenia and killed himself when he was a teenager. Annie is anxious to move forward with her life and put the past and its terrors behind her but is finding this impossible, especially when it becomes clear that her children are suffering from mental disorders and exhibiting disturbing behavior.
Campbell says behavior that looks like adult pathology is pretty common in kids. “My 10-year-old doesn’t regulate her eating and will ingest tons of sugar, for example. She sometimes gets angry and can’t control it. Occasionally she dances with her underwear on. If you did that at age 30, people would think you had some issues.”
In “Hereditary,” however, the little girl’s pathology reaches a much more severe level, as witnessed when she snips off the head of a dead pigeon with scissors.
The film asks important questions: Is mental illness inherited? Can you sidestep the freight train of mental disease coming through your genes? Or are we destined to relive some version of the lives of our family members?
The answer, as you might imagine, isn’t clear cut.
Genetics + environment
Campbell says, “It’s a little hard to quantify, because when we talk about heredity it means I can predict your mental disorder from knowing the mental disorders of your parents and your family. We usually think heredity involves genetics, but there could be other mechanisms involved. Also, genetics always interact with the environment—beginning in utero—and are expressed differently in different people. Inheritance matters, but how it matters is a bit more complicated.”
“Hereditary” opened in theaters June 8.
Typically, when people are talking about heredity they are talking about genetics, said Campbell, adding that most mental diseases are about half heritable. “This means that heritability is about half predicted by family in some way. A lot of mental disorders—such as depression and anxiety—may be in the family but may not come out the same way in everyone. It’s not clean.”
Add external stressors to the mix
Campbell said determining how mental illness will present in a family member is similar to looking at a family history of heart disease. “It could manifest as stroke or as high blood pressure, and your environment—meaning diet, exercise and stress in this case—can play a big role.”
A psychological theory called stress diathesis posits that a disorder is the result of inheritance and external stressors. Campbell explained, “You could have twins, for example, and given different stressors, they turn out differently. Or say you’ve got a kid with a family history of mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disease and major depression. If you take that kid and expose him to early trauma, such as a death in the family or a crime, the chances he will develop a disorder might increase.”
Difficult to predict
It’s a little harder with mental illness to determine inheritability. “We’re more comfortable with the inheritability of heart disease, weight or cancer,” said Campbell. “But with mental disorders, we don’t have the histories we do with other illnesses because they didn’t have the models we do now for mental illness.”
He added that certain mental disorders such as schizophrenia may be heritable, but also very rare. “Direct relatives are more likely to get schizophrenia than the general population,” he explained, “but it’s still not incredibly common.
Despite advances in the detection and treatment of mental disorders, there will most likely never be a simple genetic test for these illnesses. “There is no schizophrenia gene; there’s no depression gene,” Campbell said. “These disorders are caused by huge numbers of genes and we don’t even understand them exactly.”
The upside of mental illness
Mental illness in lower doses can be helpful, said Campbell. While that may sound odd, he is referring to a 2013 study from Sweden, which revealed that artists and scientists were more common in families where bipolar disorder and schizophrenia is present, compared to the population at large. A nationally recognized expert on narcissism, society and generational change, Campbell added, “A little bit of narcissism doesn’t hurt either.”
Since 1949, May has been observed as Mental Health Awareness Month in the U.S. Mental illness impacts millions of families worldwide, and there’s simply no justification for stigma.
Though it isn’t the rule, sometimes Hollywood treats the subject with the respect and accuracy it merits, while still delivering quality entertainment.
Here are 10 of the best films about mental health ever made. All of these titles are available for rent and purchase on major streaming services like iTunes, VUDU, Hulu and Amazon.
Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (TWC)
1. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
David O. Russell made this Pennsylvania-set masterpiece about two healing hot messes who fall for each other as something of a gift for his son, who has bipolar disorder and OCD. An uncanny blend of huge laughs, painful authenticity and a moving love story, Silver Linings Playbook walks a tightrope thematically and never sets a foot wrong—much to the delight and pleasure of anyone who watches it. This was the first movie since Warren Beatty‘s Reds 31 years earlier to be nominated for Oscars in all four acting categories (for stars Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver). Lawrence won Best Actress of course, and the rest is history.
Family is a funny thing. We love them, and sometimes they drive us bonkers. Perhaps no movie in history has better captured the shattering heartbreak and undeniable hilarity that happens when loved ones throw down quite like Silver Linings Playbook.
Silver Linings Playbook is a profoundly American movie—has any other film dissected our love of football with as much insight as this one?
Mary Tyler Moore, Timothy Hutton and Donald Sutherland in ORDINARY PEOPLE (Paramount Pictures)
2. Ordinary People (1980)
A turning point for the portrayal of psychotherapy in film, Robert Redford‘s drama about an affluent Chicago family reeling from the accidental death of their son tackles tough topics like PTSD and survivor’s guilt.
Major props to Mary Tyler Moore for a genuinely brave performance that throws her signature likability out the window; here she plays a woman who’s seemingly incapable of loving her child, and maybe anyone at all. This was Redford’s directorial debut, and it won four Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor (Timothy Hutton).
Here’s a fun fact: 24 years after he won on Oscar for Ordinary People, screenwriter Alvin Sargent penned Sam Raimi‘s Spider-Man 2. His focused, intimate and uncommonly character-driven script is far and away the best ever in the superhero genre.
Kirsten Dunst in MELANCHOLIA (Magnolia Pictures)
3. Melancholia (2011)
The internal black cloud that is depression doesn’t exactly lend itself naturally to the cinematic. Certainly some films have succeeded in depicting depression on the big screen (see: horror knockout The Babadook for a recent one), but none so purely and spectacularly as Lars von Trier‘s sci-fi drama about two sisters (Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg), one of whom is about to get married, while a rogue planet named Melancholia is about to collide with Earth, sealing our inevitable doom. Sumptuous and horrifying in equal measure, the operatic Melancholia doesn’t just showcase jaw-dropping directorial bravado; it features one of the most titanic screen performances so far this century, from Dunst.
Perhaps eyebrow-raising controversies surrounding the film’s Cannes premiere explain why it was completely shut out of the Oscars (Dunst still won Best Actress at Cannes). It’s one of the only films from this century to appear on Sight & Sound‘s most recent critics’ poll of the best films ever made. If you’ve seen Melancholia, you know that final shot—gorgeous, stunningly frightening and awesome in the most fear-based sense of the word—is simply impossible to shake from memory.
4. Inside Out (2015)
Way-y-y more kid-friendly than Melancholia but not one bit less masterful and exquisite, Disney/Pixar’s candy-colored work about the emotions inside a teenage girl’s head might be the studio’s most relentless tearjerker to date.
And those tears are earned. The bottom line: Inside Out enthusiastically reminds us that sadness and pain are an essential part of living a full life, and it does so with more nuance and grace than most live-action prestige dramas aimed solely at grownups. Upon release, Inside Out (winner of Best Animated Feature at the Oscars and nominated for Best Original Screenplay) became a powerful tool for therapists everywhere—with patients of all ages.
Prominent British film critic Mark Kermode named Inside Out the best film of 2015.
Will Sampson and Jack Nicholson in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (United Artists)
5. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
One of only three films in history to win the “Big Five” Oscars (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay), Miloš Forman‘s renowned, mega-gritty and bitterly funny drama set in a mental institution stars Jack Nicholson as a unrepentant criminal faking insanity and Louise Fletcher as a steely, heartless and calculating nurse.
An eery, pitch-black and deeply disturbing film, Cuckoo’s Nest is a study of the institutional process. And broader than that, it’s an exploration of freedom, control and the human mind. It’s lost none of its edge more than four decades later.
Cuckoo’s Nest is based on the 1962 novel by Ken Kesey, which has been adapted multiple times for the stage. In 1993, the film was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” The American Film Institute ranks this as the 33rd greatest American film ever made, and Nurse Ratched as the fifth greatest screen villain.
Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman in GASLIGHT
6. Gaslight (1940) and Gaslight (1944)
Gaslighting is ghastly and cruel; it’s the psychologically abusive act of manipulating someone into questioning their own sanity. The term is practically synonymous with the 1944 George Cukor picture that won Ingrid Bergman her first of three Academy Awards for her performance of a victimized wife. A huge hit for MGM, the film was nominated for seven Oscars in total, including nods for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress for an 18-year-old Angela Lansbury in her screen debut.
Did you know the 1944 classic is actually a remake of a 1940 British film (which is even more closely adapted from the play by Patrick Hamilton)? It’s not as well-known, and that’s largely because when MGM bought the remake rights, part of the contract demanded all prints of the first film be destroyed. Fortunately, some prints survived and the original was even recently restored by the British Film Institute. Seek both versions out, because they’re both terrific for different reasons. The Hollywood remake is far more lavish, but they both hold up quite well.
Darlene Cates and Leonardo DiCaprio in WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE (Paramount Pictures)
7. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)
Lasse Hallström‘s drama stars Johnny Depp as a young man in small-town Iowa caring for his morbidly obese mother (Darlene Cates) and autistic younger brother (Leonardo DiCaprio). This marks the first Oscar nom for DiCaprio, who was widely singled out by critics and audiences as the touching film’s greatest asset.
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape also stands out for its frank and affecting portrayal of an eating disorder (such a rarity on the big screen). This was Cates’ very first acting role, she was widely praised for her work by critics and her famous co-stars.
Bianca and Ryan Gosling in LARS AND THE REAL GIRL (MGM)
8. Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
Now here is a movie you just want to hug. Ryan Gosling gives one of his most subtle, poignant—and also hilarious—performances to date as Lars, a good-natured, lonely introvert with years of baggage and trauma who turns heads in his small town by embarking upon a romantic relationship with a life-sized love doll named Bianca. Oh, that premise could have gone so many ways, but Lars and the Real Girl is nothing short of, as Roger Ebert put it, “life-affirming.” The people in Lars’ community play along out of their concern and love for the young man, and ultimately they help Lars develop the tools to reach out for real human connection.
Nancy Oliver received an Oscar nomination for her original script (her feature screenwriting debut). Gosling was nominated for a SAG Award and a Golden Globe.
The very best part of Lars and the Real Girl is when we discover Bianca has been elected to the school board. LOL.
Krisha Fairchild in KRISHA (A24)
9. Krisha (2016)
One of the most effective horror films of the past decade isn’t technically a horror film; it’s a micro-budget drama about an alcoholic visiting her family for Thanksgiving. Rarely has a film tackled addiction with such piercing intimacy and visceral force since The Lost Weekend won a Best Picture Oscar in 1945. The might of Krisha is all the more remarkable in that writer/director Trey Edward Shults made it for about $30,000 (that’s 1/10,000th the price tag of Avengers: Infinity War) in his parents’ home using his family as actors. When it’s all over you feel drained of everything, like you’ve been hit by a Mack truck.
Krisha received the Grand Jury Award and the Audience Award in the narrative feature competition at the 2015 South by Southwest Film Festival before a triumphant showing at Cannes.
Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind (Universal/ Dreamworks)
10. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Winner of four Oscars (Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay and Supporting Actress), Ron Howard‘s biopic about Nobel Laureate John Nash who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia leans more heavily on Hollywood conventions than the other films on this list, but extraordinary performances from Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly are more than enough reason to see it. It takes liberties with Nash’s life story, and in hindsight it’s debatable whether the Academy made the right call by awarding this Best Picture over Moulin Rouge!, In the Bedroom, The Fellowship of the Ring and Gosford Park, but A Beautiful Mind succeeds as a respectful, glossy and handsome tribute to an inspiring public figure.
Brad Pitt and Edward Norton in FIGHT CLUB (Twentieth Century Fox)
Honorable Mention: Fight Club (1999)
Most critics and audiences found M. Night Shyamalan‘s Split to be satisfying enough as popcorn horror entertainment, but it was widely criticized for its unrealistic and problematic portrayal of dissociative identity disorder (DID). Some slammed it for its insinuation that patients with this disorder are likely to be violent, which isn’t accurate (some have even jabbed Alfred Hitchcock‘s beloved Psycho for similar reasons). Though it’s far from a perfect representation, David Fincher‘s cult classic Fight Club does a bit better: a depressed man (Edward Norton) creates Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) as a coping mechanism. DID is most commonly a result of child abuse or other significant trauma. If Fight Club delved further into its narrator’s backstory, it would be more compelling; as it is, it’s undeniably entertaining and it’s easy to see why the film is so popular nearly 20 years later.
In 2018, the National Alliance on Mental Illness is promoting the theme #CureStigma. For more information about Mental Health Awareness month, visit www.nami.org.
What do you think of our list of great movies about mental health? Think we missed one? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
What is your favorite movie in which a character deals with a mental illness or addiction? How does this film help educate the community?
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
“This movie is a great reminder that the individuals we serve should not be defined by their mental illness.” – Marcelle R., Massachusetts
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
“I like to watch this film every few years as a reminder of how far we have come in treatment of individuals with mental illness.” – Michelle W., Pennsylvania
“Canvas is a serious film about mental illness and a sentimental heart-warmer and succeeds in both ways. It is the story of a 10 year old whose mother is schizophrenic and whose father is loyal and loving but stretched beyond endurance. The portrayal of schizophrenia in the film has been praised by mental health experts.” – Julie P., Massachusetts
The Dream Team (1989)
“A lighthearted comedy that depicts patients in a psychiatric hospital and how their delusional thoughts may be perceived as reality by someone unaware of their illness. Very enjoyable and eye opening.” – Marylou B., Delaware
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
“The reason I like this movie is because it looks at the reality of mental illness in high school aged people. This movie shows the grim reality of living through a mental illness and having to deal with people who do not understand or care to understand. This movie “normalizes” what Charlie goes through and shows him that there are people that care and understand. My favorite character is Charlie but I also love Sam and Patrick, as they are two seniors who take Charlie under their wing and show him that high school does not have to be so bad and that he is not alone.” – Danielle G., Pennsylvania
Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
“It’s a movie about desperation and yet at the same time there’s hope of unconditional love and acceptance, and ultimately recovery, if only the character chose to embrace it.” – Asta O., Massachusetts
Gone Baby Gone (2007)
“A great philosophical movie about addiction, neglect, and ethics.” – Asta O., Massachusetts
The Madness of King George (1994)
“One of the best and most realistic I have ever seen is the movie The Madness of King George. King George the 3rd, King of Great Britain during the American Revolution, suffered from acute porphyria, which, among other symptoms, causes acute psychosis. The “Doctor” brought in employs, what is now known as behavior modification, to control him as well as the huge breaches of royal etiquette that have to take place. A great and very realistic movie for all!” – Don S., Massachusetts
Mozart and the Whale (2005)
“A must watch movie! It portrays two young people who fell in love and just happened to have Asperger’s Syndrome. It gives the audience a peek into daily life with this difficult disease. It’s a very heartwarming romantic comedy and I think anyone who watches will enjoy!” – Angel L., Delaware
Benny & Joon (1993)
“This movie shows the support of family and friends to prevent living in a group home.” – Robert O., Massachusetts
The Soloist (2009)
“A great portrayal of what life can be like for a person living with mental illness. It is a wonderful story about how mental illness can touch anyone’s life, the effects it can have, and how a person can walk the path of recovery.” – Adam L., Pennsylvania
The Vow (2012)
“It shows the difficulties of amnesia and it can also relate to peers who are victim to dementia and Alzheimer’s.” – Robert O., Massachusetts
Patch Adams (1998)
“This movie proves that mutuality and inclusion should be part of treatment.” – Robert O., Massachusetts
When Love is Not Enough (2010)
“This is the story of Lois Wilson, who is the wife of Bill W., one of the founders of the AA program. It depicts the struggle of a family member of a person with a substance abuse problem.” – Marianne H., North Carolina
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Caitlin C., Massachusetts, Mike P., Massachusetts, and Marjorie E., Massachusetts
Girl, Interrupted (1999)
Mike P., Massachusetts
Shutter Island (2010)
Mike P., Massachusetts
Lost in Woonsocket (2007)
Mike P., Massachusetts
My Name is Bill W. (1989)
Mike P., Massachusetts
Lake City (2008)
Norma K., Delaware
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Michelle W., Pennsylvania
The Notebook (2004)
Marjorie E., Massachusetts and Robert O., Massachusetts
The Basketball Diaries (1995)
Nancy M., Rhode Island and Mike P., Massachusetts
The Morning After (1986)
Nancy M., Rhode Island
The information listed above are the thoughts of individuals and does not necessarily reflect the position or opinion of FHR.
6 Movies That Got Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms (Mostly) Right
Editor’s Note: The following post contains spoilers for the movies mentioned.
There’s so much stigma surrounding borderline personality disorder (BPD), finding a movie that accurately depicts it can feel like an impossible task. So many people only know BPD based on stereotypes, it’s easy to question whether compassionate depictions of BPD and its symptoms exist in pop culture at all.
While it can seem like Hollywood either depicts BPD badly or not at all, there are actually movies some believe accurately depict symptoms people with BPD experience. With recommendations from our BPD community, we analyzed six movies to see how they portrayed symptoms of borderline personality disorder.
1. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is a science-fiction romantic comedy/drama that focuses on the relationship between introverted and anxious Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) and free-spirit Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet). The central conflict arises from the existence of a procedure that can erase memories — a procedure Clementine undergoes to forget about Joel.
Though she’s never given a mental health diagnosis in the movie, some believe Clem is a good representation of borderline personality disorder — as well as the antithesis of the popular “manic pixie dream girl” (MPDG) trope. As the movie progresses, we see that some of the “free-spirited” behaviors she exhibits are indicative of some deeper issues. In a blog on Flavorwire, Alison Herman wrote,
As we’re taken through the lowlights of their relationship, the audience learns that the booze she pours into her coffee isn’t an endearing quirk; it’s a sign of the drinking problem that led her to total Joel’s car. She’s mercurial, irresponsible, and resentful of Joel to the point of being outright nasty. And, of course, she’s repeatedly described — by herself and everyone around her — as that term more associated with the MPDG than perhaps any other: “impulsive.”
The impulsivity and substance abuse problems Clem exhibits — as well her emotional intensity and idealization/devaluation of Joel — could perhaps indicate a struggle with BPD. But whether or not Clem was written with this specifc diagnosis in mind, many with BPD relate to her. Mighty community member Kayla Z. said she related to “a mixture of the female characters in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ and ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.’”
3. “Silver Linings Playbook”
“Silver Linings Playbook” follows Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), a man with bipolar disorder who was recently hospitalized and Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence), a woman who many believe exhibits symptoms of BPD — though she is not given a specific diagnosis in the movie. As both cope with the loss of relationships (Pat’s marriage ended in divorce and Tiffany was recently widowed), they navigate the process together in the movie.
Mighty community member Amanda D. wrote the BPD symptoms she saw in Tiffany were “mood swings, rage, impulsiveness, promiscuity, relationship problems, but also intense desire to be loved.”
Though it accurately portrayed the reality of living with BPD, the movie has often been criticized for its “too good to be true” ending. As Mighty community member Maddie B. said,
Silver Linings Playbook is my favorite movie of all time and it’s very relatable. It falls short though in the ending where it gave an impression they were “cured” by love. I don’t think that was the intention, but it looked that way.
4. “Star Wars” Episodes II and III
The “Star Wars” movies follow the space adventures of a variety of characters, including Yoda, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker, “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Though the franchise is familiar to many, some may not have associated Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christiansen) with symptoms of borderline personality disorder.
Mighty community member Kellyann N. shared that mental health professionals have explained BPD using Anakin Skywalker (a.k.a. Darth Vader) as an example.
Some people may disagree with me at first, but as someone with BPD, I’m going to have to say Anakin Skywalker from “Star Wars.” I highly relate to him… The symptoms he portrays of BPD include preoccupations and fears of abandonment and loss, separation difficulties, intense passion and sensitive emotional responses, his sensitivity to potential slights, impulsiveness, anger bursts, feelings of being lost, empty and extremely unsure about identity, paranoid ideation about who is on his side and the frequent intense shifts between what he thinks, does and how he feels towards people in his life — like splitting. It’s all shown throughout the second and parts of the third movie.
What’s also important about this particular depiction of BPD symptoms is that a male was the one experiencing them. While we typically associate BPD with women because they are diagnosed with it more often than men, the reality is that men do struggle with BPD as well.
Though Anakin Skywalker exhibits many “classic” symptoms of BPD, it’s important to highlight that having a diagnosis of BPD doesn’t mean you are dangerous or will join the “dark side.”
5. “Prozac Nation”
“Prozac Nation,” a movie based on the Elizabeth Wurtzel autobiography of the same name, follows Lizzie (Christina Ricci) as she navigates her first year at Harvard. The movie explores themes of divorce, drugs, sex and mental health, characteristic of the generation at the time. Though Lizzie has depression, some suggest she exhibits traits of BPD as well.
As Mighty community member Tara O. wrote, “’Prozac Nation’ I think has the best depiction of BPD. Unstable relationships, fear of abandonment, impulsive behaviors, unstable identity, substance abuse — it’s all there.”
6. “Fatal Attraction”
“Fatal Attraction” has long been viewed as the absolute worst depiction of borderline personality disorder. The movie, which follows Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) and his affair with Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) — a woman with BPD — shows her stalking Gallagher and engaging in violent behavior like boiling a pet rabbit. Glenn Close, who now has experience with mental illness in her family, regrets how stigmatizing the film is. In an interview with CBS in 2013, the actress said, “I was in ‘Fatal Attraction’ and that played into the stigma. , I would have a different outlook on that character.”
So why does this movie even make the list?
While most don’t believe it gets BPD right at all, some can relate to certain aspects of Alex’s condition. Mighty community member Lauren V. wrote,
‘Fatal Attraction’ depicts what it’s like to fall in love while suffering with BPD. One of the main characters, who played the part of the ‘one-night stand,’ then becomes full-on obsessed and infatuated with the married man she slept with once. Her thought process begins to spiral and she ends up stalking this person. People who with BPD have a tendency to fall quickly for people that show them even the slightest amount of attention and I think this movie hits the nail on the head.
What movies would you add?
This article is co-written by Jay Boll, RtoR’s Editor-in-Chief and Veronique Hoebeke, RtoR’s Associate Editor. Both of them have used their combined knowledge of mental illness, psychology and love of film to come up with 6 of the most popular movies that get both the science and the realities of mental illness wrong. Warning: This article contains spoilers.
6. Total Recall (1990)
This retro thriller generally has nothing to do with mental illness but it does get one part ridiculously wrong. When Arnold’s character goes to get pleasant memories implanted in his brain, something goes wrong: he suddenly wakes up in a rage and now knows advanced combat and secret-spy skills. The doctors on site call this a “Schizo Embolism”. But the thing is a “Schizo Embolism” is just movie-talk mumbo-jumbo. An embolism is where a blood vessel gets blocked but there is no “Schizo” part of the brain for this embolism to occur in. So even if the character has an embolism in his brain, a change in personality (and the ability to dodge bullets Matrix-style) would not be the likely result. Plus, this stems from a misconception that the prefix “Schizo” from the word “schizophrenia” means having multiple personalities which is simply not true about the disorder. It looks like the filmmakers wanted to give the audience the impression of some scary medical condition that can instantly change your personality when in reality no such thing exists.
5. Psycho (1960)
Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece spawned an entire genre of slasher movies featuring emotionally disturbed and violent killers, including such horror classics as Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. What made the original so shocking and terrifying to audiences of that era, when hairy wolfmen, suave vampires and bug-eyed aliens were the staples of scary movies, is that this monster looked like he could live next door. The unusual approach to the telling of this story and Anthony Perkins’ sensitive, nuanced portrayal of the cross-dressing hotel owner Norman Bates allow the audience to glimpse the humanity inside the killer. But Hitchcock knew that he would never get MPAA approval without a concession to the censors. So he added a scene at the end where a smug psychiatrist explains Norman’s behavior in terms of “modern science” and psychology. According to this pompous windbag (played with irony by the character actor Simon Oakland), “Norman” didn’t kill Janet Leigh’s character in the famous shower scene. The “pathologically jealous … mother-half of Norman’s mind” committed the murders. In other words, it’s the mother’s fault! Dr. Richman then goes on to propound the famous “split personality” trope that we will see in countless slasher films to follow: “When the mind houses two personalities, there is always a battle. In Norman’s case, the battle is over and the dominant personality has won.” If that wasn’t bad enough, this movie also introduced the word “psycho” into the popular vocabulary, contributing greatly to the stigma that surrounds real world mental health disorders.
4. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
This movie is one of my personal favorites and it is seen by many as one of the best feel-good movies ever made. Thankfully, the dysfunction of the characters and the toll mental illness takes on their families is not sugar-coated by the filmmakers but Silver Linings Playbook is rather unrealistic about how to treat and manage a mental illness. In the real world, bipolar disorder can’t be cured away with any amount of book-throwing, football-game-betting, dance-competition-rehearsing and Jennifer-Lawrence-loving. The reason this movie isn’t further down on this list is due to the fact the director had the best of intentions when creating this movie. Director David O. Russel told an interviewer associated with NAMI that “I want people to come out feeling that it was a good movie. Part of that is feeling less afraid of talking about and dealing with and being warm and human about mental illness challenges—and wanting to do more.” The movie takes on society’s preconceived notions about mental illness, therapy and medication by having the main characters challenge those who stick to an old-school script regarding those issues. The over-emphasis on having a romantic relationship as a cure for your mental health issues is where the RomCom-Dramedy gets it wrong. The ending of the movie makes it seem like all of the mental health problems that two main characters have instantly washed away because they are now in a relationship.
3. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
This biopic about the Nobel Prize-winning economist John Nash, tells the story of a mathematical genius who peaks early, and is sidelined by schizophrenia and institutionalized, only to make a startling recovery and come back to achieve the highest honors of his profession. A Beautiful Mind won 4 Academy Awards, including the Oscar for Best Picture, and it may have done more than any other popular movie to combat stigma and draw attention to the positive contributions of people with serious mental health disorders. So why is it on a list of movies that get it wrong? The reason is Nash’s roommate Charles, who draws him into a complicated Soviet espionage plot involving his young niece and some shady secret agents. This subplot adds excitement to what is essentially the life story of a socially isolated mathematician. The only problem is that it all takes place in Nash’s head, as the audience discovers late in the story. Hollywood loves twists, and mental illness is one of its favorite plot devices for spinning a story in a new direction. But people with schizophrenia don’t normally have visual hallucinations where they see the human players in their delusions represented before them. And they certainly don’t get driven around in cars by them, like we see the hallucinatory Charles doing in one scene (think about it).
2. Shutter Island (2010)
This movie, set shortly after World War II, involves another government conspiracy: this one about secret medical experiments conducted on patients at a high-security mental hospital for the “criminally insane.” Director Martin Scorsese delivers lots of drama, suspense, and creepy atmospherics in this psychological thriller about a federal marshal investigating the disappearance of a female patient. He also serves up the gamut of mental illness stereotypes, with enough twists to fill a Chubby Checker album. I won’t try to summarize the plot, which is so complicated it poses a threat to anyone’s mental health. I’ll just spoil the surprise ending so you don’t have to watch the movie: the federal marshal who exposes the plot is actually a patient who slipped into psychosis after failing to protect his children from their homicidal mother. This ending manages to hit the trifecta of mental illness movie clichés: murderous mom, trauma-induced split personality, and the big reveal that ‘it was all a madman’s imaginings’ – a variation of the ‘it was only a dream’ trope that hasn’t been done well since Dorothy woke up in her own bed in Kansas more than 75 years ago.
1. The Visit (2015)
In this movie, mental illness is just used as a trope to scare teen audiences without a hint of accuracy. The filmmakers didn’t take into account the cognitive impairments that come with severe psychiatric illnesses. While it might be a terrifying cinematic thrill to be trapped in the middle of nowhere with escaped patients from a psychiatric hospital, the chances that they could pull off a murderous scheme is unlikely. Quite frankly, there is a lot to say about this movie that I couldn’t fit here. Read more about what The Visit got wrong about mental illness.
Tell us what you think about the list. Did we leave a movie out that you think got mental illness wrong? Let us know in the comments below!
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Jay Boll, Editor in Chief
Jay Boll, LMSW, writes about mental health from dual perspectives: as a professional with more than thirty-five years of experience working with homeless youth and adults with mental illness, and as a family member who has witnessed the impact of mental illness up close and personal.
There are many sides to mental health recovery. Jay’s blog takes The Family Side.
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