DISCLAIMER: This is not a series dedicated to proving men shouldn’t cry, or to suggest ONLY women cry and are therefore inferior. The goal of this series is to dispel the pre-established (yet flawed) notion that being “manly” and being disconnected from your emotions go hand-in-hand. Even the most macho of men enjoy and even shed a tear at films, and the sooner we can admit that the sooner the concept that one sex is better than the other can go away. While the approach to these articles is one of light-hearted comedy, the emotional core is valid. While men might be more hesitant to admit it, movies often times have the potential to make us cry, for example:
“Mental Illness Movies”
I recently had to deal with a person with a severe mental illness. Not a normal person who went off the deep end, but a full-on, “few cards short of a full deck” type of situation. What struck me is that when faced with an intellect that functions so differently than the baseline that my grey matter operates under, there’s still a desire to reason with them. That’s why it’s sometimes so frustrating for both parties when someone tries to communicate with someone who’s mentally ill: you’re trying to talk to them on your cognitive terms, and they’re trying to do the same but with theirs. Cinema has explored this dynamic to various successes, which is amazing considering movies are a visual language and mental illness is so conceptual. The hardship of those without mental illness trying to help or even just have a discourse with those afflicted makes for good drama, however it’s difficult to show visually that someone is battling internal demons, and even harder to convey the true nature of suffering a mental illness with those who aren’t affected. Here’s a list of some successes that also tug at the heartstrings of even the burliest of boys:
The movie that those in the mental illness community praised for “getting it right.” This movie treated bipolar disorder with grace and respect, and even those not familiar with the symptoms immediately get a sense that Bradley “Face” Cooper is frustrated with himself. It’s this frustration that leads him to convince himself he can just will himself better and undo the damage that he continually causes. I think that’s my favorite part, the reality that he fails in this endeavor without accepting help from those around him. Mockingjay is fantastic, the jokes are a welcome balm on the open wound the plot exposes, and nothing seems too far-fetched or immersion-breaking. Truly deserving of the critical acclaim it got.
What got me, and I suspect many others, is the mental illness that Bradley’s father had, namely gambling. In many cases, mental illnesses that aren’t well managed are due to family members with a co-dependent mental illness making things worse. When Bradley’s father blames him for losing a bet, we feel the fragile progress that Bradley had made crumble away. It’s fantastic, but emotionally exhausting.
2. Black Swan
Not exactly marketed as a movie about mental illness, anyone who’s seen it can say it’s the story of obsession and stress driving someone to the breaking point. Others focus on the scene with Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, but that was just to get certain demographics into the seats. The film follows Natalie “Lady Thor” Portman as she prepares for the key role in Swan Lake. As mentioned in pick 1 of this list, we find a parent with their own issues (a former dancer with dreams of living through her child). That, plus competition from Mila “Meg” Kunis leads Natalie down a dark path that ultimately leads to some pretty trippy insanity. Scary, sexy, and ultimately a window into the mind of those obsessed since birth about one thing, and how they react when they get it.
What really ruffles a lot of guys’ feathers (heh) is how anyone could do anything to Natalie as long as they add the phrase “it’s going to make you a better dancer.” Her instructor molests her but then says her reaction is what he was trying to bring out. Mila does…stuff…and the same reasoning is used. To see someone give up everything they are just to get something they want is sad.
Back when Russell Crow was still an actor and not a cage fighter, this was one of his best works. Based off a true story, Russell plays a mathematician who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and we track his life and career as the symptoms become more severe. The great success of this film is that both Crow and the audience are introduced to the hallucinations so gradually that we don’t realize by the end that half the movie didn’t even happen. Such is the difficulty that Crow dealt with, trying to react to people who weren’t there while alienating those that were. The one unrealistic part is that in the end, Crow uses his intellect to “out-think” the hallucinations and ignore them without medication. Sadly that isn’t how it works; if the tool you use to do calculations is broken, you can’t use that same tool to fix your broken calculations.
4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
This is the grand-daddy of flicks about the reality of mental health treatment gone berserk, and pretty much any TV episode or movie taking place in an asylum or psych ward borrows from it. The story centers on a crook serving part of his sentence in a mental hospital to avoid hard labor. But as he leads other patients into (mostly) harmless mischief, he realizes that their various conditions aren’t being treated so much as contained and exacerbated by a sadistic nurse. His rebellion against this deeply broken system leads to some breakthroughs and some serious consequences for his mentally ill comrades.
In a sea of heartbreaking moments, it’s hard to spot the one that rattles us all the most. While some might peg the eventual lobotomy and euthanasia of our protagonist, I’ve always been more haunted by the suicide of a timid young man with a stutter. Terrified by the Nurse’s threat to tell his mother of his recent behavior, he barricades himself in an office and decides to die rather than face some meager punishment. It’s this fundamental misunderstanding of mental illness, that some threat or consequence can control behavior, that is chilling
Before Hollywood remakes this film and ruins it, let’s talk about the genius of the original. Guy “Mandarin” Pierce has a form of amnesia that prevents him from making new memories. So to have the audience share this frustrating experience, the movie is told in reverse order. We cannot know what’s happened earlier in the film because we don’t get to see the beginning until the end. It’s amazing how well this works and while the illness is more a result of an injury than illness, the social stigma and functional difficulties are all too similar. A great view for anyone who’s not seen it.
The sad part is a story (we’ll leave it at that) about someone with the same memory issue. Their spouse felt that they were making the illness up, and asked them to repeatedly give her insulin for her diabetes. Her goal was to prove that he could remember that he just gave her a shot, but the result is that he gave her insulin until she fell into a coma and died. Like I said at the beginning, it’s hard for those not affected by mental illness to fathom how those who are affected work. Sometimes the default reaction is to assume they’re faking it, or lying, which isn’t healthy or helpful.
Still good movies though.