Sometimes a character’s anguish, paranoia, depression or madness simply jumps off the screen. Dealing with mental illness in real life is a difficult task and therefore communicating the same on the reels can be a task of great responsibility. Different psychological disorders have always found some form of representation in movies. Let’s have a look at ten such movies that help one to understand more about a mental illness.
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Director: Ron Howard
This movie is about a brilliant mathematician who is struggling with his own inner demons. A Beautiful Mind portrays the life of the paranoid schizophrenic but the insightful mathematician, John Nash. This movie showcase how the symptoms of schizophrenia are misunderstood by people as the characteristics of a genius. With Russell Crowe in the lead role, the viewer gets an insight into the suffering of a patient with schizophrenia. The film shows how the “delusions of grandeur” pave their way to create social barriers between a schizophrenic and others. The character depicted is hyper, asocial and egotistical. The movie isn’t reduced to the clichés and stereotypes about schizophrenia. When one sees Nash’s life fragment into pieces that he can’t put together, one does sympathize with his condition.
Black Swan (2011)
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Black Swan is a dark psychological thriller which is literally skin-deep. It brings to light the struggle that performers go through at the cost of entertainment. The movie is about a young ballerina, Nina, played by Natalie Portman, who attempts to embody both the White Swan and the Black Swan for the forthcoming Swan Lake Ballet. The white swan is virginal, sweet and innocent whereas the Black Swan is guile, dark and seductive. The movie delves into the psyche of Nina and the viewer himself/herself experiences the pressure, stress, and impetus of the protagonist as she tries to achieve perfection and not lose her sanity in the process. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Dissociative disorder, Hallucinations and Anorexia Nervosa have been marvelously portrayed owing to the director’s understanding of the female hysteria.
Eternal Sunshine of A Spotless Mind (2004)
Director: Michel Gondry
Imagine that you could erase the traumatic memories from your brain! Eternal Sunshine of A Spotless Mind is a story about two people who were destined to meet, fall in love, fall apart, erase their memories of each other and then meet again. The movie begins with the disorientation of the protagonist- Jim Carrey who plays the character of Joel. Soon he finds that his ex-girlfriend, Clementine (played by Kate Winslet) has undergone a brain-zapping procedure and got all the memories made with him removed. He too is interested in getting the same process done. The main technology used in this movie is the focused erasure of troubling memories. However, scenes from the movie reveal that in spite of this focused erasure of certain bad memories, some things cannot be forgotten and certain fragments transcend the procedure of memory removal. The film depicts Clementine’s character as one of an impulsive personality type and hence making her more likely to follow the said loop. Kaufman explores the mind with and portrays his perspective in the form of compelling visuals. He believes that true happiness is only found in that which is new, and if new love is all that maintain, is it not noble that for the sake of love, the world is forgotten? Eternal Sunshine is to be found in the spotless minds and spotless Joel’s and Clementine’s minds remain. Although this film belongs to the genre of romance, the director’s genius also makes one think about the way an amnesiac would perceive the world around themselves.
Girl, Interrupted (1999)
Director: James Mangold
Girl, Interrupted is a gem about the female subconscious mostly where femininity and identity are concerned. The movie is based on the book written by Susanna Kaysen that describes her 18-month stay at a mental hospital in the 1960s. Girl, Interrupted is about the life of a strange girl named Suzanna, played by Winona Ryder. It starts with Suzanna swallowing a bottle of aspirin with a bottle of vodka; her stomach is pumped inside an emergency room. She asks the ER team if they can check her hands because she believes that they don’t have bones. She is suicidal; however, she denies this fact stating that it was a headache that she was trying to stop. The film, since it is based largely in the mental institute, depicts how people with different psychological disorders are really like. Girl, Interrupted also stars Angelina Jolie who plays the character of a sociopath.
Jacob's Ladder (1990)
Director: Adrian Lyne
Jacob’s Ladder is a psychological thriller from 1990. The story follows Jacob played by Tim Robbins who is a Vietnam veteran who lives in New York and is trying to deal with the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that he is suffering from because of Vietnam. While in New York, he tries to uncover that the American Government might have experimented on him and his squad using a specialized form of a gas, making them hallucinate, as he has hallucinations during the day while he is living in New York too. But as his investigation deepens he starts to question his own reality. Soon, Jacob meets one of his fellow Vietnam soldiers called Paul, who explains to him that he is suffering from the ill-effects of the experimentation that the American Government forced onto the soldiers in Vietnam. In the film, we see Jacob struggle with paranormal delusions, apparitions, and hallucinations of demons and monsters - leaving him confused whether it is a psychological breakdown or a fit of hysteria. The horrors of war and the life threatening impact of PTSD are the central ideas of the film. Several research studies have shown a high correlation between death (suicide) and PTSD. Jacob ’s Ladder is an unnerving film exploring guilt and pain.
One Flew Over the Cuckoos' Nest (1975)
Director: Miloš Forman
This one is a simple story about a man named Randle McMurphy (played by Jack Nicholson)who has been admitted to a mental institution. Here, he notices how the head nurse, Nurse Ratched (played by Louise Fletcher) abuses the patients and hence, decides to get the men to stand up against her. He befriends the other members of his ward and starts up a classic rivalry with the domineering nurse. Naturally, the head nurse won’t let their rebellion be successful, so she decides to strike back by severely punishing this man. At its core, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is about chaos versus order and conformity versus rebellion. There is no freedom without chaos and yet to maintain order there must be some oppression. He teaches the other patients to have fun and encourages them to embrace themselves. He is able to convince them that not only are they sane people, but also they are humans. An order is imposed on the patients with an almost cult-like approach. McMurphy soon discovers that he is not just trapped by physical walls, but also by mental walls of imprisonment as well. Routine is imprisonment. The movie is set in a mental institution yet explores manages to symbolize social issues in a beautiful manner. It also leaves behind a positive message that self-confidence is the key.
Shutter Island (2010)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Based on a novel by Denris Lehane, the movie directed by Martin Scorsese stars Leonardo Di Caprio as Edward Daniels, a US Marshall. In 1954, Daniels is sent to Ashcliffe Hospital on Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a patient named Rachel Solando. Ashcliffe Hospital is a mental hospital for the mentally ill criminals. The director uses storytelling devices to plunge into the character of Daniels and toys with emotions. This gripping psychological drama keeps the viewer locked to the screen since the very beginning. The movie also reveals the standing of psychology in the 50s. In the movie we find Marshall Daniels visiting the said hospital for an ulterior motive to track down a man named Andrew Laddies, who killed his wife; however, the doctors at the hospital have something else in store for him. This movie is surely a mental rollercoaster.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Director: David O. Russell
An offbeat romance starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook brings out bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and self-destructive addiction as they are. The story here is about Pat played by Cooper, who is substitute teacher who has been recently discharged from a psychiatric institution where he was sent on account of his undiagnosed bipolar disorder on account of killing the man who was seeing his wife. After being released after 8 months, he is filled with immense motivation to make his life better and keep fit, that too without medication. He is convinced that his estranged wife is still waiting for him to get better. He meets Tiffany played by Jennifer Lawrence who is on self-destructive behaviour ever since the death of her husband. She agrees to give Pat’s letter to his wife if he agrees to dance with her for the upcoming dance competition. They bond on the fact that both of them have troubled lives. The characters seem real and the viewer is able to relate to them.It makes one think, feel, and it is heartfelt. The visual style given by the director makes the viewer get inside the lives and heads of the characters.
The Machinist (2004)
Director: Brad Anderson
Starring Christian Bale as Trevor in one of his most critically acclaimed performances, The Machinist is about a factory worker who is struggling with chronic insomnia since a year. The movie succeeds in weaving an intriguing character study of an insomniac. The film illustrates how physically and mentally harmful lack of sleep can be. Trevor represents a frailty and mild mannered vulnerability that partly comes from him being emaciated. He is also plagued by paranoia and hallucination. The death of a co-worker at a work place accident due to a mistake on Trevor’s part finds him fired from the job. As the film proceeds, an unknown tragedy rises to the surface. Tantalizing clues about this event and Trevor’s increasingly dire situation as his paranoia worsens and he lashes out at the people around him makes this film a psychological thriller. This film demonstrates how our brains can manipulate us even without us consciously realizing.
The Soloist (2009)
Director: Joe Wright
Based on a non-fiction book by Steve Lopez, The Soloist stars Robert Downey Jr. as L.A. Times journalist as the author himself. One day while strolling for stories, Lopez, comes across a homeless street musician sawing away on a two string violin. This musician is Nathaniel Ayers, played by Jamie Foxx. When Ayers, an undiagnosed schizophrenic mentions to Lopez that he is a Julliard dropout, the journalist's mind starts to wonder more and more about him- who is this man and how did he end up in this state? The Soloist chronicles the story of an uneasily developing friendship between a reporter and a homeless schizophrenic musical prodigy. It depicts how the journalist would work on his story without crossing the borders of ethics. In this movie get to see how beautifully Jamie Foxx embraced the challenging role of a schizophrenic. It is a movie which reminds the viewer of the plight of the people who don’t have a shelter above their heads and are mentally and the state of helplessness that they can be reduced to.