Who doesn’t love Hollywood? But when it comes to such sensitive topics as mental illnesses, sometimes the movies don’t depict things the way that they are. Moviemakers may sensationalize, or they may make characters with mental illness ( who are already stigmatized in society) out to be the villain. Below are some movies about the topic of mental illness, and what they got right (or wrong) about the illnesses they depict. Beware, my commentaries may contain spoilers!
1. "The Butterfly Room"
Ann, played by Barbara Steele, is a lonely old woman with bipolar disorder who develops a disturbing mother-daughter relationship with a young girl named Alice. Ann uses her butterfly collection to enchant Alice. When Ann realizes that Alice is friends with other old women, she becomes jealous and feels the need to go out on a killing spree to preserve her mother-daughter relationship.
What it gets (wrong): While people with bipolar disorder may or may not be violent, but this is a huge exaggeration. I remember as a kid my friend’s mom had bipolar disorder. She wasn't aggressive. Some days she would have a grandiose view of herself and say she was going to be a doctor. Other days she struggled to get out of bed or do the laundry.
2. "The Babadook"
A grief-stricken widow’s son has an imaginary friend named Mr. Babadook. And Mr. Babadook is not the nice kind of imaginary friend. Mr. Babadook comes out of a book, he wears a top hat and has arms that mock the cross. The boy’s mother starts to see Mr. Babadook everywhere. This is one of my favorite movies because we hardly if ever see anything, but the sense of psychological despair and trauma is real. This is horror without the blood and the guts.
What it gets (right): Most mental illnesses, while they never go away, can be controlled through medication, therapy, or a combination of both.
3. "The Secret Window"
Johnny Depp plays Mort Rainey, an alcoholic writer whose wife died. Rainey is suddenly blackmailed by a mysterious stranger. It turns out Mort Rainey has secrets of his own. (Spoiler: He has multiple personalities and the stranger is one of his personalities. Rainey killed his wife and buried her in the cornfields outside of his house.)
What it gets (wrong): Few people with mental illnesses are psychopaths. And people with mental illness are more likely to be the victims, rather than the perpetrators of crimes.
4. "Silver Linings Playbook"
Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) has just been released from a mental institution for beating up his wife’s lover during one of his bipolar lows. When Solitano leaves the institution, he learns his wife has moved away and his dad is bookmaking so he can earn the money to open a restaurant. Pat refuses to take his medication and tries to manage his bipolar through exercise and healthy living. He befriends Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow who also has issues and they bond over not fitting in. Pat tries to have Tiffany communicate with his ex-wife. Pat and Tiffany enter a dance competition.
What it gets (right): Some people such as Pat may refuse to take their medication because they don’t like the way it makes them feel. They might feel as if it makes them drowsy or like a zombie. While exercise can help with mental health, some people find they need to take medication as well. People with mental illnesses can be loving, friendly people just like anyone else. People with bipolar disorder may find it hard to keep a job because when they are on one of their highs they are elated with life, but when they are on their lows they may struggle to function.