Friday, June 10, 2011

The Top 10 Movies about Mental Illness

By Brendan McLean, Communications Coordinator

There will always be disagreements and discrepancies among Top 10 lists, no matter what the topic. Everybody has an opinion. When we asked our NAMI Facebook page fans what movies made the biggest impact on them when it came to films that put mental illness in the spotlight, we received a wide array of answers. Take a look:

10. Canvas (2006)

Canvas is one of only a few movies able to encapsulate the emotional trials that a family living with mental illness faces. Chris Marino (Devon Gearhart) is a 10-year-old boy growing up in a small, seaside community in Florida. Chris's father John (Joe Pantoliano) is a construction worker who is struggling to hold the family together under difficult circumstances: his wife and Chris' mother, Mary (Marcia Gay Harden), has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and while they've been pursuing a variety of treatment options, Mary's condition continues to slowly deteriorate as she hears phantom sounds, has hallucinations and becomes increasingly paranoid.

9. Shutter Island (2010)

The year is 1954 and World War II veteran and current federal marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) set off to Shutter Island, a water-bound mental hospital created to provide a place for those with a history of committing criminal acts and mental illness. Daniels and his partner have been asked to investigate the disappearance of one of the patients. However, as Teddy spends more time on the island, more questions arise than answers. As the happenings on the island become more bizarre, Daniel’s handle on reality begins to unravel. While the ending does appear to blinside you on first viewing, it allows for an interesting discussion on the treatment of mental illness.

8. Benny & Joon (1993)

Benny & Joon is a rather fantastical story about car-mechanic Benny (Aidan Quinn) who struggles to take care of sister, Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson), who lives with mental illness. Midway through the film, we are introduced to the true star, and leading quirky character of the film, Sam (Johnny Depp). After losing a bet, Benny is forced to now house Sam along with his sister. Sam’s Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin routines keep him as far from reality as Joon often appears to be. Finding entertainment and enjoyment in the simple, yet oddball things in life, Sam develops a connection with Joon. While Depp’s performance does seem magical, especially as he brings Keaton’s mannerisms to life, the topic of Joon’s mental illness is not thoroughly discussed. The audience is merely greeted with and left with the notion that Joon lives with a mental illness. As a consequence, the movie is left with a feeling of a degree of insignificance. But regardless, Sam’s eccentric nature and the influence he has on Joon make this movie an incredibly fun watch, with a few sentimental moments as well.

7. The Hours (2002)

Depicting the story of three women in three separate generations, The Hours tells the struggles that each faces in their own time. The first of the three women is famous author Virginia Wolff (Nicole Kiddman) who wrote Mrs. Dalloway, the common thread that ties all three women together. Wolff is in the process of writing the novel; a troubled young mother (Julianne Moore) in 1951 is reading the novel and a woman (Meryl Streep) in 2001 is acting like the character Mrs. Dalloway from the book. The theme of mental illness is paramount throughout the film, as each of the three women is, to some degree, living with depression and thoughts of suicide. The remarkable acting, especially by Kiddman, helps give life to every single moment and make the powerful themes reverberate even more.

6. The Soloist (2009)

Depicting the true-life story of Nathanial Ayers (Jamie Foxx), a former cello virtuoso, and Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.), a journalist in Los Angeles, The Soloist portrays the working relationship and friendship formed between the two. As a young man, Ayers was a student at the prestigious Jullliard. But in his third year he experienced a mental breakdown and was subsequently diagnosed with schizophrenia. After living with his sister for a few years in Cleveland, his mother died, and he set out to Los Angeles where his father supposedly lived. Unable to locate him, Ayers becomes homeless. This is where Lopez meets him. Unable to understand how such a brilliant musician can be living on the streets and not performing in a symphony hall, Lopez sets out on a mission to help Ayers. And as with all similar movies, as Lopez begins to learn about Ayers, he begins to discover himself as well. The Soloist touches on the tough but important subject of how many living with mental illness can become homeless when they do not continue to receive help.

5. Girl, Interrupted (1999)

Set in 1967, Girl, Interrupted follows the 18-year-old Susanna (Winona Ryder) after she is sent to psychiatric institution for a half-serious suicide attempt where she attempts to cure a headache by taking 50 aspirin with a bottle of vodka. Unlike many of her fellow classmates, Susanna does not have any future plans to go to college after she graduates high school. Apart from a contrived climax, the film largely is well-constructed and thought-out, although it does not have the metaphorical or powerful symbolism that a film like this, could and should have. Ryder’s performance as a neurotic young-female is what helps this film from stereotypical movie that delves into the topic of institutionalization in a mental hospital. However, while Girl, Interrupted does a good job portraying the topic of mental illness, there is nothing particularly novel or ground-breaking in the film’s execution that hasn’t been addressed in previous films.

4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest may be the most famous of all films depicting a mental institution and mental illness. R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is sent to a mental institution for an evaluation because of a crime he committed. Realizing that the individuals in the institution become more focused on becoming functional in the outside world, MucMurphy establishes himself as the leader in rebellious against the oppressive Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). While some view some of the actions and depictions of the characters as stigmatizing, for others Cuckoo’s Nest ultimately provides well-developed character descriptions that allows for them to be seen as any person, with or without mental illness; people with feelings, thoughts, goals and unique qualities. Furthermore, the portrayal of the institution may not be a positive example of how those living with mental illness should be cared for, many believe it does advocate that it should be the way. Based on a book of the same name by Ken Kesey from 1962, Cuckoo’s Nest describes an institution as many appeared in that era. The ending of the film, both metaphorically and literally ultimately reveals the devastation that this method of care for those living with mental illness has.

3. Ordinary People (1980)

Ordinary People tells the story of family whose underlying problems and struggles come to forefront in the aftermath of the death of one of their sons. Their other son who was present at the scene of his brother’s death cannot shake the grief and pain of situation and attempts suicide. As their son begins psychiatric treatment, the emotional journey in the family only begins. Each family member experiencing various aspects of the difficult nature of trying to care for someone you love with mental illness. In particular, Conrad (Timonthy Hutton), the son, is seen as an outcast at school because of his mental illness and suicide attempt. The struggle between the father (Donald Sutherland) and his wife (Mary Tyler Moore) and the ability to each family member to love one another creates a turbulent scene in the all too stereotypically matter-of-fact and easy suburban life.

2. The Fisher King (1991)

Perhaps the most individual film on the list The Fisher King tells the story of shock radio DJ Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges). One fan in particular takes Jack’s rants about humanity to heart and goes on horrible rampage, murdering innocent patrons at a restaurant. Horrified by what he caused, Jack sinks into a three-year depression. Hitting rock bottom, Jack attempts to commit suicide. To his rescue comes a crazed but witty homeless man named Parry (Robin Williams), who tells Jack he's destined for great things—all he has to do is find the Holy Grail (conveniently located in midtown Manhattan) and save Parry's soul. As the story unfolds, we learn that Parry is suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses, and importantly the event that helped caused them, that will tie him and Jack together.

1. A Beautiful Mind (2001)

Telling the story of John Forbes Nash, Jr. (Russell Crowe), a brilliant mathematician, A Beautiful Mind, captures the difficult life that an individual first experiencing schizophrenia faces. Beginning in the 1950s, A Beautiful Mind follows the path of Nash from a promising career, being recruited by the CIA to help in code-breaking activities, to the powerful delusions that he begins to experience and change his life forever. Although the film does romanticize mental illness, it does reveal the ambiguous nature of mental illness; it can affect anyone regardless of intelligence, prominence or any other personal trait.

40 comments:

Katherine Levine said...

Thank you. I would expand the list to include Sixth Sense and Catch 22. Then I thought about Romeo and Juliet and A Man For All Seasons about societies and families gone mad.

Poetry Emotion said...

Top 10 most well-known perhaps - but IMHO, certainly not "tops" in their depictions of the mentally ill, the perpetuation of stigma, and the myths regarding treatment and cures.

First of all, there's this ridiculous myth that the mentally ill can be cured by the influence of one rebellious character, as shown in several of the movies you mentioned. Namely, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Benny & Joon," and "Girl, Interrupted."

There is also the depiction of ECT as a barbaric form of torture - when in reality it is a painless, safe way to treat those for whom medication and other treatments have been ineffective.

But the thing that REALLY gets to me is this notion - perpetuated in the film "A Beautiful Mind" that people with a mental illness can forgo treatment and just cure themselves by IGNORING THEIR SYMPTOMS.

Yes, movie makers oversimplify, exaggerate, and take dramatic license for the sake of their craft. But calling these the "Top 10 Movies about Mental Illness" is akin to calling "Finding Nemo" a documentary about aquatic life.

Seriously, folks at NAMI. You should know better than this.

Anonymous said...

Poetry Emotion, these aren't movies that NAMI came up with, they are movies that members of the NAMI Facebook page suggested.

emily said...

I would add the old movie "Snake Pit". Of course it is dated but at the time of filming it was horribly realistic in many ways. I saw this film as a child and at that time decided I wanted to somehow help the mentally ill. I became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker working first in a State Hospital and subsequently in a facility for mentally ill adolescents.

Jess said...

I like the movie Numb.

Loren Booda said...

If you are dissatisfied by the movie A Beautiful Mind, try reading the book with that name by Sylvia Nasar. (I found that the first half of the movie emulated my own experience leading up to schizophrenia at an Ivy League school.)

CalgarySandy said...

ECT was barbaric in the past as were many other attempts to turn the mentally ill into productive and faceless citizens. I believe it is important to understand the history of failed attempts and what happens when the still strong stigma is applied and believed.

Nancy said...

Our family loved "The Dream Team". It had lots of humor..but, our son, who has a mental illness also loved it!! It had a good story line & so touching.

Anonymous said...

I just saw the movie Temple about Temple Grandin. It showed how folks with autism are different not less.

Anonymous said...

how about Sybil or forest gump or good will hunting, or thirteen or whats eating gilbert grape, powder, there are so many good movies depicting people with mental illness and the struggles of mental health issues it is so hard to choose just 10

Anonymous said...

Hey - I am certainly glad to find this. great job!

R said...

The best movie I ever saw that addressed the relationship of siblings and mental illness was "Promise" a Hallmark presentation starring James Wood and James Garner. The story centers on James Garner who made a promise to his dying mother always to care for his mentally ill brother James Woods. Both actors gave stunning portrayals.

Anonymous said...

Unlisted!!

Anonymous said...

IMHO, The original film, David and Lisa, released in 1968 is by FAR the best movie about mental illness ever made...

A wonderful story...

Anonymous said...

The movie "The Dream Team" was pretty good too.

Anonymous said...

"Keane" (2004) dir by Lodge Kerrigan, is one of the most realistic and unsentimental depictions of schizophrenia ever made: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0420291/

Tonya said...

I would add Rachael Getting Married to the list. I have never seen a movie that more poignantly portrays the family dynamics where bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder is present. Particularly it's effect between adult siblings.

TheOffstageVoice said...

I'd like to add "Mozart and the Whale," an entertaining movie addressing "aspergers sufferers" who fall in love and try and make a go of it. LIkely the female sufferer also is a bipolar sufferer as many reviewers have succinctly pointed out. Lovely movie, light-hearted yet knowing and pulls some good punches!
Great acting too!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Emily about the old movie The Snake Pit. It exemplified more examples of how an institutionalized patient can have a limited experience especially with biased or untrained personnel.

Also, further, improved research has shown that ECT therapy works only in certain cases, and with the lowest effective dosages as required by the weight and BMI of each of those certain individual patients, and what each can sustain mentally is difficult to measure, therefore, should be used with more caution than it is, as is the case with all psychotropic medications.

Panic Attack said...

'Shutter Island' and 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's' nest are two of best movies that I have ever watched. One that was not mentioned was Black Swan, which could be included in this list, it's just the others are too good to be taken out

Anonymous said...

Don't forget "Frances" a disturbing but important film.

Scottie Dog Vintage Greeting Cards said...

I thought "Proof" with Gwyneth Paltrow was a very good portrayal of her personality disorder.Also Anthony Hopkins was brilliant.

NeilsWheelsNY said...

I like the list you have and I can safely say that A Beautiful Mind gives me hope for my son Neil Barber, who suffers from schizophrenia.

A movie from NAMI that includes Neil and my efforts to promote Mental Illness Awareness, should be ready by September. It is my hope that this documentary will be included on your list later.

You can see Neil by going to our website. http://www.neilswheelsny.com

Anonymous said...

I recommend the documentary “My Name is Alan, and I Paint Pictures”, about the schizophrenic Artist Alan Streets. He is an artist who specializes in painting buildings in the street that are right in front of him. He travels all over the US and paints daily.
The documentary My Name is Alan, and I Paint Pictures focuses on Alan’s life as he works to break his way into the professional art world.
The film also addresses larger issues which directly or indirectly affect Alan. Subjects addressed include the treatment and diagnosis of Paranoid Schizophrenia; the therapeutic benefits of art for mental illness. Alan Streets sells his paintings on his website at http://www.alanstreetsstore.com
http://www.dishonline.com/shows/133663/videos/417459

Afflictions Film Series said...

Check out “Afflictions: Culture and Mental Illness in Indonesia, Volume 2: Neuropsychiatric Disorders” is the second half in a series of 6 ethnographic films on severe mental illness in Indonesia. Volume 2 follows 3 individuals of different ages and backgrounds with neuropsychiatric disorders, and explores the relationship between culture, mental illness, and first-person experience

Anonymous said...

I'd love to have some more "recent" films. I am teaching a class on diagnosis and would like my students to review a film for the diagnostic criteria, but also to examine bias (their own, society's, and how disorders are portrayed). If there are any other recent films that will make this list more complete, I'd be appreciative.

Anonymous said...

I recently watched a film called "My Name is Alan and I Paint Pictures" It is a documentary about a British painter named Alan Streets that lives in New York City and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Through his art he his no only able to support himself, but he can use it as therapy for his illness as well. http://mynameisalan.com/

milos said...

I like it. Lots of good films.

Anonymous said...

Does someone knows the title of this old movie(probably 80's or 90's ) where a man was entered in a mental asylum where one patient acts as a ballerina and another patient(autistic?) plays piano like a genius? That was a really good movie.

Anonymous said...

Except it's still being done...

Anonymous said...

oh man, where to start.

i'm thinking people mostly w/out mental conditions came-up with this list.

DO NOT see shutter island if you suffer from a mental illness. i cannot believe that is on the list. the potential triggering it would cause a person (like me) w/a mental condition is just too much.

i could pick-out more, but this list is mostly junk in my opinion.

ps i had ect. it's nothing like what is shown in one flew over the cuckoo's nest. can you say STIGMA? even the psychiatrist that was the technical advisor to the film disagreed w/the way ect was shown in this film.

Anonymous said...

'helen'

a little long, but very realistic and hopeful. though, be warned suicide is in it.

and, at least they got the ect right.

Anonymous said...

As a person with bipolar disorder from waaaay back, some of the comments about ECT being "painless".....I personally had ECT starting when I was 15... around 1963 or 1964....for me, I speak for no one else, ECT was horrifyingly painful. I felt bruised and violated for days after these "therapeutic " sessions. There are LARGE pieces of the better part of two years that are (probably a blessing...lol) completely blank. Other people in the hospital that had more delusional illnesses than i did looked and sounded as if they were in their own personal hells. I am doing quite well now with my "cocktail"...lol..I do still suffer from some pretty relevant memory loss, headaches, and disturbing nightmares...I am DAILY thankful that I was not labotomized....a threat that was made to me when I did not show proper "improvement". And this is one of the reasons for "Girl, Interrupted" being my favorite from your list, the conversation Ryder's character has with the random guy at a party, about his friend seeing purple people," he was gone awhile then he told them he didn't see purple people anymore", she says, he got better. And he says, "nah, he still sees them". I truly believe my ability to fake a sunny disposition saved me from an ice pick. The movie rings true on many levels for me, although I cannot recall the staff being so kind...lol...although Goldberg's character alludes to the conditions in state run facilities...and that's where I was. Anyway...in conclusion, FOR ME, ECT was both painful and humiliating and "Girl, Interrupted" is my vote! I'm sorry if i was a tad too graphic and for going on so long! Bright Blessings!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, I agree about faking the sunny dispostion after awhile, just to get them to stop poking and prodding. Same thing you have to do to get out of the mental hospital, altho 4 days is the max thanks to insurance. We have to pretend we're better to not be tortured, when what someone should be doing is helping us out of our torture. It's 2013, but we're still in the mental health dark ages, I think.

Anonymous said...

I believe poppy shakespere should be included as it is a dramatic presentation of the systemic destruction of a young womans life etched in a cruelity that can only be done when we believe we are working for the benefit of the victim without appropriate checks and balances

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for list NAMI. Let me preface my comments by saying I have a mental illness. That being said, rarely will one of the major studios release a bigger budget film that hits on a significant number of the key factors related to mental illness. That's often not the purpose, goal, or even possible. One example: Great scenes can be shot that simply don't make it past post-production and into the final cut for a number of reasons but its certainly not from a lack of effort or desire on the part of the directors or producers.. I encourage people to consider adjusting their expectations to a more realistic level when watching a bigger budget movie about mental illness in the theater or on their device so they can enjoy it and not be critical the entire time and be mad, aggravated or resentful at the end. Might not want to see it otherwise. It's simply not worth it.

amyjosprague said...

Very excited about many of these--The Fisher King in particular, as I'm one with PTSD and bipolar and what-have-you.
Amy

George W said...

How about the movie "Silver Linings Playbook" (2012); Best Actress Oscar for Jen Lawrence. Seems to me a very positive movie about 4 folks with mental illnesses learning to live happy lives, with help from family & friends.

Sonia Fhe said...

Davin is an Irish film that deals with this stuff

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtElIIJ1YuI

Anonymous said...

Silver Lining Playbook is stunning!

A little known film called "Dirty Filthy Love"...is about ocd and other ailments. It's very very good and not bad movie...it's title has to do with germaphobes.

The Halmark movie
"The Promise" is great.

I have an anxiety disorder...two of my brothers have schizophrenia. I'm always on the look out for movies that address mental illness.

I loved the Fisher king was magnificent.

I understand how some films stigmatize...one flew over the cookoos nest (but i still loved it).

Anything that give insight into people with mental illness being HUMAN is great.