"Why don't you blog about it?"
- So we did!
We all love a good movie. Whether you enjoy cuddling up to a sappy rom-com, a belly-aching comedy, or a suspenseful thriller, movies become an integral part of the human experience. They can spark emotional responses, make us laugh, cry, get angry, and even keep us up at night to make sure a ghost doesn’t creep out of a dark corner. They can create huge followings, establishing friendships (and even foes) amongst their fanbase.
Movies also have a spectacular ability to communicate to the masses. With the rise of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, people have access to an unimaginable amount of content at their fingertips. With such a large platform, it is important to critically analyze the content we are given.
So you may be wondering, what does this have to do with mental health? Themes of mental health have always held a presence in cinema. Turns out, mental health (and the barriers that coincide with a diagnosis) make for a great story! But the question is, do movie representations of mental health help or hurt those it portrays?
Well fellow movie-goer, I will let you decide. But let’s bring some examples to the conversation. In 1994, Forrest Gump was released and to this day remains a beloved story about a man that creates a meaningful life in the most interesting ways. Though it was not explicitly stated, it is implied that the main protagonist, Forrest, lives with a developmental disability. Though I personally cannot speak for the views of this community, I would like to offer my critiques. First, I think it is commendable to portray an individual living with disabilities with many successful endeavors. However, I am hesitant to give my full approval since the character is not played by an individual living with this diagnosis. On a scale from helpful to hurtful, I give Forrest Gump a solid ‘neutral’ since the movie has both pros and cons in regards to mental health.
In 2013, The Wolf of Wall Street was released, captivating the ups and downs of a manipulative, money-hungry stock broker. The movie presented a number of stressful themes, such as heavy substance abuse, unhealthy relationships, and overall “bad behavior.” Though a mental health diagnosis was never stated, the lead character, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, shows signs of narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and a number of substance-related addictive disorders. Even with these personality traits, this movie somehow became a hit. Though I recognize the movie’s cinematic value, I believe it unapologetically romanticizes behaviors that are detrimental to the self. In a way, the movie makes it seem like this lifestyle is desirable, leading me to rank it on the hurtful side of the scale.
Finally, a movie that always comes up in this discussion: Silver Linings Playbook (2012). This movie tells the story of a tumultuous relationship between Pat and Tiffany, an unlikely pair of adults struggling to navigate their lives. Pat, played by Bradley Cooper, is recently released from a mental health facility due to a violent manic episode. This behavior is oftentimes associated with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence, displays harsh “ups and downs,” difficulty in relationships, and a fleeting self esteem. Though not outrightly mentioned, many critics have narrowed down her diagnosis to depression or borderline personality disorder. From a psychological perspective, it can be argued that this movie is realistic in its representation of these mental health disorders. It shows that individuals living with these diagnoses have both good and bad days, are capable of meaningful relationships, and can achieve anything with positive support systems. On the other hand, the movie heavily romanticized the unhealthy relationship, poor communication, and manipulative behaviors between the two leading characters. Because of these pros and cons, this movie lands on neutral on the scale of helping or hurting; it definitely brought more awareness to the presented mental health disorders. However, I strongly suggest viewing this movie with a critical eye and with the intention of furthering your own education on mental health once it's finished.
Since movies tend to depict a level of reality, what do you think the portrayal of mental health disorders says about deeper issues within our culture? Does it imply that individuals with mental health diagnoses are a form of entertainment for others? Or are movies sincerely trying to raise awareness through their platform? Thankfully, viewers like you and me, have a say! It is up to us to think beyond the movie material we are presented. We decide whether or not a character with a mental health diagnosis will form our views on an entire population of people, or open the door to further educating ourselves towards awareness, tolerance, and acceptance.