Here at the end of May 2020, yet another mental health awareness month, with a large body of literature and movies that concern us regarding this topic. While I cannot possibly include every movie that addresses mental health either in a humorous or tragic way, I will definitely try my best to point out some of the movies that had accurate representations, are quite popular, my personal favorites, and of course, the ones that did justice to mental health awareness and this month.
We will start obviously, at the very beginning with perhaps a significant one “A Streetcar Named Desire”, a play turned movie that beautifully portrayed a woman’s slow descent into her own emotions and desires, while not neglecting the mental struggle of the characters around her. Followed in the next decade by our beloved Hitchcok’s psycho-thriller quite literally named “Psycho” that not only revolutionized cinema but gave birth to that genre. While these two movies have a quiet vague understanding of these illnesses and looked at it as a very foreign struggle, it was still a major step in those times, to give way to cinema as we know it today.
As discussions into psychology and cinema furthered, and science helped literature once again in understanding the workings of the mind, literature helped science as well to display these illnesses on the big screen in order to start a discussion and normalize the concept of mental health.
Mental Illness not only became a character trait but a trope to help further the plot, but also the focus of the entire movie especially in the 21st century. We can see movies like “Shutter Island” and “Black Swan” gaining attention and popularised by faces like DiCaprio and Natalie Portman, and even to the very latest “Joker”. Movies like these, despite being thrillers still have a protagonist with a major diagnosed mental illness which played a huge role in blurring the lines of good or bad in this discourse.
A much more subtle approach was taken in a lot of movies coming from a lot of other genres. Movies like “perks of being a wallflower” that showed characters very similar to us, shedding light on teenage mental health. The daily struggle, the common man, and his mental health. “Good Will Hunting” another great classic with Robin Williams that took a common socially awkward Matt Damon, and declared him a genius.
Speaking of geniuses, another beautifully popular set of movies came about in the form of biographies, that not only very clearly address the genius’ mental illness, but also shows them for the national heroes that they are. I am of course talking about “The Imitation Game” and “A Beautiful Mind” which are about Alan Turing and John Forbes Nash respectively. We also see the discourse around asylums, hospitals, and rehab, that take precedence in some movies like Winona Ryder’s “Girl Interrupted” which very unabashedly depicts a patient’s struggle with these institutions.
And finally, how can we talk about normalizing mental health conversations without talking about a person’s ability to love and be loved. And my oh my, we have done a great job in showing some beautiful romances with all their quirks and fancies. Movies that made us all go aww like “Silver Linings Playbook”, “Forrest Gump”, “Benny and Joon”. Movies showed us we can find love despite our mental struggles, and showed a lot of people how to act or not to act while dealing with a partner or loved one struggling through this.
I cannot finish this blog without mentioning my current personal Favorite that had me bawling like a baby. Not a movie, but the third episode of the “Modern Love” series starring Anne Hathaway, “Take me as I am, whoever I am” which I also think sums up what I have been trying to say till now. Acceptance.
Stay strong during these tough times. Watch these movies. And let’s hope by May 2021 we will have more such great ones.