2 Great New Movies about Mental Illness

Silver Linings Playbook
Silver Linings Playbook

Just in time for the holidays, there are two awesome new films about mental illness.

I just saw Silver Linings Playbook and The Master. Both of these films show the journey from destructive madness to precarious sanity. The films show the impossible internal tide as Pat, Bradley Cooper, and Freddy, Joaquin Phoenix, descend (ascend) into their altered states and try to get back to life again.

The movies made me wonder about something I read a long time from Carl Jung. I am paraphrasing, but the idea from Jung, is that: Maybe it’s not these individuals who are mad, but their societies are insane.

Maybe madness is the only sane response to an insane society. Coping is hard enough in life, without the stigma and consequences of mental illness, brought on by intense stress or some biological deficiency.

Both lead actors in these films chew up the scenery. Oddly, during a few intense moments in Silver Linings, the director cuts away from the Bradley Cooper character, a manic-depressive, to get the reaction shots of Jennifer Lawrence (from The Hunger Games).

The title of Silver Linings refers to the benefits of positive thinking to overcome difficulties. I am fan of optimism. Here are my other take-aways from Silver Linings.

  • Dancing and running help heal obsessive minds
  • Beat craziness with more craziness
  • Two messed-up people can make a sane thing
  • Find the silver lining in every crazy moment
  • Mental illness runs in families

The Master

Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams are incredible in The Master. There is never a cutting away from their faces during intense scenes. If anything, the close-ups just get closer. Tormented minds reveal themselves through dialogue and action. Actions have consequences.

Here are my take-aways from The Master

  • Every one serves someone (the master?). (Did Bob Dylan say this too?)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder is real, especially for wartime survivors
  • Communal living is healing (and destructive)
  • We may be better than we think we are
  • Don’t give up on love
  • Talk therapy works (hypnotherapy too?)

Overcoming mental illness is no joke, although, turns out, these two films depict the efforts to overcome mental illness as entertaining and compelling.

Joaquin Phoenix in The Master
Joaquin Phoenix in The Master

After the characters of Freddy and Pat slide into their dysfunctional moments, they seem always at war with themselves, trying to reign in their destructive sides and crawl back to lives with family or community. They look for a state of grace. Or at least, they seek connection with others and a state of normalcy. Balance eludes them.

Just in time for Christmas and New Year’s, you can see these movies and contemplate having more compassion for your family members who may have diseases or mental illnesses.

Even though I loved these films, I hope to see a mainstream movie about a woman with a mental illness, preferably depression, which is far more common in women than men.

In the newly-released Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln denies her depression. Her mental illness is only viewed as an impediment to her emotional closeness to her family. For women in films, like Mary played by Sally Field, relationships matter most. For men, it is the journey to wholeness. But surely, Mary’s depression could be a fascinating feature-length film, not just a subplot in Lincoln’s life.

Maybe I’ll write more about Lincoln later. I just saw it yesterday and am still reeling from those performances and the immersion in a time of history when men and women fought to knit the country together rather than to pull it apart. To unite us.

PS I modeled this blog post from my previous post on 2 great new movies about alcoholism

2 Great New Movies about Alcoholics

Just in time for the holidays, there are two awesome new films about addiction and alcoholism. I just saw Smashed and Flight. Both of these films plot the journey from stupor to sober. They show how fun it is to drink and how crazy the consequences of that night of fun can be.

The acting in both of these films is awesome. Denzel Washington is a genius. I never tire of watching him. The man is unafraid to take his emotions to the edge. (Love that in a man!)

Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Smashed is playful, lovable, out of control and fricken’ scary. And you feel scared for her. You feel like one her kindergarten students, asking yourself, “Is she okay?” And then you think, “Oh, whatever. She’s funny!”

I love a subgenre of movies — movies, I dub, learning how to love again. As someone who’s loved my share of alcoholics, I can attest to the wild ride of fun and despair in loving an alcoholic (or, I imagine, in being one).

Overcoming the disease of alcoholism is a compelling story line — after the slide into despair comes the crawl into a state of grace.

Of course there are other great movies about alcoholism, like Leaving Las Vegas or Clean and Sober. I loved Clean and Sober because the whole second part of the plot revolved around the Michael Keaton character’s obsession as he substituted his addiction to cocaine to his attachment to his girlfriend.

If, like me, you can identify with the life of a codependent, attached to another person’s dysfunction, these are good holiday movies for you. Both films left me shaken and stirred, just in time for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, when I can toast these two new movies. I recommend that you do too. Make yours a double (feature) and take it neat with a twist.