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Taking out the drama of mental illness

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silver linings playbookThere was a time when we locked up people with mental disorders in institutions well out of the city so that nobody risked bumping into them by accident. It seems like a hundred years ago, but in fact it’s only been a couple of decades, if even so long.

It’s hard to believe it when you look around and see how things have changed. The covers of gossip magazines is one example. There you can see celebrities openly talk about various issues. Depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolarity – everyone seems to have something. They talk about it openly, without any embarrassment at all, which is a great thing. Not only does it help spreading awareness and acceptance: it’s also a great deal more interesting to read those stories than to learn about how they spoil their Chihuahuas.

The change in movies
And as society changes, so do the movies, though I’m not sure of which came first. Did One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest change psychiatry or was it the result of an already on-going change? I hope for the former, that the movie made a change. Maybe I’m hopelessly romantic in my view on the power of arts, but I want to believe that they help us to come to come to insights and eventually make the world to a better place to live in.

It has been a gradual development and you don’t need to go all that far back in time to see a difference. Take Betty Blue for instance, the French romantic drama that was a mega hit in the middle of the 80s. [spoiler warning] When the hot manic pixie girl turned out to be a bi-polar borderline personality, the solution in the movie was to let the guy kill her with a cushion, and then follow up by writing a novel about her. [end of spoiler].  I remember it as being one of the best movies I ever had seen. I haven’t dared to revisit it since, but when I think back at it, it strikes me that I probably would find it dated – not only in its view on women, but also in the way it relates to those diagnoses.

Getting it right
Over the last few years I’ve learned more about mental illness than I ever thought I would or wanted to. It hasn’t been my own experiences, but I have very close friends, whose entire life has taken a new direction because of it.

Being open about everything, I’ve seen everything they’ve been through – the ups and downs and their encounters with the healthcare. It was with all of this in my backhead that I approached Silver Linings Playbook, wondering if they would make a better picture of mental illness this time, getting it “right”, or at least as somewhere close to “right

After watching it, I’m leaning towards answering the question with a “yes”. While it’s clearly a fictional story and not a documentary (for instance I doubt that a patient and a psychiatrist would connect in the way the movie suggests), there are several things about it that I really like.

I love how it balances drama, romance and comedy.  It’s serious enough to convey something of what you go through when you get metal illness close to you. At the same time it’s lightweight enough to provide an enjoyable night at the movies for a broad audience.

Taking out the drama
Silver Linings Playbook does for mental illness what 50/50 did for cancer. It helps people to recognize that issues like this exist and that you’re allowed not only to talk about them, but also – which is important – laugh at them. If there was anything that has helped my friends to manage through all the rough times, it’s been their ability to see the humour in sometimes absurd situations.

I also love how it takes out the drama of mental illness. This isn’t a binary thing, where you’re either “normal” or “crazy” but nothing in between. The scale is floating and all of us can appear somewhere on it, in places that can very over lifetime.

Many, many more people than you imagine have issues. And some of them can be helped by medication.

In Sweden, Silver Linings Playbook has been marketed like a rom-com. While it does use a few typical rom-com clichés, particularly towards the end, I think the label is a little bit misleading. But again: if it can help more people to find their way to watch it than otherwise, I won’t argue against it. It deserves an audience and I’m happy for it being so successful.

We haven’t yet overcome all prejudices against mental illness. I think most of us still would find it easier talk about a broken leg than about a mental breakdown. But it’s getting better. We’re getting there. Year by year, movie by movie.

Silver Linings Playbook (David. O. Russell, US 2012) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

March 19, 2013 at 9:04 pm