Much like the making of a fictional fantasy world, your brain is everything from exquisitely surreal to downright horrifying. This spectrum makes for some of the most profound subject matter Hollywood can’t even dream up. However, Hollywood has a tendency to sensationalize mental illnesses, letting us sit with afflicted characters and giving unrealistic goals of towards what one can do to heal themselves. The following films are some unlikely stories about mental health, but most importantly a character’s healing. *Spoiler Alerts Ahead*
1. Thanks For Sharing – Sex addiction and the power of community
Thanks For Sharing had an unfortunate release year directly following the film Shame which is arguably a better movie that was also about sex addiction. However, in Shame, Michael Fassbender’s sex addict character doesn’t get help, or go to therapy, the opposite of the protagonist in Thanks For Sharing. Rather, he stews in his addiction solo, and there’s no resolution. One review of Thanks… states “The result plays like a dramatized self-help book: useful if you’re in therapy but not much fun for the rest of us.” I disagree. I thought Thanks was brave to show genuine, likable and deeply flawed characters actually getting help, and lifting the stigma of addiction and group therapy. The characters in Thanks find a helping hand in each other and heal together. Rather than spotlighting sex addiction, showing it as rather, well, sexy. Thanks has characters that are frustrating, bumbling, and all together recovering.
2. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – Schizophrenia and the merits of rehab
Michael Keaton plays Riggan, a father who suffers from bi-polar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia. The film, grounds itself firmly in realism, but only in times that Riggan isn’t alone. When he is, however, he talks to his former self– as the famous actor who played “Birdman”. The Birdman character has dialogues with Riggan and often advises him. Though Riggan doesn’t exactly seek out any formal healing in this film, he does interact with several other characters in different stages of their own mental health journeys. Most importantly, his daughter played by Emma Stone, who’s recently returned from rehab. She is shown practicing some coping tactics she’s learned there and passes them on to Riggan.
3. Inside Out – Multiplicity of self and finding identity.
Thank you, Skip Dine Young Ph. D of Psychology Today for breaking this down so well. Anyone who has seen Inside Out had the big “Ah ha!” moment when we find out that Sadness (the character and the feeling) can be the key to happiness. Other than the film being accessible, well-written, and an aesthetic joy, its physiological themes go really freaking deep. Inside Out teaches kids and adults that you are indeed made up of different identities that shape who you are and how you interact with others. It helps you understand your basic emotions so much better, which is a crucial step in healing.
4. Forgetting Sarah Marshall – Heartbreak and finding your passion in life
Getting dumped is traumatic, and in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Judd Apatow, along with a script from lead Jason Segel, explore what it’s like to grieve over a relationship and how to heal and grow from it. Many films make drama of falling in love, heartbreak and the pain it ensues, but Segel and Apatow’s comedic take on it was not only refreshing, but, therapeutic. Many of us find solace in being able to identify with Peter Bretter when his TV-star girlfriend Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) dumps him. After seeking some help from his friends, he takes a self-love trip to Hawaii where he runs into none other than Sarah and her new man. Immersion therapy, anyone ? In the end, he is most healed when he realizes what the relationship really meant to him, and decides to focus on himself instead. Channeling his energy into fulfilling his dream…to write a Dracula Musical starring puppets. You do you, Bretter. You do you, everyone.
5.The Fall – PTSD and mentorship
2006’s The Fall is the second film from director Tarsem Singh following The Cell. It’s a surreal film, set in 1920s Los Angeles, about a young immigrant girl, Alexandria (Cantica Untaru), who becomes hospitalized and befriends a bedridden stuntman, Roy (Lee Pace). Roy, also recovering from a stunt-related fall, slowly realizes that he will never work again, or even walk, and begins to feel depressed and suicidal. He tricks Alexandria into sneaking him extra morphine by enticing her with a story. The film is this surreal epic interwoven with the drama of these two hospital patients. For about three-quarters of the film, Roy is depressed and self-deprecating. However, as Alexandria’s backstory is peppered in, Roy recognizes his privilege, and finds something to live for. This film is not only beautiful, it’s lavish and well-written, with fantastic performances from it’s leading actors, who really show both sides of trauma, and what one does to heal from it.