10 Films about Mental Health

one flew over cuckoos nest mental health
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For World Mental Health Day, we wanted to cover all aspects at Vada, including its reception in film. With that in mind, here are ten of my favourites:

 

Away From Her

away from her

I’ve mentioned Sarah Polley before as a female director to look out for, and just last week cited Take This Waltz as a modern film influenced by Woody Allen. But it’s her debut film, Away From Her, which is still her best so far. An elderly couple are tested when Alzheimer’s strikes one of the pair, and the painful love on show is a testament to devotion and dedication through difficult times. Tough viewing throughout, but an astonishing, mature film particularly given that Polley herself was only in her late 20s during production.

Blue Jasmine

blue jasmine

Speaking of Allen, his most recent film – still in cinemas – has been very warmly received. This is largely due to the performance of Cate Blanchett in the title role and the themes that Blue Jasmine covers. Jasmine displays unsympathetic qualities throughout and yet still retains interest and concern, most likely due to her struggles with mental health. The tone shifts subtley as the incessant talking to herself moves from humorous to worrying, and provides food for thought for the audience. See McAvoy in Filth for another contemporary contender.

Bobby Fischer Against the World

bobby fischer

An unlikely inclusion perhaps, but not only is this a fascinating documentary it also covers an important issue: mental health in the spotlight. Celebrity issues are often neglected or brushed aside, but chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer’s ‘antics’ allow an insight and comparison to the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan or Lindsay Lohan. His issues seemed to plague his role within the sport and later in life, after disappearing for many years, he was known to make anti-Semitic remarks. Yet it’s a terrific journey that follows perhaps the greatest chess player of all-time, troubles an’ all.

The Bridge

Another astonishing documentary which chronicles the tale of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the number one suicide destination in the world. It combines interviews with friends/family members of jumpers with harrowing footage of the suicides themselves. A brave but questionable (and often-challenged) decision given the delicate matter at hand, but at no point does this feel sensationalised for the screen to me.

Mary and Max

mary and max

Crucially, we have an animation on the list. It’s not exactly a children’s film though, dealing with darker issues throughout its 90 minutes as it does. Mary and Max is beautiful: charming, funny and sombre in equal measure. It looks at loneliness and isolation in different countries, cultures and eras, but bonds the two claymation pen-pals through their shared interests. It features agoraphobia, anxiety, depression and suicide, and should be essential viewing for any teenager mature enough to handle the topics presented.

Melancholia

melancholia

As the title suggests, Kirsten Dunst becomes so disillusioned with everyday living – for no apparent reason – in this fantasy drama that she believes the world is going to end, just as hers is. A neat exploration of the crushing feelings of depression, with Dunst particularly convincing as the protagonist of Lars Von Trier’s slightly surreal picture. It shares aspects of Martha Marcy May Marlene (feeling unable to fit in with the frivolity all around) and Take Shelter, which is mentioned again below.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

the perks of being a wallflower

As well as being an emotional coming-of-age film that’s really well adapted from the equally-loveable book, it doesn’t shy away from the mental health issues of its protagonist in the slightest. In fact it not only encourages the audience to empathise with the perfectly-cast Logan Lerman (Charlie), but Emma Watson and Ezra Miller’s characters too. Perks understands that many, many teenagers have mental health issues – and the ones that don’t are often struggling too – so it doesn’t attempt to sugarcoat this situation. It’s a film, to quote adorable Charlie, that allows you to be happy and sad at the same time.

Safety Not Guaranteed

safety not guaranteed

Again drawing close thematic comparisons to Take Shelter, Colin Trevorrow’s indie sci-fi-lite drama asks the question of whether the main character Kenneth (Mark Duplass) is crazy or whether everybody else is for not believing him. Taking him up on his time-travel offer, Aubrey Plaza (Parks & Recreation) begins to understand as the audience does that there’s more to Kenneth than meets the eye, and realises that perhaps it’s the stigma and stereotypes inbuilt within the onlookers that’s the real issue at stake.

Silver Linings Playbook

silver linings playbook

Oscar-winner for Jennifer Lawrence’s performance and Oscar-nominated in seven other categories, Silver Linings deals with two main characters with issues in a completely loveable way. We’re shown that, ultimately, Pat and Tiffany have the same problems as anyone else – and it’s often the people that they’re surrounded with (who themselves haven’t gotten the help that they needed) which affects their lives. Bradley Cooper and Lawrence absolutely steal the show and offer a nuanced depiction of mental health in a completely natural setting.

Taxi Driver

taxi driver

From De Niro’s resurrection to one of the films that made him a star, we finish with a darker look at the subject from one of the cinematic greats. Travis Bickle arrived in cinemas 27 years ago showing Scorsese to be the true pioneer that many claim him to be. An antihero at best, Bickle is dejected and disheartened with post-war life. Alongside films like The King of Comedy, Scorsese explored the subject of unhinged individuals in a way that’s dissimilar to the affectionate nature in the films listed above. But it’s not cruel, and it’s not callous – it’s simply needed, and it especially was at the time.

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There are also hoards of others. From the classics Psycho and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to modern output such as A Single Man, Black Swan, Little Miss Sunshine, Tyrannosaur and 90s films Fight Club and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, the prevalence of mental health issues is thankfully ever-present in films. Even the dark comedy In Bruges, one of my very favourite films over recent years, chooses to give its protagonist suicidal tendencies, resulting in something even more provoking and meaningful. There are a great many groups, issues or themes inadequately covered in film – let’s be thankful today that mental health is not one of them.

About Michael Prescott

24-year-old Welsh writer on all things film. Background in Philosophy. Accidentally in Sheffield for 6 years and counting. Addicted to Kevin Spacey. Tweetable: @M_S_Prescott