Mental illness has long been movie fodder in a variety of genres with a number of different approaches. Below are five great movies that all take unique looks at mental illness.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Based on the famous Ken Kesey novel, this classic film directed by Miloš Forman and starring Jack Nicholson is about a man serving a sentence for statutory rape, McMurphy, who fakes mental illness in hopes of avoiding a more difficult prison sentence. McMurphy ends up in a battle of wills with the sadistic and power-hungry Nurse Ratched as he fights to free the patients’ minds and spirits from the grip of both the hospital and their own anxieties and neuroses.
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Director Ron Howard won an Oscar for this film in which Russell Crowe plays real-life mathematician and Nobel prize winner in economics John Nash. Although the movie received criticism for straying far from its source material, the real life of John Nash, it was accurate in its portrayal of a man with schizophrenia who chooses to abandon the drugs due to their side effects and attempt to deal with the disease on his own. It is Nash’s ability to understand that the hallucinations that he is having are not real rather than not having the hallucinations at all that are the key to his ability to reintegrate into a healthy, normal life without medication.
Clean, Shaven (1994)
Lodge Kerrigan’s low-budget independent picture is a remarkable portrait of a man’s schizophrenia. Kerrigan uses auditory effects to mimic the disorder and hallucinations suffered by a just-released Peter Winter, portrayed by Peter Greene, and provoke an unsettled feeling in the audience. Winter is trying to locate his young daughter and get her back, but he becomes the key suspect in a detective’s search for a child killer.
Girl, Interrupted (1999)
James Mangold’s film based on a memoir of the same name by Susanna Kaysen starred Winona Ryder but also put Angelina Jolie, who played a fellow mental patient name Lisa, on the acting map as someone to watch. The film is set in 1967 when Kaysen checked herself into a mental hospital still insisting that her aspirin overdose was not a suicide attempt. Diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, Kaysen finds a dangerous ally in Lisa.
French icon Catherine Deneuve starred in this psychological thriller in which director Roman Polanski brings a young woman’s delusional disorder to life as a full-blown horror movie. Carol (Deneuve) is terrified by men, and suffers frightening auditory and visual hallucinations of figures breaking through the walls to attack and molest her. Her disorder reaches a fever pitch when she is actually confronted by men who in turn arrive to “rescue” her and to take advantage of her sexually.
All of the above films feature sympathetic portrayals of people with mental illness and show the complicated nature of psychological and psychiatric problems as a mix of temperament and environment that not only cannot always be easily solved through medication and therapy but can sometimes be worsened by those things. The films acknowledge the complexity of diagnosing and treating mental illness properly and the potential dangers of certain treatments as well as the tragedies than can ensue when treatment is inadequate.
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Jeffrey Goode is a counselor who enjoys writing about many different aspects of human psychology. Jeffrey has also contributed to finding the best masters in counseling online programs available for others seeking to become counselors.