Whenever we hear that someone close to us suffers from a mental disorder, we feel a moment of shock, pity, concern, and perhaps even fear as well. Where does this fear stem from? We’ve grown up watching an innumerable list of films and TV programs where characters with a determined mental condition are depicted as insane, violent people who are no longer in control of their lives. They are typecast as individuals with no connection to reality and who can't measure their actions. These extremes have leached into the collective conscious, and ignorance and a lack of education regarding mental illness have added fuel to the fires of misunderstanding.
Schizophrenia, naturally, is one of the most demonized and vilified conditions and there are countless movies where the disorder is shown as the underlining cause of the worst crimes. However, if that were the case in the real world, as David Crepaz-Keay notes in his article for The Guardian, we would be living in a reality that appeared out of Quentin Tarantino’s mind. Now, in a study published in the American Psychiatric Association it's stated that from forty films depicting schizophrenia, 80% percent reinforce the myth of patients being violent and sometimes homicidal, when actually most of them tend to lead quiet lives resulting from a reduction of emotions and lack of excitement caused by the medication.
So why is schizophrenia depicted in such a negative light? My guess is that, since many of them experience hallucinations, this creates a sense of mystery and screenwriters are all about adding depth to a character and their story. Just include some dark elements and voila! You have the perfect serial killer. Here are 10 movies in which schizophrenia is depicted, so be prepared to see how the film industry is still reinforcing, but sometimes shattering those stereotypes.
Images (1972) Dir. Robert Altman
A wealthy writer of children's fiction receives unsettling phone calls from a strange woman who claims that her husband is having an affair. This news really upset her, disturbing her reactions and behaviors. When her husband arrives, she sees him as a man pretending to be him. We realize that she is, in fact, experiencing hallucinations and delusions as symptoms of what appears to be a schizophrenic disorder.
The Snake Pit (1948) Dir. Anatole Litvak
As a patient in a Mental Ward, a woman is apparently being treated for schizophrenia. We all discover that her doctor is none other than her husband. Through flashbacks, we're told their love story until she starts experiencing delusions on her wedding day. As many movies set in psychiatric asylums, we get a glimpse of the treatment these patients endure and how their condition continues to be seen as a taboo.
Clean, Shaven (1993) Dir. Lodge Kerrigan
This is probably one of the few movies that fought to shatter all of Hollywood's clichés about mental disorders, schizophrenia in particular. This is the story of a man who suffers from this disorder and tries to get his daughter back after she's adopted by a couple. Through many incidents tied to his condition, we see how Peter fights to prove that he's capable of taking care of his daughter.
Benny & Joon (1993) Dir. Jeremiah Chechik
From from being a psychological thriller or drama, this romantic comedy tells the story of a man and a woman who don't precisely conform to what is not considered "normal." Naturally, their uniqueness brings them together, making them fall in love with each other. At the end the movie proves that schizophrenia is not a completely disabling disorder and that with medication and the help of loved ones, one can have a pretty "normal" life.
Donnie Darko (2001) Dir. Richard Kelly
Probably the favorite movie of many, Donnie Darko became a cult movie par excellence. Donnie starts experiencing hallucinations of a rabbit who announces the end of the days. He goes to a doctor who tells him and his parents that these delusions are, of course, symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. But what happens when these prove to be symptoms of something else, something much darker?
Shutter Island (2010) Dir. Martin Scorsese
A US marshall is sent to a psychiatric hospital specialized in criminals to find a missing inmate who was sentenced for killing three children. While investigating he begins to experience this sense of déjà-vu, that he's living things from the past, and as time goes by his life becomes more convoluted. Seeing that the authorities and the people in charge of the hospital are unwilling to cooperate with the investigation, he breaks into the most dangerous ward of the hospital, where he can talk to patients and finally get to the bottom of things. Soon he finds himself trapped in that same hospital; is he really a marshall on duty or is it all part of a mental disorder?
The Soloist (2009) Dir. Joe Wright
A homeless man with schizophrenia plays the violin on the streets to get some money. Soon, a journalist discovers him and tries to help him get back on his feet. A friendship is born and the journalist will soon find dealing with mental illness requires patience and professional help. Throughout the course of the film, we witness the disorder's progress and we realize there are bad days but also moments of lucidity. Of course, I have to admit that Jamie Fox' performance is a trifle exaggerated but at least they wish to depict the implications of this disease.
Mental disorders continue to be a difficult subject to talk about and I hope that perhaps the more time we spend demystifying them on screen, people will be able to connect more with those who suffer from them.