Mental health is a topic that’s often discussed in films and stories. These issues make characters relatable and interesting, highlighting parts of ourselves that we don’t feel all that comfortable discussing with other people. Still, mental health is a topic that’s not easy to get right, with movies often minimizing or exploiting these topics for the sake of their story. Balancing a the elements of good story and respecting a real illness isn’t easy, but it’s important.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and thus the perfect opportunity to discuss some films that discuss mental health with a nuanced perspective.
Starring Julianne Moore and Kristen Stewart, “Still Alice” is an intense experience, depicting one of the world’s most feared diseases: early-onset Alzheimer’s. The film follows Dr. Alice Howland (Moore), a linguistics professor, whose life comes undone as she starts to struggle with the disease.
As Good As It Gets
Starring Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear, “As Good As It Gets” is a romantic comedy, following Melvin Udall (Nicholson) a cynic romance novelist with OCD. Nicholson plays Udall as a terrible person, someone who’s homophobic, racist, and hates everyone. Still, as he cares for his neighbor’s dog, he starts to change, making for one of his most memorable roles.
Good Will Hunting
Launching the careers of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, “Good Will Hunting” follows Will Hunting, a 20-year-old janitor who’s brilliant but troubled, and comes into his own after being forced to attend therapy after assaulting a police officer.
“The Father” was released in 2020, earning Anthony Hopkins an Oscar and a nomination for Olivia Colman. The film follows Anthony, a man with dementia, and, unlike many other films that broach the topic, fully immerses us in his perspective, resulting in a movie that’s touching, alienating, and very powerful.
“Inside Out” is one of Pixar’s most intelligent films, following an 11 year old girl’s emotional turmoil as she moves across the country with her parents. While the movie doesn’t deal with any outstanding mental diseases, it’s concerned with with honoring all types of emotions, whether they’re pleasant or unpleasant.
Based on Michael Cunningham’s beloeved novel, “The Hours” follows three women in different time periods, all linked by the circumstances of their lives. One of them is Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman in one of her best roles) portraying the days leading up to her suicide.
“Krisha” is a much smaller film than the ones on this list, yet one that deserves just as much acclaim. The story follows Krisha, an addict who’s just returned home for Thanksgiving. With a simple story and setup, the movie shows the impact of addiction without any resorting to moralizing. Much is left up to interpretation, making “Krisha” a powerful experience that lends itself to lots of rewatching.
When discussing “Horse Girl”, Alison Brie, the star and co-writer, explained that the idea of it came from her family history with schizophrenia. The movie follows Sarah, a woman obsessed with horses and with a science fiction show that doesn’t fit in anywhere. As she starts to have surreal dreams, these seep into her life, influencing her perception in strange ways.