Okay (and as we mention at the start of the podcast), there are some macabre topics in this month’s podcast. If this isn’t your thing, then please head elsewhere.
We’re looking at how Hollywood has changed its depictions of mental illness over the decades.
It’s reached a point where some of the best modern films are based on struggles with mental disorders. Let’s explore.
Moronicast #4: Cinema and Humanising Mental Illness
To note: I had to edit the original audio to meet my podcast provider's 250mb limit. The result is 10 minutes of audio is gone, which has led to a few unnatural jumps (tech isn't a skill of mine). I've added some of the sections removed as a separate section further below.
Right, our take on the Christine Chubbuck story is what led to this episode.
The post received a lot of traffic, so we decided to explore her story in more detail and provide a bit more information. As there’s still a lot of interest regarding her online.
We’re not trying to focus on the end of her life, if you have concerns, but more draw attention on who she was. An important step following decades of urban legends and pernicious fixations on her untimely end.
Over the last decade, new information about her life (and footage of her presenting her show) have emerged. These make her feel alive and bring her story out of the depths of ’70s news articles and online rumour mills.
Her story is also explored further in the 2016 film Christine.
There’s also the film Temple Grandin (2010), which follows the life of the eponymous female character.
Grandin is now 74 and has lived her live with advanced autism, being determined as an autistic savant in her adult life.
She has an engaging and unusual personality—enough to warrant a full feature film starring Claire Danes.
During her childhood years (the 1950s) a diagnosis of this kind would normally warrant institutionalisation.
Her mother eventually entered her into a private boarding school where former NASA employee, turned teacher, William Carlock built her confidence with ideas such as a “hug box”.
She doesn’t use that these days, but takes antidepressants to combat the depressive issues associated with the disorder.
And here’s the real Temple Grandin waxing lyrical about her life.
Last of all, we’re drawing attention to the rather wonderful Mary and Max (2009). This is a comedy, with plenty of poignancy thrown in along the way.
It’s about Mary (a lonely little girl in Australia) who forms an unlikely pen pal relationship with the grown man Max. He lives in New York and has Asperger’s.
The film is actually based on a true story. Director Adam Elliot adapted the idea from his 20+ year pen pal friendship with a New Yorker. Both have autism.
And it’s Mary and Max, I think, that’s one of the most accessible films about mental disorders.
It’s funny, silly, and charming. With lots of wit.
The film highlights the sense of social isolation mental disorders create. Along with the creative ways those alienated from societal norms will utilise to get on by.
It’s a love letter for the misfits of the world.
But also a calling card for the curious minds who want to understand people around them and how to make the world a better place.
Addendum: Notes for the Future
Cut from the podcast due to file memory limits, we eventually referred to the 2021 film Music. This was directed by Australian singer Sia and stars Kate Hudson.
It took an absolute thrashing from mental health organisations and critics. We’ve not seen the film so can’t comment on its quality. But the onslaught was due to its, apparently, terrible depiction of mental disorders.
Noteworthy is Sia’s response to much of this negative criticism, which included heading onto social media and personally responding with vitriol to anyone and everyone.
More recently she’s acknowledged she, perhaps, didn’t quite get things right.
Also of note is The Collected Schizophrenias (2019) by Esmé Weijun Wang.
In this collection of essays, Wang reveals an alternative side of mental health and cinema. What it’s like trying to watch movies with a disorder.
She states of the sci-fi film Lucy:
“I do know that at some midway point in the ninety-minute film, I pulled out my emergency medication, intended for encroaching psychosis, and gulped it down with C.’s Cherry Coke. I considered leaving, but wanted to see what would happen to Lucy. I’d taken the emergency dose because I felt myself slipping, and sensed myself hurtling into the reality of the film, leaving my own behind. I could feel my brain twitching with the belief that I, too, was gaining access to more of my brain that that of ordinary mortals, and that if I tried, I could destroy objects with its power. When Lucy ended, I stood and blindly shoved past the other three in the darkness.”
I feel this highlights the plight for those with mental disorders. The luxuries in ordinary life many take for granted can become a chore, ordeal, or an impossibility.
And this is for entire communities who, until in fairly recent human history, were ignored or stuffed aside into asylums.
That’s why I consider’s Hollywood productions such as Christine and Leaving Las Vegas (1995) to be pushing boundaries.
They help to increase public understanding and social acceptance or various issues, with open dialogues to encourage people to open up and finally talk about these things.
It’s all for the good of everyone. You hear? Now, go forth and be groovy.