Hollywood has made its fair share of psychological pieces over the years. It is to be admitted that the genre is tough to tackle and the theme is highly sensitive. Sometimes movies can perfectly capture the delicacy of the human conditions, and other times, they just simply miss the point. Here are some of the movies that managed to do the former and showed us the different and unconventional side of what mental disorders really are.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
This list can’t begin without the mention of the 1975 masterpiece One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which is adapted from the novel of the same name by Ken Kesey. A stellar cast featuring some of the best performances of legendry actors like Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher, this movie has not just made an impact on the movie industry but has also thrown light on the bitter reality of the lives of those who suffer from mental illnesses. The psychological drama mixes different themes, with a focus on the handling and treatment of patients in mental institutions. Mac (Nicholson) is a criminal in defiance of the system and with his fellows, some of whom don’t seem to belong there, try to fight back and break free.
It was hailed as an impactful and significant piece by the United States Library of Congress and was even preserved by the National Film Registry. The strong and eye-opening movie also won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Girl, Interrupted is an extraordinary story that is also based on the novel of the same name by Susanna Kaysen. It has some of the best female performances of all time, and Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder bring to screen what it means to be a crazy person. All are suffering from mental disorders, though with contrasting traits from each other. This 1999 classic depicts how the ‘crazy’ people are born through suffering and loss, and their worlds need to be addressed in a manner different than normal.
Ryder plays Susana, suffering from the borderline personality disorder, who begins to contemplate her life and her choices when she is admitted into a mental institution where she meets many women, each with a problem of her own. She is upstaged by the loopy Lisa, played by Jolie, who is a fearless free soul and has tried to break free and escape the institution several times. All the patients comfortably engage with each other, as if trying to sort out others’ problems or to keep them happy in the gloomy environment, but in fact, everyone is broken at the core. The nurses are not always successful in taming them, and the constant mischief here and there irritates them a lot. The pacing of the movie feels just about right and gives a different look at the lives of the mentally troubled.
This 2010 psychological thriller shows a different side of mental illness, where one strives to achieve perfection or precision in a task and work but suffers from losing one’s self in the process. Natalie Portman stars as Nina Sayers, a ballerina who gets the role of a lifetime but suffers from hallucinations and an eating disorder, which significantly impedes her professional and personal life. It is not really clear whether her experiences are real or imaginary, and the film does a great job of mixing different genres.
Along with highlighting psychological stress and its effects, Black Swan also addresses the issue of eating disorders, which are a common problem in the world of dance and fashion. One in particular called Anorexia nervosa is among the deadliest mental disorders and many succumb to it every year. Director Darren Afronsky masterfully uses inspiration from other classic pieces like The Double and incorporates them into the story sometimes subtlety and sometimes very clearly. For her spectacular performance in the movie, Natalie Portman also earned an Academy Award.
A Beautiful Mind
The biopic of John Nash, A Beautiful Mind, tells the story of the trials and tribulations and success of the acclaimed Nobel Prize-winning mathematician. It stays apt to the title and shows us the real life of a genius who unfortunately suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. Unlike other movies, where mental disorders can sometimes be glorified, the development and effects, shown in this piece, is relatable and genuine. Russell Crowe plays the lead and absolutely nails the role.
The movie itself is quite inspiring and motivating and teaches us to consider our behavior towards such individuals. Many people around the world suffer from schizophrenia but, unfortunately, are not able to have proper care and are misunderstood by others. By addressing adequately to their needs and helping and hearing them out can make a significant impact in their lives and can help them showcase their talent and skills as well.
Director Christopher Nolan is widely known for his work like the Batman Trilogy, Interstellar, etc. but one of his most underrated pieces is the 2000 psychological thriller Memento. It has a groundbreaking way of storytelling and a challenging timeline that invites the audience to think. Its story revolves around the character who has anterograde amnesia named Leonard, which is played by Guy Pearce. This disorder hinders the creation of new memories after one suffers from a severe psychological or physical attack.
The movie brilliantly creates a web of events that are connected, but the audience is unable to find the exact link until the very end. It rightly portrays the condition which is very brutal as the patients don’t usually recover and have to live miserably for the rest of their lives.
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Maham Maqsood is the Managing Editor at Scientia Pakistan. She is a senior at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad studying Biochemistry. An avid reader and a freelance writer, Maham has worked for several organizations including Globalizon and MIT Technology Review Pakistan.