Natalie Portman in 'Black Swan': Image from Sky Editorial Asset Centre.

Films which actually understand mental health

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Mental disorders are usually poorly portrayed in film, often because the actual symptoms of mental illness are freely reinterpreted by the script writers. Unfortunately, this often leads to films portraying a caricature of mental disorders. Great films like Someone Flew Over the Cuckoos Net or Rain Man with their generalised and deliberate depiction of mental disorders have been responsible for spreading false and even dangerous depictions of mental disorders and psychiatric treatments. Here is a list of films that were able to conquer the audience while using truthful depictions of mental illness.

Melancholia (2011)

Kirsten Dunst and Alexander Skarsgard in ‘Melancholia’: Sky Editorial Asset Centre/Artificial Eye: Curzon

A beautiful piece of art from start to end. This is a very personal project for Lars Von Trier, who was  himself affected by a very severe case of depression. The second film of the so called “depression tribology” (also composed by Antichrist and Nymphomaniac), captures an enigmatic and mind troubling view of this mental illness. The story concentrates on two sisters and their feelings towards their inescapable death, presented onscreen in the form of a rogue planet that is slowly approaching the Earth. Von Trier tried to artfully recreate what he himself felt. For viewers who are less familiar with depression it can be an interesting insight. However, the complexity of the psychiatric analysis that the film intends to achieve may pass unnoticed by most viewers.

Black Swan (2011)

Another perfect example of how to create a great story while remaining in the limits of what an actual severe psychological disorder could be like. This film was acclaimed by both the audience and the critics and is especially memorable for its ability to build up tension until the culminating grand finale. It is a terrifying depiction of the psychological pressures that the industry imposes on professional ballet dancers and it does so, by brilliantly portraying the internal battles and psychological breakdowns of the protagonist. A memorable example of good character development that was of the best performances of Natalie Portman’s career.

We need to talk about Kevin (2011)

A frightening film which talks about one of the most delicate topics of recent times, especially in the U.S., from a unique perspective. The story of Kevin, a psychopathic kid that commits a school shooting, is explained from the view of his family, with special attention on the mother, and their struggles to understand and help their kid. It is a wonderful movie about the (often forgotten) effect that this type of illness has on the rest of the family members. It is a very truthful depiction of the traditional symptoms of psychopathology although its view on the medical treatment of the illness is quite short-sighted.

Stockholm (2013)

A personal favourite. The feature film debut of the promising Spanish director, Rodrigo Sorogoyen revolves around a one night stand. Our protagonists, who barely know each other, wake up the day after and their true colours come to life. The boy who had convinced the girl of how she was the love of his life, ends up wanting her to leave. This will trigger the depressive disorder from which she was recovering, unfolding a series of disastrous consequences. This is a great example of how dangerous it is to have a society that lacks the sufficient knowledge to fully understand mental disorders. The film purposely avoids  mentioning explicitly any specific disorder because it is trying to put the audience in this same position of ignorance and scepticism in which we may be if we do not fully understand mental illness.

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