Category Archives: Mental Illness

The Discovery

discoveryNote: Today we have another special guest recommendation!  I have a backlog of recommendations from Jesse but they’re all too hard to find right now and this one is readily available.

What Sam said:

Mike, you should watch The Discovery and let me know what you think. I value your opinion and think that you would thoroughly enjoy it. Kidding, I don’t really value your opinion but I really want to talk about it with someone and you are the only person I know with a movie blog. GFY!

Mike’s verdict:

At the heart of The Discovery is a fascinating thought experiment.  How would you react to knowing that there is an afterlife? Would it change how you live this life?  Now imagine you were told that a soul / spirit / consciousness / whatever left the body immediately after death, but with no indication of where it went.  Would not knowing the destination change how you felt?  How about if you were told that one scientist had evidence of something empirically measurable leaving the body immediately after death, but with no idea what that something is (maybe it’s not a consciousness at all) and with no idea where that something might go?

The latter scenario is where this film begins – science has reported something measurable leaving the body and society has, as it does, filled in all the unknowns with assumptions.  The most immediate result of this is that a not insignificant number of people across the world kill themselves under the assumption, or at least expectation, that there is another plane of existence and – crucially – that it is better.

There is a lot to consider in this thought experiment.  To start with, there is the obvious problem of determining what biological or physical occurrences would be convincing as evidence of a consciousness that can exist separate from the body.  Then of course there is the problem of figuring out where that consciousness actually goes. Interesting questions for sure, but these are in fact not the point of the film.  While the science considerations are distracting (they definitely distracted me at first), the real point of this film is to explore how science fits into society at the crossroads of the empirical colliding with the spiritual.

It’s typically accepted that religion won’t give concrete evidence for its assertions – indeed many would argue that faith without evidence is the point of faith.  This of course is almost anathema to science, which has at its core tenant that assertions must be verifiable and reproducible.  And yet, a case could be made (as I think it is being made in this film) that society doesn’t necessarily hold science to its own standard. The exploitation of scientific reporting by news media looking for anything sensational to sell advertisements is undoubtedly a concerning trend, but this is only possible because society is just as inclined to accept the word of science as it is the word of spiritual leaders – and just as likely to get these words very confused.

The Discovery isn’t about the idea of an afterlife, it’s an indictment of a society that is willing to take on faith (whether spiritually or scientifically) the notion of something beyond. The implication is that people want so badly to find something better, that they are willing to accept anything that will help substantiate their hope. Belief in an afterlife is a potent example to make that point, but it can just as easily be applied to any issue that science and religion makes claims about – so, everything really.  And in making this case, the film highlights the hypocrisy of expecting science to take responsibility for not having all the answers, while allowing religion to actually rely on not having all the answers.

Unfortunately, the narrative gets a little off track nearing the end as it attempts to actually make some sense of the science that it invents.  I would have preferred a more ambiguous ending so that the main questions could stick with the audience rather than allowing everything to be confused by complicated alternate realities.

Beyond the main focus, I liked most other aspects of the film. Robert Redford was fairly convincing as the (initially) socially clueless scientist and Jason Segel was equally believable as the reluctant skeptic; though at times I felt like I was watching the same character he played in Jeff Who Lives at HomeRooney Mara was an interesting choice for a role that is almost-but-not-quite the manic pixie dream girl.  Her character has substance, but in the end she exists (rather literally) to explain Segel’s protagonist, and that’s a bit disappointing.

On the concept alone I would rate this film a full 10/10. But taking into consideration the odd direction of the plot in the end, it gets knocked down to 8/10.

 

Advertisements

Rudderless

RudderlessWhat Jesse said:

I just watched a movie that literally left me speechless. It’s called Rudderless and it stars Billy Cruddup and Anton Yelchin, and was directed by William H. Macy (whom I’ve actually met while waiting for a flight in Vancouver!) I really had no idea what to expect from a movie about the fairly difficult topic of how to deal with unbearable grief following a tragic family event. But then there’s the music (I know that sounds like a non sequitur, but stay with me). Cruddup plays Sam, a man whose life takes a nosedive after losing his college-aged son Josh in a mass shooting. A while after this event, Sam starts to play music in an apparent attempt to learn more about his dead son. Overall, I thought the performances were top-notch, and the movie had some funny as well as some very powerful moments. Awesome. Watch it.

Mike’s verdict:

Finally, a decent recommendation!  It’s been ages since Jesse has recommended any movie at all, let alone one that I thought would interest me. I will admit that based on Jesse’s description I was only vaguely sold on this though.  Human strife is tedious so it takes a good deal of talent to make me think it worth spending my evening. That said, Jesse did get this one right.

On the surface, Rudderless is an engaging and clever look at a side of violence that is rarely considered in film, as the plot follows characters that are normally tangential in stories about mass shootings. This film doesn’t look at the classic victims of violence, nor the classic perpetrators of violence. Instead, it circles those who are affected indirectly. But in a way, even the over-arching plot is itself actually tangential to the real focus of the film/ This is more a story about a man trying to escape his life, and his rediscovery of music as a means to propel himself to fulfillment, than it is a story about a mass shooting.

To be clear, the actual plot itself is pretty light. There’s a nice twist (that you’ll almost certainly foresee if you’re paying attention) but not a whole lot really happens. The pace is good, and the characters are interesting, and that’s enough to satisfy the basics without overdoing it or taking away from the real point – which is to follow a man who reconnects with himself as he tries to reconnect with the son he never really knew.

And along the way you become immersed in a fantastic soundtrack that in some ways over-shadows the rest of the film, but is just so much fun.  You likely won’t ever hear a better rendition of The Wheels on the Bus and Kate Micucci (remember Lucy from The Big Bang Theory?) has an angry/sad open-mic ukulele performance that is perfect. Even William H. Macy (whom Jesse thinks he met in an airport but it was really a 52 year old woman wearing a big hat) is superb as the nondescript open-mic bar owner.

I like this movie – it’ll be going in the ‘keep’ pile, and I’m going to hunt down the soundtrack too.

9/10

 


The Babadook

What Jesse said:

Finally an accurate depiction of parenthood! A well crafted unsettling tale about family. I give you… The Babadook. Essie Davis is mesmerizing as a single mom slowly getting to the end of her rope. And that kid…yikes! Go see it now.

Mike’s verdict:

I hadn’t heard of this one before Jesse suggested it and I think he intentionally tried to mislead me by saying it was about family; thankfully The Babadook is not really a story about family in the way Jesse insinuated, though on a certain level it definitely speaks to the relationship and influence of parents on children.

On the surface, this film is a standard haunted-house ghost story that reminded me a lot of The Shining. There’s no terrifying father figure in this, but Essie Davis‘s early on portrayal of the exhausted mother is eerily similar to Shelley Duvall‘s. Similarly, Noah Wiseman does a less effective but still admirable job of channeling Danny Lloyd as the creepy child. And although it’s less literal than in The Shining, I definitely felt a similar sense of isolation on the part of the characters. Beyond the characters themselves, the atmosphere of The Babadook also reminded me a lot of The Conjuring.

The story base – a scary monster that only a child sees – isn’t particularly novel, but there’s no doubt that this movie is disturbing.  Every setting in this film is designed to build anxiety; the house, the car, the hospital, a treehouse, and even the position of a neighbour’s window, all would have made me uncomfortable even if the activity happening around them didn’t. Added with just the right lighting and some cinematography tricks, the visuals had me uncomfortable from start to finish and I was aware of that discomfort the whole time.

Even better than the visual is the audio. Thinking about it now, I realize that I can’t recall a single moment when I was aware of the soundtrack. A frequent problem with ‘scary’ movies is over-use of those sounds that we all recognize as tropes. In the right measure they add to the atmosphere, but too much pulls you out of the moment. The Babadook feels natural at every point, even when the monster’s noise is at its worst.

That is the face of this film – an effective ghost story that left me needing to watch an anxiety-reducing comedy before moving on with my night (thank you, Archer).

But I think there is actually much more here.

The Babadook isn’t really about a haunting at all – it’s the story of a woman’s rapidly surfacing psychosis, which has been brought on by the overlapping events surrounding the death of her husband and birth of her son.  What at first seem to be the aggravating and sometimes frightening actions of a disturbed child, are in fact the reactions of a child attempting to live with the symptoms of his mother’s illness. There is no Babadook, only the disassociated personality of a woman who resents the child that is a daily reminder of the husband she lost.  The “disobedient child” is actually a completely normal child trying to live with a woman who is sometimes a loving mother and sometimes a terrifying monster. His fascination with building weapons isn’t a burgeoning sociopathy, it’s a very literal attempt to protect himself and the mother he loves from her own demons.

This film speaks very clearly to the need for parents to understand how directly their own fears, disappointments, anxieties and whole mental state affect their children.  It’s an ironic, thought-provoking, and clever take on the “haunted-house”, and a satisfyingly entertaining scare.

8/10


Enemy

What Jesse said:

Enemy is one of the most anxiety inducing movies I’ve watched all the way through. I can’t remember the last time I was this uncomfortable watching a flick… and still enjoyed it. Oh, yeah, now I remember… “Prisoners“.

Mike’s verdict:

I don’t get it.

I had high expectations for this one. I thought Prisoners was fairly good and figured that if Enemy could maintain the same atmosphere but with a more interesting plot, it would do well too. And in one sense, the movie is quite effective – the atmosphere is tense from beginning to end. Jesse isn’t wrong about the level of anxiety at all. The music and the cinematography work together perfectly to build a tension that stayed just beyond my comfort level without being over the top. The problem is, it’s a trick. The atmosphere is so effectively tense you almost don’t notice that with the exception of a few scenes there’s almost no reason for the tension. Most of the ‘big scenes’ involve characters reacting dramatically – portraying tension – to events that don’t actually warrant the reaction portrayed. The fear is fabricated – I just can’t imagine normal people reacting the way these characters react. Granted, all movies fabricate atmosphere – that’s pretty much the whole point – so I can’t really criticize that too much.

Unfortunately, Enemy has a much bigger issue: it doesn’t make any sense. Are the twins really twins? Are they just two personalities in the same body? Why does twin #2’s wife suggest she knows what’s going on after meeting twin #1? Why is twin #1 willing to comply with twin #2’s demand immediately, without any fight? Why does everyone act like the sudden appearance of a twin means that something terrible is going on? Why is the movie even called ‘enemy’? What is with the damn spiders?? And what was the point of the opening scenes in the creepy club? Basically all the questions you have after watching the trailer are left completely unanswered by the movie. My theory: José Saramago thought that Javier Gullón‘s book would make a fantastic trailer, and then he tried to write a movie around it.

Admittedly, the acting is really good. The characters seem totally irrational, but the actors do an amazing job of portraying them anyway. And I really liked all the little references to Toronto. I tried to find a location inconsistency but there’s wasn’t anything noticeable.

I have to give this one 5/10. Full marks for the artistic parts, but zero marks for the story. If it had wrapped up in a way that explained what was going on, it might have gotten a perfect score.

p.s. This one will probably be watched again just in case it’s a matter of picking up clues, and I’ll reassess the score then – hopefully it doesn’t lose points.


Prisoners

What Jesse said:

It’s good. Watch it. And when you’re done you’re going to watch Enemy too.

Mike’s verdict:

Prisoners is a captivating thriller / mystery that manages to keep a decent pace and avoid over-done plot devices despite resting in a very crowded genre. The abducted child/helpless parent film has been done many times, but this one manages to present a mystery engaging enough to keep it interesting.  The pieces of the puzzle are laid out in a way that they keep you guessing and building theories all the way through, but they also do fit together to make a coherent picture at the end. It’s a ‘satisfying’ mystery in that once you have all the information the story makes sense.

The atmosphere is quite effective as well. Most of the film takes place in the rainy days of late November and the dreariness really adds to the sense of helplessness.

One aspect that I very much appreciated, but others may find to be a fault, is the very minor emphasis put on character development. The film isn’t about parental anguish or the struggle of a cop – it’s about the mystery of what happened to two little girls. For me the characters were as fully developed as they needed to be to get the story across, without wasting my time.

I like the title too – it’s unclear even to the end who it should refer to (the children, their parents, the abductors) and the ambiguity adds to the mystery.

However, there are a few aspects that I didn’t like. I think Hollywood has greatly overstated how easily the average family-man can be pulled by grief to the point of doing despicable things to another human being; and this film is an example of that.  Even worse, the torture scenes (admittedly tame by today’s standards) were entirely unnecessary as they didn’t really advance the plot. Perhaps the point was to show the uselessness of torture, but if that’s the case this is the wrong movie for making that statement.

Overall, it was an interesting and entertaining mystery. You won’t be talking about it for days, but it’s worth an evening on the couch.

7.5/10


Happiness

What Jesse said:

…And, in honor of the passing of the great Philip Seymour Hoffman I want you to watch Happiness, a truly twisted piece of film-making. Hoffman’s performance is disturbing and brilliant and the opening bit with Jon Lovitz is absolute genius.

Mike’s verdict:

Happiness is about the most unfortunate family ever – even by movies standards. It’s centred on three sisters living very different lives but with a common undertone – nobody is happy; everybody is lonely. Even the people in their lives are lonely. And it’s really uncomfortable. So very uncomfortable.

But unlike most awkward films, Happiness is not just a series of unfortunate events or poor choices. Instead, the discomfort comes from its honest portrayal of life. Quietly anxious but evenly understated, Happiness is shocking because it all seems so tangible. The characters are real people with real flaws. Some of them are lost, some of them are sad, some of them are monsters – but they’re all still very substantial.

I really enjoy awkwardness in movies, and I definitely enjoyed this one. The acting is great, the dialog is witty and the pace was perfect – true awkwardness is not as easy as it seems. Even the soundtrack was well-chosen; Hoffman’s character’s theme song would definitely be All Out of Love.

However, this movie is not for everyone. There are a few scenes that are Hollywood icky – American Pie style. And the real awkwardness involves a level of discomfort that falls somewhere between that of Shame and Humpday. But it’s worth seeing if you’re into that sort of thing.

Favourite line of the movie: “Everyone uses baggies, that’s why we can all relate to this crime.”

8/10


Take Shelter

What Jesse said:

Check out “Take Shelter“. Intense performances. The main character`s paranoia/fragile mental state really comes across. Great little film. Enjoy.

Mike’s verdict:

I mostly agree with Jesse – there are some very intense performances in Take Shelter. Unfortunately, I found the best parts rather spaced out with dull sections that just took too long. I’m sure the intention was to build intensity slowly, but in this case the slow pace lost momentum and had to start building all over again. If I feel the urge to see how much of a movie is left, I take it as a flag that things aren’t moving fast enough. I not only felt that urge with Take Shelter, but I actually checked three times – and there was still 40 minutes left at the point when I checked for the third time. I never found myself wanting to stop watching though, I just wanted the plot to move on.

One thing I really liked was that the characters mostly reacted realistically. Movies involving mental illness frequently rely on the ‘rational’ characters greatly over-reacting (or just over acting) as a means to advance the plot, but this movie managed to avoid that. I also really liked that Michael Shannon was able to portray an unraveling mind without letting that mind lose a sense of conscience. The tension between reality and delusion is all-encompassing, and you can see it pulling the character in all directions at once.

The only thing that really bothers me about this film is the last 30 seconds or so. The ending is a cop-out. Given the kind of audience that looks for this type of independent film, I don’t think it was necessary (or even warranted) to give it a Hollywood ending. Still, that is only the last 30 seconds.

Overall, Take Shelter is a decent movie that will keep you watching until the end – even if it does get a little slow at times.

7/10 (But let me redo the last 30 seconds and it could have an 8 instead.)