Cinema is a window into the human condition – but not when we see mentally ill characters reduced to cruel and erroneous caricatures. It doesn’t help that many of these portrayals are found in movies that are so outstanding they make you completely forget to be a mental health advocate for a couple hours. Here are a few flicks that contribute both to social stigma but are so good you just kind of…let it go for a sec?
This hipster-noir suggests that having a mental illness turns you into a literal comic book villain, which is definitely not good. But it also portrays the rich as assholes, which is kind of nice to see. It’s hard to tell if it’s infuriating and insulting or if it’s anti-establishment and kind of metal. We’re gonna say the latter because it’s been a long week and we’re in the mood for a gritty crime drama
What About Bob? (1991)
This 90’s farce teaches us that anxiety is an annoying habit through Bill Murray’s Bob, an agoraphobic screwball who stalks his therapist: an arrogant killjoy who stoops to murder to rid himself of his patient. It’s hard to imagine a movie about deranged madmen mutually abusing each other being funny in any way…but the scenes where Bob walks in literal “baby steps” as part of his therapy is freaking hilarious, I’m sorry!
Fatal Attraction (1987)
This film is a master class in identifying borderline personality disorder, which is funny, because Glenn Close’s villainous protagonist Alex is never actually stated to have it. Regardless, it’s still one hell of a juicy thriller. And Close gives the performance of a lifetime, creating the pinnacle of inaccurate views of the mentally ill AND woman. When will they give her an Oscar already?!
Girl, Interrupted (1999)
It’s difficult to tell if this movie stigmatizes mental illness or makes it seem a little too awesome. The sociopathic Lisa is confident, charismatic, and looks like Angelina Jolie, so it’s hard not to want to be her. But she’s also the villain, right? Or is it the mental institution that’s the villain? Or is it mental illness itself? No matter, the movie’s an absolute vibe, and now we want to bleach our hair like hers, too!
Just because you’re a mental health advocate doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy problematic content once in a while. And if you find a balance of the two, great! Which reminds me, I have a great idea for a screenplay about a pet hoarder who teaches her Pomeranians to help her solve crimes. Would you ever want to read a rough draft?