In my most recent visits to the cinema, I noticed that there have been some films that have used mental illness as an allegory for their storylines. Here a some examples: Most people have seen Finding Nemo (2003), the cute clownfish that defies his father’s wishes and goes into the open waters. 14 years later, children and adults alike were excited when Disney Pixar released a sequel to the film: Finding Dory (2016).
However, when I watched Finding Dory, it evoked more sadness and despair than lightheartedness that I expected for an animated film. Dory is separated from her parents and sets out to find them, but her memory or lack there of doesn’t allow this. Ellen DeGeneres’ character’s desperation to find her parents and her frantic behaviour when nobody has seen them becomes quite uncomfortable to watch. If by then you the viewer hadn’t realised that this is a allegory for Alzheimer and making people i.e. the adults who take their children to watch the film, aware.
Dory’s repetition of “keep swimming” is a metaphor for “keep going” which becomes more of a haunting chant than an affirmation. The revelation at the end (no spoilers) is even more heartbreaking, quite similar to Lights Out (2016), a Horror Film directed by David F. Sandberg. In the film we learn that siblings Martin (Gabriel Bateman)and older sister Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) are taunted and eventually pushed out their family home when a dark entity appears every time they switch the lights off. The only person that isn’t afraid of the “Nosferatu looking” figure is their mother, Sophie (Maria Bello). As long as Sophie takes her medication this entity will not appear whether dark, or light. Her kids made a deal to get their mother to better mental health. It may seem exploitative that the studios are using mental illness as an allegory for their stories. Have they ran out of ideas of different types of boogie men they could use? Conversely, maybe the script writers are using film as a platform to make their audiences aware of mental health?
In Split (2017) starring James McAvoy and directed by M. Night Shyamalan also displays mental illness, this time not as an allegory but as the main narrative drive where the main character Kevin, has schizophrenia. Yet, Hollywood exploring mental illness is not something that’s new as there have been films that delve into this, such as Silver Linings Playbook (2012) starring Bradley Cooper. He plays Pat who rejoins his family after being in a mental institution. He ended up in the institution after a failed relationship, and the loss of his job. However this film is categorised as a Drama and Comedy. Whereas, Split and Lights Out are dark Thrillers and Horrors with analogies.
Even Finding Dory has an eerie undertone. Hollywood releasing such films is fine, in my opinion, although, I believe that the audience may walk out the cinema with awareness to Alzheimer’s, Schizophrenia, and Depression but the pitfall is that they will have a skewed depiction on mental health. Not all mental illnesses end up in suicide, killing, death or trauma. This could be more damaging than, shedding light on such matters, and thus instilling fear in the viewer, leaving the cinema less educated and more afraid.
What’s your thoughts?
Deanna Russell –