Monthly Archives: January 2012

Girl Interrupted

Girl Interrupted (1999), set in the late 1960s, centers around a young woman who is sent to an institution after attempting to commit suicide (although she denies this was her intention). The film depicts the fine line between insanity and the natural confusion that comes with coming of age and choosing (or actively not choosing) a path. This film insightfully portrays the issue of mental health and stability in a time when the subject was delicate to say the least.

Throughout the film the viewer is constantly questioning whether Susanna, the protagonist, is actually mentally ill or simply self-indulgent, attention-starved, or just confused about life and it’s meaning. The American society depicted in the film is composed of an older generation that stresses normalcy and seeks to conceal mental illness and an upcoming, liberally minded, youthful generation that seeks to discredit institutional ideas such as mental illness. In either case the world of mental illness, and those who suffer from it, are considered socially reprehensible and this in turn causes isolation in the patients from the rest of society – a gap they long to bridge.

The desire for normalcy and wellness amidst the mentally ill characters of the film is exhibited in this scene from Girl Interrupted that takes place in the home of Daisy, a former patient at the institution who has since been released and supposedly “cured”. The mise-en-scène of this scene both depicts the past by recreating an image of a classic 1960s household, as well as emphasizes the differences in mental states of the characters and the desire of some of them to overcome this state and conform to their average surroundings.

The house is a typical 1960s home, utterly average in its appearance but very fitting of the time period. Color plays an important role in this scene. Most of the house is yellow (the kitchen, the flowers, the couch, etc.) as if projecting a forced sense of cheer upon its inhabitants. Daisy even wears a yellow bathrobe as if trying to integrate herself into the uniformity of her kitchen and embody the forced brightness of her surroundings. There is a motif of flowers in the scene (the painting and wallpaper) as if promoting life throughout the house. The acting in this scene is instrumental in revealing the underlying contrast of the characters to their surroundings. As the conversation between Lisa and Daisy escalates, the characters’ façades unravel and their true mentally unwell natures are inevitably revealed. None of these characters is as normal, much less as happy, as their setting might indicate. Even surrounded by the necessary props for a typical 1960s existence, the characters are unable play the part of the mentally stable and socially acceptable.


The Truman Show

While the Truman Show doesn’t deal with mental health as much as much as a character coming to terms with a staged reality, it certainly brings up interesting questions regarding the human psych. Throughout Truman’s entire life, he’ll ask perfectly legitimate questions out of curiosity and be given false answers by teachers, friends, his wife (all actors and actresses), in order to keep him contained in his television set of a bubble. The fact that Truman grows up in a completely different reality from the one the rest of the world incites interesting questions about what happens after he runs into the sky-wall and exits through the stage door. What does the “real world” hold for him? Imagine waking up one day and realizing that everyone around you was an actor, or an alien, or a robot. Could you venture out into a world and coexist with billions of people who were previously monitoring your entire existence and using it for entertainment purposes? Truman is free from the television set that is his environment, but surely has a long, hard psychiatric battle ahead of him. How is he to trust any sort of human contact or emotional relationship from here on out? 

Bruno’s Recitation 2:00. Represent.

The first class was focused mostly analyzing The Manchurian Candidate in a very free-form class discussion which sorta became a debate at times. Some felt the twists were transparent, others felt the film was contrived to shape a political message while others thought certain characters served no purpose to the overall story (talk about your Shallow Love Interests. Yeah, I’m looking at you, Girl from Psycho Whose Name Escapes me at the Moment).

Bruno gave us some perspectives through which to view the film, highlighting the rise of televised presidential races and the Cold-War related events which took place during the time of the film’s production. We viewed Raymond’s homecoming scene through the eyes of a spectacle that imprints broad images of patriotism in the viewer’s mind and followed it up with Frank Sinatra’s dream sequence/memory of being brainwashed. The scenes really show the power an influential figure or force can have on the individual, suggesting that brainwashing is inherently connected to the power of media and that even the strongest willed citizens, the soldiers, can be susceptible to its influence.

By the end of class, it became clear that despite it uneven tones and awkward pacing, the film speaks about the state of the American mind quite clearly, which makes it a very important film to us now. And boy did that Ferris Webster know how to edit.

The Dark Knight

Brandon Silver

As it continues to remain freezing in NYC, I cannot help but look forward to the summer and the upcoming conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s batman series in The Dark Knight Rises. The film the Dark Knight is one of my favorites and it displays examples of mental illness and brain washing in many characters. The obvious examples for mental illness would be the two main antagonists, The Joker and Harvey Dent or Two-Face. The Joker’s past is never explained but he is clearly a severely ill person who without a second thought blows up hospitals, kills gangsters with pencils, and forces batman to choose between the woman he loves and a prominent politician in Gotham.  The Joker almost reminds me of a godzilla type character because he even states that he has no interest in money and only wants to destroy Gotham. The Joker’s severe mental illness was even able to affect the actor portraying the character, Heath Ledger. Ledger died from a perscription pill overdose and many people believe that his role played a large part in pushing him towards prescription pills. I also thought that the scene where the Joker visits Harvey Dent while he is in the hospital is almost as if the Joker brainwashes Dent because afterwards Dent is hell bent on getting revenge on the family of the police commissioner at the time rather than the Joker who was responsible for the death of his girlfriend.

There are even examples of mental illness within Bruce Wayne himself who chooses to dress up as a masked super hero in order to protect his city. Although this makes for a great story this can not be viewed as a normal. Wayne is a billionaire but his dissatisfaction with the city of Gotham drove him to become batman and nearly costs him his life in the end of the film.


Recitation 1/25 11:00-12:30

Brandon Silver

Recitation began with everyone introducing themselves by answering simple questions such as where they are from, why they took the class, and how familiar they are with films and American history since 1960.

After this, Jaap went over the syllabus and blog. We went over how to register for the blog as well as where different things are found within the blog.  We also went over the blog post due this week where we have to find a film that displays a similar theme to the lecture from last week as well as to comment on someone else’s blog post. Jaap also informed us of the recitation summary and reading presentation assignments and we all selected the time that we would like to do these assignments.

After this we watched 2 video clips and tried to connect these clips to the themes that were talked about in the previous lecture. The first clip we watched was from the first televised presidential debate between JFK and Richard Nixon. The second was from a film titled Primary that follows JFK and his opponent Humphries in the buildup to their primary election. The clip we watched that showed the debate reminded me of the theme of brainwashing from lecture because since this was the first televised debate, candidates could no longer just answer questions but they had to look good while answering. This reminded me of the theme of brainwashing because candidates no longer had to answer questions well because now they only had to look good in order to get a positive response from the public. This is obviously not brainwashing such as in The Manchurian Candidate but it allows candidates to send a different message to the viewer and it can easily make the debates into who looks better rather than who has the best ideas for the nation.

After watching the clips many other students also commented on what they thought of the video.   Many students felt that throughout the debate each candidate used communism as a way to play on the fear of the public. Also, another student pointed out that similarly to Manchurian Candidate, JFK used many comparisons to Abe Lincoln. This was interesting because Manchurian Candidate used this comparison as a satire of American politics because the most dishonest people were compared to Lincoln in the film but during the debate JFK used the comparison in order for the public to view him as an honest candidate.

Sophie’s Choice (1982)


After recently watching Pakula’s Sophie’s Choice, I’ve given a lot of thought to mental health and how we perceive others to be unstable or ill. What struck me in the film is the scene in which Stingo visits Nathan’s brother and learns that Nathan is a paranoid schizophrenic.

Throughout the film, we see Nathan’s manic behavior at times, but because of his charming, charismatic, and intelligent personality in other scenes, it is easy to dismiss his strange fits as merely temper problems or occasional bursts of rage. We trust Nathan and his love for Sophie, just as we believe him when he tells Stingo and Sophie that he is a scientist working in a research facility. Although Nathan can act violently at times, we never fear for Sophie or Stingo because of his persona.

However, as soon as we learn that Nathan is diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and is not actually who he appears to be, our perspective immediately changes. In the scenes to follow, we fear Nathan’s capability to hurt both Sophie and Stingo, because we know that he is mentally unstable. As soon as a labeled illness  is put to his behavior by a doctor, it is easy to view Nathan in a different light–one in which we no longer trust him as we used to.

Sophie’s Choice illuminates the power or perspective in how we regard the mental health of another person. We assume that we can trust another person upon meeting him or her, but as soon as the person is deemed unstable, our perspective completely changes. Nathan, once a brilliant and charming scientist, so easily becomes a crazy and manic person because of his diagnosis. Is this fair for our perspective to change to such an extreme? Just because he is mentally unstable, does this really mean he is capable of anything?

In this scene, we see an example of Nathan’s potential for violence. At this point in the film, Nathan is not yet revealed to be mentally ill.

The Fall

Tarsem’s The Fall follows two patients in a 1920s Hospital as they heal from respective accidents: Roy, a stuntman suffering from a broken back and a broken heart, and Alexandria, a young Romanian orange-picker recovering from a broken arm. After a chance meeting, Roy begins to tell Alexandria an improvised fairy tale that grows in narrative and visual complexity; as they both become engrossed in the story’s completion, their unlikely bond grows.

Much like The Manchurian Candidate’s nearly seamless interplay of hallucination and reality in the film’s opening moments, the above scene demonstrates the effect both characters’ understanding of their shared story has on both the visuals and narrative progression of the film. While Roy is the one narrating the story, the elaborate costumes and visuals are rooted in Alexandria’s imagination, and the characters represented in Alexandria’s dramatization of Roy’s story are derived from her family as well as the people she sees around the Hospital (in the film’s most objective moments) a la The Wizard of Oz. As we learn later in the film, Roy is also drawing on his personal experiences in creating the story’s characters and events–in this case, seeking revenge on the actor who stole the heart of his one true love.

In regards to the tale’s narrative progression, both Roy and Alexandria are able to collaborate–and at times, Roy struggles to keep up with Alexandria’s imagination. Thinking Alexandria wants to hear a pirate story, he begins to tell his story about marooned buccaneers; after learning that she doesn’t want to hear that type of story, he immediately changes the direction of the tale–to one about revenge-seeking bandits–and plays it off as if such a change was the most logical next step in the story. Alexandria’s influence on the story is also shown when we are introduced to Charles Darwin–his goal of finding Americana Exotica isn’t brought up until Alexandria says that’s what they’re looking for.

The film’s visuals have an organic and logical quality to them that strangely complements the story’s improvisational nature, lending both aspects of the film a heightened sincerity; Eiko Ishioka’s whimsically lush costumes and Colin Watkinson’s precise shot composition emphasizes the bounty of natural color and texture present in each locale, effectively brings Alexandria’s imagination to life. Director Tarsem’s further insistence on shooting on location and reliance on practical effects instead of CGI* further lends the film a sense of verisimilitude, with all three crewmembers’ efforts combining to create an unbelievably fantastical yet wholly realistic fantasy world that could only be born of a little girl’s imagination.

*The film was shot in 28 countries over a period of four years and features no CGI whatsoever.