Films that look at mental health – part 1
Many films look at mental health in a variety of ways, with each one having the potential to shine a spotlight on a very important topic. It could be the main focus of the film where the main character has a mental health condition and the film largely focuses on that, or it could be depicted within a supporting character or be part of a wider storyline and isn’t always focused on. Either way, the potential for allowing the audience to understand more about mental health and reducing the stigma is always there when a film chooses to look at it.
In this first blog post discussing films that look at mental health, the focus is on films that have starred Bradley Cooper. His breakout performance in ‘The Hangover’ trilogy has propelled him to star and work on subsequent films that have earned him eight Oscar nominations, and some very interesting roles, with a few that explore different areas of mental health. The following will include spoilers and talk in depth about various areas of mental health.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
The first film that earned Bradley Cooper an Oscar nomination for Best Actor was the film ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ where he also starred opposite Jennifer Lawrence (who did win an Oscar for her role) and Robert De Niro. We first see Cooper’s character Pat leaving a psychiatric hospital after receiving treatment for bipolar disorder. Pat sees a therapist who tries to convince him to continue taking his bipolar medication while Pat tells him that he is now trying to the see the good (silver linings) in every experience he has. Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who also has a mental health disorder that isn’t specifically spoken about, and they bond over their experiences. By the end of the film it looks like a love story, which it is, but it also shows how people live with mental health conditions, how it affects those around them, and how people can move on from adversity in their lives.
American Sniper (2014)
A third Oscar nomination came from Bradley playing Chris Kyle, who was the deadliest sniper in US military history. The film focuses on the book Chris wrote about his life, and although it wasn’t the main focus of the film, it did look at how he suffered from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We saw Chris experiencing flashbacks, avoidance, and outbursts of anger, which I think allowed the audience to understand how someone with PTSD experiences the symptoms, and the different ways in which they are displayed.
A Star Is Born (2018)
Bradley received multiple Oscar nominations for his role in writing the screenplay, producing and starring in A Star Is Born, which he also made his directorial debut with. Bradley plays Jackson Maine, a singer who has experienced childhood trauma, suffers from hearing loss, and is an alcoholic. Jackson meets Ally (played by Lady Gaga), an unknown singer-songwriter who ends up becoming a huge star, and also his wife. Jackson struggles with Ally’s fame and embarrasses her at the Grammys, when she is giving her acceptance speech, by getting drunk and passing out. Jackson receives treatment at a rehabilitation centre but once he returns home, he ends up taking his own life. Although it is not explicitly stated, my view on why Jackson decided to end his own life was due to how he saw that his behaviour was impacting on Ally and so decided to not be a burden to her anymore. Jackson and Ally’s love story was so powerful yet is ended in tragedy due to suicide, which is why it has such an impact because unfortunately this view of being a burden on others is very realistic, and why this film by the end was so utterly devastating to watch.
Sometimes films only need to include mental health in a small way to have a huge impact, and the films above do so in various ways. The more the entertainment genre includes such stories, the more they become better known and have the ability to be spoken about in everyday conversations.
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