February 26, 2016

By Luna Greenstein

In recent years, it has become more and more common for Hollywood to incorporate mental health issues within the framework of their movies. Mental health conditions are a challenge that many people experience in real life, so why not use that as a theme within a movie? Having a character who experiences symptoms makes them relatable to the millions of people in this country who live with mental illness. Hollywood has started to catch-on to this, and the film industry is continuously learning how to accurately portray this complex issue.With the Oscars happening this Sunday, it’s important to recognize some of the movies from the past year that have succeeded in including mental health as a central theme and focus. Here are some of those movies that were released last year—the first three received Oscar nominations—that successfully portrayed mental health.

What Happened, Miss Simone?

Iconic and powerful singer-songwriter, Nina Simone, known for songs such as “Feelin’ good” and “I Put a Spell on You” was also a person who lived with bipolar disorder. Nominated for best documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone? depicts the various aspects of her life from her on stage personae, civil rights activism, to challenging mood swings. The movie candidly showcases her symptoms as she shouts at audience members during her shows or simply walks out in the middle. It also goes into detail about her time abroad when she simply abandoned her life and was later officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder and put onto medication.


Another powerful female singer-songwriter, Amy Winehouse, was also memorialized in a documentary last year. Amy was known for having a substance abuse problem and often sang about it in songs such as “Rehab” and “Addicted.” AMY shows her transition into stardom and the toll that it took on her, which led to her early death from alcohol poising at 27 years old. This film was also nominated for best documentary at this year’s Oscars. But has already won a slew of other awards, such as Best European Documentary, 2015 European Film Award and Best Documentary at the British Academy Film Awards.

                               Inside Out

What would your brain look like if you could peak inside? What would your emotions be like if you could talk to them? Nominee for best-animated feature film, Inside Out, is an imaginative movie that attempts to depict the mind of a young girl, Riley. Her emotions—joy, sadness, anger, fear and disgust—are personified to be the main characters. As Riley undergoes hard times after her family moves to a new city, it’s up to her emotions to set her back on track.


Love & Mercy

Sticking with the theme of famous musicians, Love & Mercy tells the story of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson (John Cusack) when he first started experiencing psychosis as well as twenty years afterwards. Love & Mercy displays his symptoms including panic attacks, voices in his head and his occasional inability to distinguish truth from reality. The most shocking aspect of the movie is the relationship that Brian has with his psychotherapist, Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), which is one of power and abuse. Dr. Landy attempts to control each aspect of his life, and Brian’s love interest is determined to save him from his caregiver’s manipulation. 

Infinitely Polar Bear

“Our dad is totally polar bear.” Infinitely Polar Bear accurately portrays the perception of two young girls whose father, Cam (Mark Ruffalo) struggles with manic-depressive episodes. When his wife (Zoe Saldana) leaves the state to enter into a graduate school program, Cam is left to care for their two young daughters on his own. Cam copes with his symptoms by starting a ton of projects that he never finishes. Their house is inundated with Cam’s belongings and unfinished projects, causing the girls’ to be too embarrassed to have friends over or show anyone how they live. This slice-of-life comedy is a realistic depiction of family life is like when a family member is living with a mental health condition.

Welcome to Me

When Alison Klieg (Kristen Wig) wins $86 million in the lottery, her first instinct is to have her own TV show about her life. Welcome to Me, showcases the symptoms of borderline personality disorder when Allison decides to stop taking medication and broadcast all of her opinions to the world. Allison is incredibly quirky and weird, a perfect role for Kristen Wig, and displays her mental health condition in a way that’s awkwardly funny and honest. 

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