How mental illness in women is portrayed in the movies...

(35 Posts)
DrRanj Mon 17-Dec-12 19:57:20

Hi all.

I am a regular poster, but I have had a recent name change due to a near outing incident.

I am a medical student and I am doing a special project on cinema and psychiatry. I need to write an essay and was thinking of basing it on how women with mental health problems are portrayed by hollywood films and/or whether the violence in psychiatric illness in films (perpetrated by men or women) is an accurate representation of real life (but I may post in mental health to get more input on this).

If anyone has any films they could recommend and their comments it would be great food for thought to get me started. Obviously I won't pinch any of your ideas directly, as everything I write about will have to be backed up by references anyway!

And as an aside I think this a really interesting topic for discussion anyway, whether I was writing an essay or not...

Any thoughts?

WidowWadman Mon 17-Dec-12 21:04:00

Don't know much about cinematic portrayal, but it's a standard literature trope that mad women (in attics and elsewhere) have wild hair (as opposed to a nice neat plait).

As with psychiatric illness in women in films, the only one that springs to mind is "Girl, interrupted", based on Susanna Kaysen's autobiography. I'm not sure what can be said about accuracy, as treatment of people in psychiatric institutions has changed since she's written it.

Oh there was Sybil as well, although that's based on an autobiography isn't it? I only saw the film (years ago), haven't read the book.

Oh and Island which I've just watched. Fab film. Sort of touches a bit on mental health. But perhaps less obviously than something like Sybil.

DrRanj Mon 17-Dec-12 21:09:55

Thanks very much, I may look into that one. So is much of it set in an institution then? It's just that one of my colleagues is thinking of writing about how insitutions are represented...

Yes the whole mad woman in the attic thing may be good to look into! Which one of the Austen type novels had a mad woman in the attic? Has there been a film made of it?

WidowWadman Mon 17-Dec-12 21:13:04

Jane Eyre is the one with the mad woman in the attic, and there's at least one or two adaptations. You probably also ought to look at Wide Sargasso Sea which is a prequel to Jane Eyre

monsterchild Mon 17-Dec-12 21:13:36

Other movies would include The three faces of Eve and I would say Basic Instinct was a MH issue, surely? Or Misery.

What about the "woman scored" trope? Like the one with the bunny killer, or Carrie? What about the girl in The Ring? does she count as having mental health issues enough to make herself a ghost?

monsterchild Mon 17-Dec-12 21:21:32

It might also be interesting to look at how mental illness is portrayed differently if the perpetrator is a man or a woman.

ParsingFancy Mon 17-Dec-12 21:22:14

"Tom & Viv" is about TS Eliott's wife Vivienne, who is portrayed as having psych problems arising from gynae problems. The scene of her being "tested" for committal to the asylum is, um, interesting.

ParsingFancy Mon 17-Dec-12 21:28:54

I'd have thought there would be lots of "mad old cat lady" type portrayals. Characters who are basically plot devices rather than seen as interesting in themselves.

Darkesteyes Mon 17-Dec-12 21:29:03

Single White Female springs to mind.

DrRanj Mon 17-Dec-12 21:29:05

I am just watching fatal attraction as we speak!

msrisotto Mon 17-Dec-12 21:32:09

Well Borderline Personality Disorder is a controversial diagnosis and is portrayed in cinema fairly often, Girl Interrupted springs to mind. There is a great feminist analysis of women and BPD as mostly omen are diagnosed wi it, some call it the modern "hysteria" diagnosis/bin, i can't remember the name of the book but can do a search if you want.

Adversecalendar Mon 17-Dec-12 21:32:37

A streetcar named desire, the version with Marlon Brando and Vivienne Leigh.

msrisotto Mon 17-Dec-12 21:33:21

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_films_featuring_mental_illness#Borderline_personality_disorder

DrRanj Mon 17-Dec-12 22:24:35

Thanks for all of these. Will definitely have a look.

SolidGoldFrankensteinandmurgh Tue 18-Dec-12 13:47:37

Betty fucking Blue. She's so wild! Crazy! Unbelievably sexy because she tantrums like a toddler and smashes up the furniture. Then she gouges her own eye out with a teaspoon and isn't so pretty any more so the noble hero smothers her with a pillow.

Basically that film has always annoyed me because it portrays mental illness in a woman as sexy and exciting, up until the point when the hero's had enough. I can't remember if it ends with him going off with a non-mad woman but (possibly not relevant to the OP) I have always maintained that any man who says it's his favourite film is a man to avoid as he will drive you mad.

TunipTheVegedude Tue 18-Dec-12 13:49:53

The Gwyneth Paltrow film about Sylvia Plath, too.

SGB - thank you for that takedown of Betty Blue. I fucking HATE that film.

SolidGoldFrankensteinandmurgh Tue 18-Dec-12 16:12:54

Tunip, I must admit that the first time I watched it I quite like the first half (mainly for the music and the general Frenchness of it - I am a bit of a francophile) but I got bored of her screaming and stropping quite quickly. The second time I watched it some years later I was all OH FFS! all the way through.

Silver linings playbook would be really good for this.

SomersetONeil Tue 18-Dec-12 19:17:05

Well, it's the movie version of her autobiography, but An Angel at My Table depicts Janet Frame's misdiagnoses of schizophrenia. She spent several years in psychiatric institutions and was subjected to electric shock treatment and was fortunate enough to escape undergoing a lobotomy when it was discovered that she had just won a national literary prize.

Perhaps not entirely relevant since Janet helped write the screen play and she is simply describing what (horrifically enough) happened to her, as opposed to portraying something and hamming it up... But an interesting look at (mis)diagnosis and treatment of mental illness in women in the 20th C.

Amazing book, great film.

FamilyGuy2 Tue 18-Dec-12 22:51:53

Not a film but I'd give homeland a go. Claire Danes is superb IMHO at playing the role of a CIA agent with bi polar disorder. To be honest I've not much experience with bi polar disorder but her acting was fantastic.

BertieBotts Tue 18-Dec-12 22:54:55

Post Natal Depression would be a good subject to write about - I don't know if soaps count? Plenty of threads in the archives about soap storylines in the past where women characters with "PND" attempt to harm their babies or others' babies. I'm sure there will be films with this theme as well.

LilyVonSchtupp Tue 18-Dec-12 23:06:12

A really interesting area of study with some great examples here. A few more:

The Hours about 3 different stories of women with depression. Including Virginia Woolf.

Something slightly different: Toni Collette's portrayal of the suicidal mum in About A Boy - very odd and blase depiction of depression (down to the writing and direction, not the actor).

Safe with Julianne Moore - I haven't seen it but think it's about chemical sensitivity and OCD (I think if you look up Julianne Moore & Toni Collette films you would have a good start!)

You could also look at the film portrayals of Frances Farmer - the 1930s Hollywood actress who went into a mental institution. Jessica Lange played her in the eighties.

I think Claire Danes in Homeland has psychotic episodes rather than bipolar?

DrRanj Tue 18-Dec-12 23:25:24

I think Claire Danes character does have a diagnosis of bipolar, yes, obviously with psychotic symptoms during manic episodes.

Thanks for all these suggestions - I will take them on board and suggest these titles to the rest of the group.

I had forgotten about "About a boy". I actually quite connected with the weeping into the cornflakes scene having suffered depression myself...

BertieBotts Tue 18-Dec-12 23:33:27

I've just thought of Benny and Joon too - ticks your mental health box and your friend's institution box. Lovely lovely film too smile and Johnny Depp which is a bonus of course grin

SantasNaughtySack Tue 18-Dec-12 23:34:31

Black Swan? I haven't seen it, but from what I've heard it might be what you're after?

LastMangoInParis Wed 19-Dec-12 00:22:42

How about Orphan for a recent-ish portrayal of a sexy nuts bird up to no good?
Fatal Attraction and Betty Blue are the blueprints with the crazy birds who shag like a bat in biscuit tin until it all gets a bit much for a regular guy and the sexy chick has to be carted off in a straight jacket/chastity belt/body bag and knackered hero can return to wife, kids and picket fence.
I'm sure there's lots to be said about Puritain America, whores and madonnas, etc.

Carrie's been mentioned already, yes?
Monster?

It's sort of a Hollywood stereotype, isn't it, that a staple alternative to a bland pretty lil lady is a lunatic chick who needs to be detonated before wholesome rightfulness can be reinstated?

Girl. Interrupted with Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie.

Gunznroses Wed 19-Dec-12 00:41:53

I give you "hand that rocks the cradle" Rebecca's de Mornay's character; beautiful, sexy, crazy all rolled into one.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Wed 19-Dec-12 09:09:02

A wander through TV Tropes might give you some ideas (also covers film)
tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DoubleStandard

confusteling Wed 19-Dec-12 09:19:59

The Yellow Wallpaper has a good enough adaption available on youtube - however it's an old story, based on the treatment on mental illness in the very early 20th C if not the 19th C.

There is room for historical comparison I suppose? And it's a fantastic comparison with Jane Eyre and the Wide Sargasso Sea.

There's also some of the Hitchcock films - most especially the character of Mrs Danvers in Rebecca, and in terms of violence, the murderer in Pyscho..

Nancy66 Wed 19-Dec-12 11:27:18

Silver Linings Playbook - a film in cinemas right now would be worth your while seeing.

In the film you have both a man and a woman who suffered breakdowns. He after his wife had an affair and her after her husband died.

GunsAndRoses Wed 16-Jan-13 01:34:08

Betty Blue. Such a sad film.

Monster is an upsetting film and very disturbing.

GunsAndRoses Wed 16-Jan-13 11:53:19
happycake Wed 16-Jan-13 12:14:00

Bit of a crappy film, but in The Devil's Advocate the main character's wife goes insane from lack of attention from her husband hmm. Also Girl, Interrupted is very, very different from the book it's based on.

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