Little Miss Sunshine
Though the film doesn’t center around mental illness, Steve Carell’s character, Frank Hoover, is a gay scholar that previously attempted suicide, and moves in with his sister, Sheryl (Toni Collette). Sheryl’s daughter wants to enter the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant that is being held in Redundo Beach, California. The family decides to enter the daughter in the pageant, but due to the circumstances of Frank, they feel he must come with them to avoid being left alone.
The undertones of Frank’s depressive state are felt throughout the trip, most prominently when he gives advice to his extremely introverted nephew.
“If you sleep until you’re 18, think of the suffering you’re gonna miss. High school — those are your prime suffering years.”
Carell delivers an outstanding performance alongside an all-star cast, and the film uniquely captured the POV of someone who’s recovering from attempted suicide and depression.
Silver Linings Playbook
The 2012 comedy-drama starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence depicts a man, Patrizio ‘Pat’ Solitano Jr (Cooper) suffering from bipolar disorder. In the film, Pat was released from a psychiatric ward to move in with his parents after severely beating the man with whom his wife was cheating. Determined to win back his estranged wife, Pat befriends a woman named Tiffany (Lawrence), who’s dealing with the loss of her late husband, as well as promiscuity issues that have plagued her. She agrees to help Pat win back his wife, provided he enters a dance competition with her.
While the film was a little loose in its interpretation of bipolar disorder, it quite accurately displayed the family caregivers and how they supported a family member with mental illness.
A Beautiful Mind
A true story based on the life of mathematician, John Nash (portrayed by Russell Crowe), A Beautiful Mind won best picture in 2002. In the film, Nash suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, and it is lauded as an accurate and human depiction of the illness. Nash was portrayed as a sweet, kind (albeit odd) man that was deeply troubled as his condition worsened. Crowe was awarded Best Actor for the role.
“I am Jack’s smirking revenge”
An iconic movie and cult classic, Fight Club, features powerhouse performances from Edward Norton and Brad Pitt. Tyler Durden (Pitt) pushes Norton’s character to uncomfortable territory and outside of his comfort zone, and ultimately towards anti-establishment. The two of them create an underground community of people that are fed up with their places in society and take out their frustrations on each other in what they call a ‘fight club’.
How does the film relate to mental health, you ask? Norton’s character has disassociative identity disorder that distorts his interpretation of his and Durden’s relationship, as the club that they’ve built becomes more and more powerful and seeks out revenge on the establishments that rejected them.
U.S Marshall Edward “Teddy” Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) head on a ferry boat to Shutter Island, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane, to investigate the disappearance of a woman named Rachel Solando, who’d previously killed her three children. Their journey to finding Solando takes them on a number of twists and turns as their suspicion shifts to the medical leadership of the asylum. A great, and underrated, entry from the DiCaprio and Scorsese catalog.
Christopher Nolan’s sophomore effort, Memento, was the film that really put him on the map of Hollywood’s up and coming directors. This psychological thriller featured a character named Leonard (Guy Pierce), who suffered from anterograde amnesia, a memory disorder that would prevent new memories from being created after the event that initially caused the condition.
The film playfully breached the subject by depicting the same scenes in two different ways: black and white, and in color, in reverse. The film is a must for any Nolan fans that by some chance missed it.
This film was genuinely unnerving. A psychological thriller from Darren Aronofsky, the film follows a young professional ballerina, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), and her endless pursuit of perfection. Nina battles a severe eating disorder and chronic hallucinations and is embroiled in a fierce rivalry with another dancer portrayed by Mila Kunis.
In typical Aronofsky fashion, when watching the film, you are drawn in so close that the hallucinations experienced by Sayers feel far too real and almost as though you’re experiencing them yourself. The film earned Natalie Portman her first and only Oscar, for Best Actress.
Donnie Darko hardly made a dent at the box office, but has grown into a cult classic with a wide spectrum of interpretations on its meaning. The film features Jake Gylennhall playing a troubled teenager, Donnie Darko, that suffers from bipolar disorder and experiences traumatic visions. The visions entail a mysterious ‘friend’, claiming that the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds.
As Donnie navigates the truth and meaning behind these visions, it leads to a thrilling climax that has led to speculation over the film’s meaning, entirely.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
A film that never outright commits its leads to mental illness, the characters of Joel (Jim Carey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) have strongly similar characteristics of severe anxiety and bipolar disorder, respectively. The film deals with a question to which anyone who’s experienced trauma (relationship, or otherwise) can relate: would it be better not to remember at all?
The incredible film, directed by Michel Gondry, features Jim Carey in a departure from his normal comedic role, who gave arguably the strongest dramatic performance of his career. Not to be outdone, Winslet delivered an Oscar deserving performance in her role as Clementine.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Two words: Jack Nicholson.
Who can forget the iconic role of Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? It transcends the mental health film category and is rightly seen as one of the best films of all time.
Nicholson plays a character (Randle McMurphy) who committed statutory rape of a 15-year old. Though he wasn’t actually mentally ill, McMurphy sought to serve his sentence in a ‘relaxed environment’ in the psychiatric ward rather than doing hard labor. Upon entering the psychiatric ward, McMurphy quickly realized that he’d have his hands full with an overly strict nurse that, through the use of passive aggressive tactics that suppresses the power of the other patients, has the facility on lockdown.
Nicholson hilariously (and brilliantly) portrays McMurphy’s brazen personality that threatens the nurse’s power and rubs off on the other patients as they struggle to take back control of the ward and their wellbeing. Simply put: it’s a classic.