I thought this week’s film would go nicely with our theme and be somewhat satirical in the vein of Trainspotting. Horrible moments dotted with the occasional winking nudge along the lines of “Blimey, this mental health business is a bit much, isn’t it?”
I don’t know where this delusion came from…possibly too much John Oliver? The moral of the story is that I was wrong. So, so wrong.
Where to Watch:
Pray you never find yourself at the mercy of the mental health care system, whether you believe in a higher power or not.
N is a patient who has been in psychiatric care for many years, carrying on a legacy inherited from her mother and grandmother, and possibly farther up her family tree. She’s pretty content with the status quo—she collects “mad money” as her income, gets to come and go more or less freely, and enjoys the company of her fellow patients.
Obviously a change is coming, which arrives in the form of Poppy Shakespeare. Though everyone in the Dorothy Fish hospital is there voluntarily, Poppy insists she isn’t. N is assigned to help Poppy understand how the ward works, but the only help Poppy is interested in is how to return to her life and daughter.
Meeting with a lawyer introduces Poppy to the catch-22 that is the entire mental health system: to collect “mad money” and pay for representation that proves she is fit to leave Dorothy Fish, Poppy must prove she is, in fact, mentally unstable. Luckily, she has N to help her con the system by falsifying her forms and demonstrating symptoms like pulling out her own hair and burning herself with scalding water.
Meanwhile, the ward is undergoing massive changes. In an attempt to cut costs and receive bonuses, assessments will be made more frequently to discharge more patients more quickly. N is terrified as her usual yearly performance must walk a very fine line to avoid the dread of placement on one of the upper floors for more severe mental health issues without being discharged entirely.
As N and Poppy try to cheat the system, they become close friends. The chemistry between the two leads is perfect, making their friendship believable yet bittersweet. While N is confident their plan will succeed, of course things aren’t going to be so simple as the two patients wind their way through the maze that is the mental health system. All of this madness begins to take its toll on both characters, and the emotional damage they suffer together will have understandable, realistic consequences for them.
Yeah, this is less Trainspotting and more…slowly bludgeoning your feelings with a wooden plank for an hour and a half.
I wouldn’t argue that this is a bad film or one that mishandles its subject matter, but it’s heavy as fuck. Oh, you wanted an uplifting film about overcoming crises and handling mental health issues effectively? Not this one.
Poppy’s situation is horrifying as she describes completing a profile, then out of the blue being identified as someone with a severely disordered personality and being stuck in limbo. Her experience begs the question of who exactly defines sanity and what motivations may influence them–especially when N uncovers a secret towards the end of the film. N isn’t in a much better place, as she and just as much at the mercy of the system–a system that failed miserably to help her mother and grandmother.
Chillingly, Dorothy Fish is recognized for its excellence at one point in the film. It’s a bit of an Ivan Denisovich move–if this place is considered exemplary, how terrible must the other wards be?