Mental illness is the new ugly

If you know me at all, you know that I am a fanatic about movies. A friend recently called me a “cinephile”, which is probably one of the best words I’ve heard to describe my movie habit. I started keeping track of the number of movies I watch each month, and it’s around 10 or 12. I will watch crappy movies, but I prefer going to see anything that is “critically acclaimed” or “indie.” I’m a bit of a snob, but I’m not above renting a good rom-com to watch at home.

I’m a fanatic when it comes to the Oscars. I try to watch as many of the Oscar nominated films as possible. I love movies. They’re my church. I like to go by myself, enjoy the sanctuary and I don’t like it when people talk during the sermon. It’s a religious experience for me.

I have the type of mind that is constantly analyzing things. Whenever I read books, watch tv or watch movies, I’m always analyzing and watching images and analyzing messages, especially if these messages are in any way racist or sexist.

I’ve been following the trends in films leading up to the Oscars this year, and I’ve noticed a fairly interesting trend in the types of roles that actresses are getting this year. Four of this year’s highly publicized films feature women who are mentally ill. Now, it’s been discussed numerous times that if a woman wants to win an Oscar, she’s got to ugly herself up a little. This trend was noted when Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Halle Berry all won Oscars for making themselves appear less attractive on film. (I’m sure this trend has applied to men too, but not to the same extent.)

So who was mentally ill this year? Kirsten Dunst was severely depressed in “Melancholia”, Michelle Williams turns in a brilliant performance as Marilyn Monroe, who is disturbed, addicted to pills and falling apart, and newcomer Elisabeth Olsen (the youngest Olsen sister), gives an amazing performance as a woman suffering post-traumatic disorder due to her escape from a cult. There are several things worth noting about all of these performances. All of these women are fairly young (late 20s-early 30s) and all of them act out sexually in these roles. All of these performance feature some degree of nudity. These women are very beautiful, and all of them act crazy in ways that are still feminine. Physical ugliness is not a factor here.

(I haven’t seen it yet but “A Dangerous Method” stars Keira Knightley as a woman who is also “unbalanced”, yet beautiful.” (This is how she is referred to in the film’s synopsis, and she appears to be sexually acting out in the trailer.)

All of these roles are interesting and these women are really the stars of their respective films. People who are “crazy” are more interesting to watch than someone who is “sane.” It’s more interesting to watch someone have a nervous breakdown than fold laundry.

There are some other things to note-

1. Michelle Williams is the only one of these women to get nominated for a best actress Golden Globe. The other nominees in the Best Actress categories are mainly older, and are playing people who are not crazy. I haven’t actually been able to see all of these movies yet, as they haven’t come to Edmonton.

2. There are only 2 Golden Globe nominated roles for men that could be classed as mentally ill. These are Michael Fassbender in “Shame” (if sex addiction counts as mental illness- this movie is not playing in my city yet) and Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar, which is debatable. (If you Google, J. E and “mental illness”, you get some interesting results. I’m sure some people would say that J. Edgar has some mental problems. And I’m not talking about his possible homosexuality. That’s not a mental problem in my book)

One thing that is very positive about this development is that it might get people talking about mental illness and what it looks like. Kirsten Dunst’s performance in “Melancholia” is definitely recognizable as depression, even if the illness is never mentioned by name. People might start getting more interested in the signs of PTSD, or talking about addiction or mental illness after watching some of these movies. Here’s hoping!

In case you think this trend has no weight, may I remind you that last year’s Oscar winner was Natalie Portman, who portrayed a ballet dancer who slipped into a delusional madness in “Black Swan”? I think I’m on to something here.

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