Feb 06

“The Voices” Film: Negative Stereotype of Psychosis

The lead character (Ryan Reynolds) in Marjane Satrapi‘s The Voices, a not-meant-to-be-realistic film that many critics see destined for cult-versus-mainstream status, represents a negative stereotype of someone with psychosis.

To be more specific, his “voices” lead him to extreme violence. But, the truth? As Dr. Fredric Neuman summarizes about the incidence of violence with psychotic disorders (Psychology Today), “(t)hey are both common—but occur together uncommonly.”

Eric D. Snider sets up the plot of The Voices:

Here is a pitch-black psycho-horror-comedy to restore one’s faith in the ‘What the eff did I just watch?’ genre. Set in a wholesome Aminerican town (the praises of which are sung in an opening theme song [!]), the film stars Reynolds as Jerry Hickfang, a smiling, awkward, not-quite-all-there fellow with a low-level factory job. He’s just out of prison on a work-release program and has a regular appointment with a court-ordered psychiatrist (Jacki Weaver), but he seems harmless enough. He goes through life in a bit of a daze, attended by imaginary butterflies, and has a cute crush on Fiona (Gemma Arterton), a beautiful brunette from the accounting department.

Also, his cat speaks to him. Abusively, hilariously, and with a Scottish accent. Mr. Whiskers harangues Jerry the same way that Mrs. Bates belittled Norman, and to similar effect. (His dog talks, too, but as you’d expect, he’s supportive and optimistic.) Jerry’s mother also heard voices, and Jerry has medication that silences them. But when he’s medicated, his bright, TV-like world turns dark, and he gets lonely. The only real problem with having Mr. Whiskers talk to him is that Mr. Whiskers, being a cat and a natural killer, has some violent suggestions.

And here’s a wild guess: no court-appointed shrink will be able to stop this train wreck from happening.

Also starring, by the way, is Anna Kendrick as another coworker of Jerry’s.

Jerry Hickfang’s Mental Illness

Peter Debruge, Variety: “a seriously disturbed schizophrenic.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “…a tormented Tony Perkins at the Bates Motel, re-imagined by Saturday Night Live…”

The Cat and Dog

Mary Sollosi, Indiewire: “Jerry’s pets serve as the angel (sweet Bosco) and devil (the manipulative Mr. Whiskers) on his shoulders, and while it’s clear to the audience that their dialogue and personalities are really just warring fragments of Jerry’s tortured mind, Jerry’s awareness of this fact is questionable, or maybe he just doesn’t want to believe it.”

Selected Reviews (And More About the Plot)

Amy Nicholson, LAWeekly: “The Voices is a perfect film that’s hard to watch. Jerry will kill, and he’ll kill characters we like. He thinks it’s by accident. Forced into his eyes, it’s hard to tell. At its Sundance premiere, dozens of people walked out at each death.”

Chuck Bowen, Slant: “The problem, beyond a general hideous un-funniness, is that the film’s premise is deeply repulsive. For about half of the film, Jerry’s insanity is meant to be kind of cute. For the other half, he’s butchering the women who work with him, brutally, in scenes that are staged as horror set pieces, and are performed by the female actors with an according intensity.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “Stylized direction, aided by a nuanced script, allows us to see Jerry’s disintegrating world from his own haunting perspective, and Mr. Reynolds’ cheerful face makes his descent into madness completely unique. In case you question the film’s send-up of optimism turning the color of an exploding blood bank, there is even a musical number. It’s whimsical, terrifying, insane and not to be missed.”

Oct 14

“50 50”: Problems With the Therapist/Patient Boundaries

There’s a new movie in theaters called 50 50 about a young man, Adam, who is diagnosed with cancer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the lead actor.

I saw the trailer while at another movie, found it interesting–a mix of humor and seriousness—and proceeded to my next usual step, reading a synopsis.

What I learn is that Adam sees a therapist post-diagnosis. Cool. And that she happens to be young and inexperienced in her career. Okaaay—tell me more. He falls for her. Yeah, that can happen, of course. It might be that she falls back for him. Aaarghh!!! Not another therapist-crossing-boundaries film!!!

I look up Roger Ebert‘s review. He’s had cancer himself. He hated The Bucket List, about two men dying of cancer, because it wasn’t realistic. I listened to him and therefore haven’t seen this popular movie.

Well…ta da! Ebert likes it! But what’s he say about the therapist thing?

Anna Kendrick plays Katherine, Adam’s therapist, who gets just as involved as his oncologist is aloof. I know therapists are supposed to observe a certain distance, but in a case like this, I don’t see how one can. I would make a terrible therapist.

Okay, I won’t become a movie critic if you won’t become a shrink. But what about this over-involvement thing? I need to know more.

I turn next to Rex Reed. Wow. Even snarkier than usual. He really does not like this movie:

When Adam undergoes his first chemo treatment, his duplicitous girlfriend (badly overacted by Bryce Dallas Howard) waits four hours in the car because she can’t stand the interiors of hospitals. His stressed-out mother (and what, you may well ask, is Anjelica Huston doing in this blunder?) acts like a cross between Lady Macbeth and Zasu Pitts. Eventually Adam gives up and falls for his psychiatrist (Anna Kendrick) in a sex game that is pure cardboard.

A what!? A ‘sex game’??? Oh crap—I had really wanted to like this movie. Ebert liked this movie. But more importantly, another bad depiction of a therapist?! Clearly something we don’t need in this world.

I search for a female critic. I need one who’ll actually take the trouble to explain this 50/50 therapist/patient relationship to me.

So many many reviews I sift through. Over and over again, it’s the therapist is “inexperienced”—really?! That’s all you’ve got?

I keep skimming. Finally, whoa…bingo! Carrie Rickey calls out the young shrink as “unprofessional”…But, just how unprofessional?

Update: Well, now I can tell you from actually seeing it myself.

Adam’s unexpected breakup with his girlfriend, who has cheated on him, and Katherine’s own admission that she’s pining for her recent ex are factors involved in each of them starting to notice the other as fuller individuals, that is, as not just therapist and client. We can see that Katherine knows she shouldn’t reciprocate Adam’s interest, but we don’t see her consulting a supervisor, for example, or showing her internal conflict in a significant enough way. This stuff can happen when someone’s as inexperienced as she—but that doesn’t make it okay.

By the time Adam is told his cancer isn’t shrinking and that he needs a major and highly risky surgery, Katherine’s presence in the waiting area with his family and best friend seems much more personal than professional. At his bedside, this is even clearer.

Before 50/50 ends, Katherine meets Adam at his home to start their first date. His best friend, who has hated all of Adam’s previous girlfriends, approves of her. The implication is that Adam, a nice guy, has finally found his match. Isn’t that sweet.

I should note that the onus of maintaining appropriate boundaries, which are there to keep therapy safe for the client, is solely on the therapist no matter how a client feels or what he expresses to her.

If Katherine and Adam were in the non-movie world, I would like to see Katherine managing her own attraction somehow and continuing to support him in her professional capacity. Then, when Adam no longer needs to be in a medical setting on a frequent basis, he could be referred to another therapist who’s competent enough to help him.

Although it’s made to look in 50/50 as though nothing bad could come of such nice young people finding each other, that’s not what many clients-who’ve-become-lovers-with-their-shrinks in the real world will tell you. Issues of betrayal of trust and/or exploitation of trust, for instance, commonly arise in the dynamics of romantic relationships that started out as therapeutic ones.