Jan 20

“Foxcatcher”: Mental Instability and Personality Issues

Foxcatcher, based on a true story, has been nominated for several Oscars, including original screenplay by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, best director (Bennett Miller), and best actor/best supporting actors Steve Carell as John DuPont and Mark Ruffalo as wrestler Dave Schultz.

From the synopsis by J.R. Jones, Chicago Reader: “A paranoid schizophrenic insulated by obscene wealth, du Pont used his family’s Foxcatcher farm as headquarters for a wrestling camp to groom athletes for the U.S. Olympic team; his tangled relationships with wrestling hopeful Mark Schultz [Channing Tatum] and with Mark’s older brother, gold medalist Dave Schultz, ended tragically in January 1996 when du Pont murdered Dave.”

However, offering what’s true and what’s not in the movie, Aisha Harris of Slate states, “Most notably, perhaps, the movie makes no mention of du Pont’s diagnosis with paranoid schizophrenia, which, at his trial, was offered as an explanation for the murder.”

What is acknowledged in the film, states Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune, is “a certain, tactful degree of du Pont’s drug use, his personality disorders and bizarre behavior, all documented. Plenty more is elided or left out, especially to do with du Pont’s sexually predatory nature.”

A member of duPont’s actual defense team was forensic psychiatrist Phillip Resnick. In an interview with Michael Heaton, Cleveland.com, Resnick states about duPont’s deterioration: “[He] is an example of a person whose wealth becomes an obstacle to getting needed mental health care. Many of Mr. du Pont’s employees were aware of his paranoia. However, anyone who attempted to force his involuntary hospitalization would be at high risk of losing their job. In that sense, Mr. du Pont’s wealth allowed him to remain untreated and thus set the stage for his personal tragedy.”

DuPont, by the way, was found guilty of murder, but also mentally ill. He died in prison in 2010.

More about how the movie portrays the story after this trailer:


Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter:

Playing a young man who doesn’t have a clue how to articulate his feelings and suffers for it, Tatum is a smoldering, festering piece of emotional raw meat, able to be manipulated this way and that by his benefactor. You feel his pain. As the older and exceptionally capable older brother, Ruffalo bestows his character with a profoundly genial nature that suggests that no one could possibly dislike this guy, much less be provoked to murder him. But he had emotional wealth, instant likeability and physical capacity, things John du Pont could never buy.


Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter: “Shrinks could have a field day with all the complicated dynamics running though these relationships, which help make the drama such a rich experience.”

Christopher Orr, The Atlantic: “There’s something inevitably remote about a movie that refuses so ardently to get into the heads of its characters. The result is an easy film to admire, but a difficult one in which to invest emotionally, even when it enters into its final, tragic arc. Foxcatcher is among the best movies of the year, but ultimately it seems one better suited for awards than for audiences.”

Bob Mondello, NPR: “…Miller uses three superb performances to take us deep into a privileged world where the choreographed struggle of wrestling mixes toxically with the psychological struggles of familial disappointment. The film does not — or maybe cannot — explain the inexplicable: the acts of a mentally ill man. But it can make the plight of those in that man’s orbit profoundly anguishing.”

Feb 08

“Side Effects”: This Film’s May Be Dangerous and Unexpected

The new psychological thriller by Steven SoderberghSide Effects, incorporates issues about the potential pitfalls of experimental antidepressants. Neither the pills nor their prescribers nor the pharmaceutical industry, in fact, come off anywhere close to ideal in this movie.

Writer Scott Burns consulted with Dr. Sasha Bardey, who has significant experience in forensic psychiatry. As Bardey states to Daniel D’Addario, Salon, “The only way to remove the stigma around psychiatry is to depict it realistically — to depict it in a lily-white way doesn’t make it more credible.”

The Plot Basics

Because Side Effects is a twisty thriller, no one’s out to spoil it by saying too much. Rooney Mara‘s lead character Emily Taylor is married to Martin (Channing Tatum), who’s been in prison for financial wrongdoing. After trying a bunch of prescribed drugs (nonfictional ones) with unwanted side effects, Emily begins taking an experimental and fictional antidepressant called Ablixa, given to her by her psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law.) Catherine Zeta-Jones plays another psychiatrist who has treated Emily.

The Antidepressants

Reviewer Christy Lemire: “In an accurate reflection of our impatient times, everyone in “Side Effects” wants the quick fix: for their finances, careers, reputations, sex lives and, most fundamentally, their moods.”

The Plot, Part II

There’s a murder. Did Emily do it? Did she mean to do it? Or did the pills do it? If so, is her shrink at fault? Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter:

…(M)emory loss, irresponsible medical treatment and possible insanity come into play. Jonathan’s professional standing takes a big hit, as does his marriage to a beautiful wife (Vinessa Shaw) no one would want to lose. There’s a lot of trade talk about the benefits and side effects of various drugs that might prove fascinating to those interested in such matters and boring to those who are not. But a good deal of the second half is devoted to Jonathan’s downward spiral due to his involvement in this unsavory case, with the uncommonly attractive actors providing by far the paramount reason for any sustained interest.

Here’s the Side Effects trailer:

Therapist Portrayal

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: “…(H)e’s not a creep or a perv, in classic movie-shrink fashion; what ultimately makes Banks so disturbing is that he believes he’s doing the right thing all along, but is hemmed in by a medical system, or a world (or just a movie) that makes bad things get worse rapidly.”

The Total Effect: Selected Reviews

Justin Chang, Variety: “What begins as a barbed satire of our pill-popping, self-medicating society morphs into something intriguingly different in ‘Side Effects.’ Steven Soderbergh’s elegantly coiled puzzler spins a tale of clinical depression and psychiatric malpractice into an absorbing, cunningly unpredictable entertainment.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “What it turns out to be is a preposterous puzzle that fails every test under scrutiny, leaving the spectator with a ‘Huh?’ that is meant to be uttered only while chewing gum.”

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: “We’d like to believe that our SSRIs and MAOIs will bring us happiness, that love is real, that art or spirituality can offer transcendence. Steven Soderbergh would like to remind us that it’s all a trick, and we’re on our own.”