Apr 27

“Split” Adds to Dissociative Identity Disorder Stigma

This movie makes people with DID the next in a long line of cultural scapegoats. Audiences will sit through it, shivering delightfully in the dark and be reassured once again that all the evil in the world can be blamed on “the crazies.” lain C, TheMighty.com, who lives with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), about Split

Split, now available to rent, is M. Night Shyamalan‘s latest movie and one that unfortunately contributes to stigma regarding dissociative identity disorder.

A brief synopsis from IMDB: “Three girls are kidnapped by a man with a diagnosed 23 distinct personalities, [and] they must try to escape before the apparent emergence of a frightful new 24th.” James McAvoy plays Kevin, the man with DID.

Watch a trailer for Split below:

One problem: movies such as Split tend to give a grossly inaccurate impression regarding DID and a propensity for violence. The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD) has refuted this myth citing recent research statistics: “…3 percent were charged with an offense, 1.8 percent were fined, and less than 1 percent were in jail over a six-month span. No convictions or probations were reported in that time period” (Kristen Fischer, Healthline).

Moreover, ISSTD extends its objections to Split beyond the scope of DID:

With respect to Mr. Shyamalan’s ability to write and direct truly frightening movies, depicting individuals with this, or any other mental disorder, does a disservice to his artistic ability and to the over 20 percent of the population who, at some time or another, struggle with some form of mental illness. It acts to further marginalize those who already struggle on a daily basis with the weight of stigma.

Not that Shyamalan didn’t receive appropriate consultation. Bethany Brand, a clinical psychologist and professor, responded to his request and offered (free) advice, including that she’d help connect him with individuals who actually live with DID, something Shyamalan never took her up on. He also failed to follow through on a pledge to work on raising public awareness about the reality of the condition (CNN).

Another controversial aspect of Shyamalan’s depiction is explained by Charles Bramesco, The Verge. Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), Kevin’s psychiatrist, “repeatedly spells out her controversial theory that DID grants sufferers extraordinary control of their bodies, citing such examples as a blind woman with a personality capable of vision, or a strongman personality spontaneously developing extraordinary strength.” Research does show that different alters can display different capabilities—But…and the following contains movie spoilers…

Shyamalan extends the concept to a cartoonish extreme when he introduces Kevin’s personality ‘the Beast,’ which has superhuman abilities and a monstrous appearance. By the end of the film, Kevin is exhibiting abilities that amount to superpowers, somehow derived from what professional consensus indicates is his brain’s extreme coping mechanism to a fleetingly shown childhood of abuse…The act of other-ing Kevin as a patient of DID isn’t even incidental; it’s the whole point. It’s hard to imagine a more squarely on-the-nose example of demonizing mental illness than portraying a mentally ill man as a literal demon.

In closing, here’s powerful personal testimony from the writer of this post’s opening quote (TheMighty.com):

What if someone made a movie about you – only you were the villain? Not a brilliant, super-villain who is kind of cool, but someone horrifyingly bizarre and dangerous…
…Once again, people with deep psychological wounds get mis-cast as the perpetrators instead of, more realistically, victims of violence. Along the way, it lowers the odds of us having friends, finding love, working at terrific jobs and getting care. At the same time it ups the odds of abandonment, rejection and someone protecting themselves against us with misguided force. In fact, while people with DID are organized differently inside…we’re no more likely to hurt people than anyone else…

Feb 14

“Atonement”: For Your Anti-Valentine’s Consideration

But how can a person atone? Some wrongs can’t be righted. Some crimes can’t be forgiven. When a moment is lost, it’s lost. Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle, regarding Atonement

Always for some reason interested in what’s new in Anti-Valentine’s sentiments, I came across the listing of Atonement, a favorite movie of mine from 2007, as someone’s idea of something to watch if you’re a viewer who isn’t feeling so Valentine-y, whether now or ever.

Atonement, based on the novel by Ian McEwan, is about love, yes, but it’s actually a romance of the tragic kind—as well as a mystery of sorts.

Many who’d read the book were afraid the movie wouldn’t do it justice. Most were more than pleased with the results.

Atonement starts out in rural England, 1935. We meet 13-year-old aspiring writer Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan). She and her older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) are of an upper crust family, whereas Cecilia’s romantic interest, Robbie (James McAvoy), has working-class roots.

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle, sets up the initial scenes, which reveal how Briony’s youth and situational confusion heralds major trouble:

Briony is the sister of Cecilia (Knightley), who is in love with Robbie (McAvoy), though he doesn’t know it. For the first few minutes of the film, we see Cecilia and Robbie’s burgeoning passion through the hungry but uncomprehending gaze of Briony. From an upstairs window, she witnesses an odd scene that seems faintly depraved to her eyes. And then, in the first indication that this is no Jane Austen retread, the movie does something narratively innovative: It rewinds the clock by about 15 minutes and shows us the same incident from the perspective of Cecilia and Robbie. It’s much more innocent the second time.

‘Atonement’ soon turns into a film that puts viewers on the edge of their seats wanting to know what happens next. The turn comes no more than 20 minutes in, with an event that’s so compelling and surprising that no one reading this deserves to have it spoiled. (Friendly advice: Don’t read any other reviews.)

I agree. If you haven’t ever seen Atonement, skip trying to know too many details about it beforehand. It’s better that way.

How about some sweeping and brief summaries instead?

Roger Ebert: “‘Atonement’ begins on joyous gossamer wings, and descends into an abyss of tragedy and loss. Its opening scenes in an English country house between the wars are like a dream of elegance, and then a 13-year-old girl sees something she misunderstands, tells a lie and destroys all possibility of happiness in three lives, including her own.”

Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times: “Ian McEwan’s beautiful novel, masterfully adapted for the screen by Christopher Hampton and directed by Joe Wright (‘Pride & Prejudice’), is at its heart about language and its power: about the way a lie told by a child — inspired by a letter not intended for her eyes — changes the lives of those who hear it; and how that child later longs to make things right again…”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “…(I)t’s a story of a youthful jealousy that leads to a monstrous falsehood that in turn ruins the lives of a disparate group of people, and ultimate retribution that comes decades too late.”

The trailer, of course, hints at more:

Selected Brief Reviews

Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times: “On paper and on screen, ‘Atonement’ is a story of rare beauty, both wrenching and wise.”

Jack MathewsNew York Daily News: “It is an amazing story, filled with quiet moments of profundity and more surprises than you could imagine.”

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post:

Nothing comes easily in ‘Atonement,’ especially its ending, which, both happy and tragic, is as wrenching as it is genuinely satisfying.

Like McEwan, albeit with a vastly different artistic grammar, Wright casts a spell every bit as captivating as Briony’s tangled web. It’s fitting, somehow, that a novel so devoted to the precision and passionate love of language should be captured in a film that is almost too exquisite for words.

Apr 08

“Trance”: Is the Use of Hypnotherapy Accurately Depicted?

Currently in limited release, the new crime drama Trance, directed by Danny Boyle, is largely about the use of hypnotherapy by character Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson).

IMDB describes the plot: “An art auctioneer who has become mixed up with a group of criminals partners with a hypnotherapist in order to recover a lost painting.” Seems the auctioneer/robber Simon (James McAvoy) can’t recall what happened to the uber-expensive Goya since stealing it. That will happen when you get conked on the head by your leader in crime, Franck (Vincent Cassel), after you do all the dirty work.

The London Evening Standard elaborates on the ensuing shenanigans among Franck, Simon, and Elizabeth in this “heist ‘n’ hypnotism movie”:

…(T)he story gets mighty complicated, as this trio play out scary games on each other, leaving you trying to work out who’s screwing whom, unsure whether you are watching hypnotically induced dreams or actual events, and whether what you are seeing is past, present or future, even if it is real. But that’s amnesia for you, if I remember rightly.

Watch the movie trailer, which opens with Elizabeth saying, “Five percent of the population can be described as extremely suggestible.” Franck: “What can you make him do?” Elizabeth: “Anything.”

David Carr of The New York Times notes that “…trances are the building blocks of the movie” and that Dawson did research for her role at the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in California. In addition, psychologist David Oakley, who co-directs a hypnosis institute abroad, served as a consultant on the film.

Amnesia, of course, isn’t the only thing Elizabeth treats with hypnotherapy in her practice. She’s also seen in the movie with clients who have “agoraphobia, arachnophobia, obesity and golf trouble,” according to the London Evening Standard article.

In the real world, hypnotherapists do tackle a variety of problems, though psychiatrist Robert London believes the technique is “underused” as a therapeutic tool. He talks it up in a Psychology Today blog post, first exposing some misinformation:

For many people, including plenty of mental health professionals, hypnosis brings to mind mental weakness, mind control, sleep, or loss of consciousness. Women are often considered more hypnotizable than men. Those are myths. Hypnosis is neither mind control nor a strategy for the weak-willed.

It is not mind control, he states. But only when used appropriately and for the right reasons.

And Trance goes well beyond appropriate. From David Carr’s NYT article:

Of course, this being a movie, there had to be subterfuge and subtext to the hypnosis, which meant some aspect of mind control would come in. Elizabeth is threatened on all sides, and she fights back with what she knows, which is the ability to guide people down different paths…As Elizabeth struggles to regain custody of her own life, she manipulates Simon into losing control of his.

Well, it’s just a movie, you say. Unfortunately, mind control via hypnosis exists in the real world too. Whereas some reputable therapists treat trauma with hypnosis, some unreputable ones cause trauma with hypnosis. A recent legal case in the UK involved a hypnotherapist sexually abusing a 19-year-old female client—and filming it. As reported in the Telegraph, the judge, who gave him 18 months in jail, also expressed his concern about the field’s lack of regulation and inadequate requirements regarding formal training.

You can find out more about the misuse of hypnotherapy at such sites as WanttoKnow.info, where there’s a special section on Mind Control and ritual abuse cults.

Anthony Lane‘s review in The New Yorker reveals even more about broken ethics in Trance—and it only gets worse. Although Lane issues no spoiler alert, the following could be regarded as a bit TMI:

If you want to see ‘Trance,’ do so before it is sued, and outlawed from cinemas worldwide, by the British Society of Hypnotherapists. As matters stand, the profession may never recover from the defamatory portrait of clinical hypnosis that is enshrined in Elizabeth Lamb. Having discovered the hoodlums’ quest, she joins them for a cut of the loot, professing great boredom with her usual clients. She also sleeps with Simon, not content with putting him to sleep.

Apart from the film, and recognizing that those who misuse hypnosis or any other therapy technique are in the minority, hypnotherapy has many adherents who say it works. If you’re interested in using it, though, just a warning: make sure you use your good-consumer skills and do your research before moving forward.

And, don’t steal any paintings.