Apr 21

“Frankie and Alice” and Dissociative Identity Disorder

Several years ago Halle Berry received a Golden Globe nomination for a movie barely anyone had seen, Frankie and Alice, about a go-go dancer (Frankie) with dissociative identity disorder (DID)Although it’s finally been re-released for a wider audience in theaters, its poor reviews may guarantee it a continued lack of audience.

Apparently inspired by a true story from the 1970’s, Frankie and Alice has a lead character who works with a therapist (Stellan Skarsgard) to deal with alters named Genius, a high-IQ kid who’s seven years old, and Alice, a Southern white racist. The trailer:

DR. JOSEPH OSWALD, THE THERAPIST

Peter Debruge, Variety, calls him “an absent-minded researcher whose methods are progressive by 1970s standards (he uses hypnotism in his treatment and participated in a landmark LSD study), but hopelessly square by today’s.”

Director Geoffrey Sax is given credit, however, for portraying a film that’s “relatively enlightened in its attitudes toward race relations and mental illness.”

Duane ByrgeHollywood Reporter: Oz is “emotionally drained,” also “essentially a mope who medicates with tuna sandwiches, jazz and liquor.” But then along comes this case that piques his interest.

But Farran Smith Nehme, New York Post, appreciated Oz’s “gently rasping voice [that] could coax anyone back to sanity.”

FRANKIE, THE PATIENT

Neil Genzlinger, New York Times: Before knowing what really ails her, what troubles Frankie are her “bursts of odd behavior and frequent blackouts.” This turns out to be symptomatic of DID.

(Other sources indicate that Berry studied DID by watching hours of tapes of people diagnosed with the disorder.)

But Berry’s portrayal of switching to different alters feels badly executed in Genzlinger’s estimation:

…(W)hen she abruptly switches to the voice of a young child or of a white Southern racist — two of the alternate personalities — it’s hard not to flash back to some humorous working of the same territory. (Think of Toni Collette in the Showtime series ‘United States of Tara.’) It may be that this genre has been forever ruined, or just that it requires a more subtle hand than the one exhibited by Geoffrey Sax, the director here.

Peter DebrugeVariety: “Berry shows total commitment to the part, allowing herself to go unhinged in the hands of a director not quite capable of supporting such a risky tightrope act.”

SELECTED REVIEWS OF FRANKIE AND ALICE

Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times: “Lamentably by-the-numbers, treated like an affliction-of-the-week TV movie by its eight (!) credited writers and directed by Geoffrey Sax as if he knew where commercials should go.”

Lisa Schwarzbaum, ew.com: “Something awful happened to young Frankie back in 1950s Georgia to make her so broken; it’s just a matter of time, flashbacks, many costume and accent changes, some more jazz, and a triggering tune on the radio before the truth can set Frankie, and the audience, free.”

Duane Byrge, Hollywood Reporter: “Both clinically and dramatically, it’s an engaging titillation despite a somewhat flat last half-hour.”

Jan 11

Sidney Freedman, “M*A*S*H” Psychiatrist

Ladies and Gentlemen, take my advice. Pull down your pants, and slide on the ice. Psychiatrist Dr. Sidney Freedman, M*A*S*H

President Obama announced last week that services for wounded warriors (including mental health programs) and military families are top priorities.

What about the availability of mental health services during the war? Have those serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan received adequate mental health services while there? Unfortunately, indications (both anecdotally and from various official reports I’ve found online) are that such services have been deficient.

Dr. Sidney Freedman (Allan Arbus) was the psychiatrist who paid regular visits to the Army hospital unit of M*A*S*H (1972-1983), the comedy/drama TV series that was set during the Korean War of the 1950’s.

His first visit to the setting, according to a fan page, was related to Klinger.

[Klinger] was aiming for a discharge (as always). After Freedman had finished the report, he quietly took Klinger in for an interview and told him that while he is obviously not mentally ill, Freedman was willing to declare him transvestite and a homosexual. This label would not leave him, as he put it: ‘From now on, you go through life on high heels.’ Klinger vociferously denied it: ‘I ain’t any of those things! I’m just crazy!’ Klinger’s discharge was uniformly dropped and Freedman left the camp.

Although I’m a fan of Freedman’s wry sense of humor, progressive politics, and ability not to be fazed by things others may consider bizarre, I do need to point out that a schizophrenia joke written for this character has probably helped perpetuate the myth that schizophrenia consists of having multiple personalities. From the scene:

Sidney Freedman: I’d like to go on talking to you, Flagg, but with your schizophrenia I’d have to charge you double time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve already kept Jesus waiting five minutes.

On the other hand, if the “Jesus” who’s waiting for Freedman is someone who actually believes he’s Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior, that someone is (probably) delusional and hence might actually have schizophrenia.