Mentally ill don’t exist for your thrills

Beth Wall, Examiner Editor

Warning: this piece spoils the ending to quite a few classic films. However, should you stick with me throughout these 700 words, and you have yet to witness the mentioned films, you will not feel inclined to do so.

Recently, big-time bad-movie director M. Night Shyamalan released Split, a film about a young man (James McAvoy) suffering from a severe case of Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder). Or, I should say, other people (strangers) suffering from said man’s struggle with Dissociative Identity Disorder.

To be completely upfront, I have not, and likely will not, spend money on a ticket to actually see Split. But in my opinion, the trailer alone is enough material to indict the film. The content featured in a trailer is the content that lures moviegoers into the theaters. And a film whose attraction and box office numbers are hitched on the exploitation of the obscured and “disturbed” minds of those who suffer from D.I.D. is nothing less than careless and insensitive.

What films like this accomplish is the convincing of their audiences that its mentally ill subjects are not, in fact, real, autonomous individuals. Mentally ill persons are naught but dangerous props, and killing machines. James McAvoy is a looming “beast”, planted on this Earth to terrorize complete strangers (you!) to whom he previously had no attachment, and who he had no apparent drive to terrorize.

One of the most iconic movies in all of cinematic history, in fact, is one of the more blatant examples of this dehumanization. Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho depicts another man plagued with an illness resembling D.I.D., among a bouquet of other vaguely disordered behaviors. He, too, (spoiler) is a vicious killer, and in a mechanical way, feels zero remorse for his seemingly random victims.

Call the directing phenomenal, call it “scary”. But do not deign to call the depiction of mental illness “accurate,” or humanizing in any way. Norman Bates’s chilling, demonic stare in the final moments of the film are enough to prove so.

(Not to mention, the very title is comprised of a term which has continuously been used against the mentally ill community.)

How about Fight Club? A film where the central character (Edward Norton) is disturbed by his exceedingly violent roommate. In the end, this fiend turns out to be *thun, thun, thun* the central character himself.

A.K.A., the main character is *thun, thun thun* mentally ill.

Edward Norton is just as surprised as the rest of us, especially since not once was he actually afflicted by his mental torment.

Shutter Island? More like, island swamped in “mentally ill” patients who have no troubles other than trying to scare their audience.

And the central character? Not often does he actually have to wrestle with his mental illness, other than in the very last moments when it is revealed that he is *thun, thun, thun* mentally ill.

It seems that the most prominent portrayals of mental illness in Hollywood are that of predatory creeps,  servants of chaos, and indiscriminate killers.

Contrary to this portrayal, the Institute of Medicine, in 2006, reported that “Although studies suggest a link between mental illnesses and violence, the contribution of people with mental illnesses to overall rates of violence is small, and further, the magnitude of the relationship is greatly exaggerated in the minds of the general population.”

Many are (implicitly or not) under the impression that mental illness is universally dangerous to everyone surrounding the mentally ill. In fact, the opposite is true.

One 2003 article from the World Psychiatric Association said, “High rates of victimization among the mentally ill have been noted, although this often goes unnoticed by clinicians and undocumented in the clinical record” (Stuart). Not to mention, serious mental illnesses often land patients in places that are more prone to high rates of violence (including, but not limited to: lower-income neighborhoods, prison).

Mental illness is more than likely to expose an individual to violence, and this issue is in no way remedied by the continued belief that the ill, themselves, are inherently a danger to the public, and in some way, less human than any other recipient of security.

I beg you not to waste your time fueling the budget of films that, though they be thrilling, dehumanize the mentally ill, and/or exploit mental illness as a punchline. Instead, seek films that aim to portray nothing but accuracy, films that have been applauded by the mentally ill, films that have been created by the mentally ill. They’re out there. And here’s a hint: they’re probably not in the “horror” genre.