Before I lay out my criteria for what qualifies as a film for film therapy, I thought to preface the discussion with a short introduction of myself. I work as an adolescent counselor at a psychiatric hospital. Those entering our care are typically held on whats called a 5150 hold. The following means an adolescent was involuntarily detained because a qualified mental practitioner or a law enforcement officer assessed the adolescent as either a danger to themselves or others. Normally, a 5150 hold is only exercised in extreme cases when an adolescent had attempted suicide or was close to taking another person’s life. Needless to say, clients arriving at the hospital after their initial episode are understandably guarded about the issues leading up to their hospitalization. Thus, film therapy was implemented at our hospital as an alternate form of treatment when traditional talk therapy proves futile. Recently, my clinical director had approached me about leading film therapy.
From what I gathered from the rehab therapist whom normally conduct film therapy, they generally present films dealing with racial tension, domestic violence, and those living in low socioeconomic classes. After all, the purpose behind film therapy is to trigger the patient with the action on screen. From this observation, we as the treatment team can further understand the neuroses plaguing a given client and collaboratively with the client find a solution to their issue. However, I deviate with the program’s selection of films that receive the Hollywood treatment. Often these films gloss over the gritty details related to the aforementioned issues. Also the characters in these movies are generally presented as one dimensional characters when realistically its the gray area within one’s action we are most concerned with as clinicians and for the client’s personal exploration.
With that said, even though I have a personal love for highly technical films from directors such as Tarkovsky, Tarr, and Terayama—I am looking for film with a normal run time and a linear structure. Its important the film remains accessible to the client by having familiar elements one would find in a Hollywood film since limited exposure to cinematic language may prove to only frustrate the client’s attempt to follow and comprehend a given film. However, I do welcome foreign, animation, technicolor, black and white films which have their share of prejudice in our society but at least more digestible to the average moviegoer. Perhaps the trickiest part of finding a film though is finding one where the expletives and violence on screen are not misconstrued as gratuitous. Not to discourage possible controversial films, but I will have to argue about the questionable content to my clinical director.
What a fantastic topic, HaHaSound! Mubians, please reply! :)
How about One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest? That’s a really good one. There’s the Barbra Streisand one called The Prince of Tides which I’m not sure matches up to the previous title but is again involving psychologists. Or how about Robert Downey Jr. in Chaplin? Charlie Chaplin’s mother was put in a sanatorium and Chaplin himself grew up in poverty. Has anyone seen the Snake Pit? I haven’t, but isn’t that supposed to be a really good film about a psychiatric clinic. Then there’s Girl Interrupted with Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie which involves a sanatorium for young women with mental problems. If I can think of some more, I’ll try and see if I can post them later.
I’m glad you stipulate adolescent in your description. I once helped a friend (a professional psychiatrist, also) with a project much like this. He found that sometimes the more ‘Hollywood glossy’ the better, because a lot of the time those films presented heavy themes while still usually providing a glint of hope for things to get better. Plus, it allowed for so many of these kids to see things they never had and otherwise might not at all.
Chaplin works very well, City Lights and The Great Dictator especially. Martin Ritt’s Sounder should be heavily considered, as well as the favorite To Kill a Mockingbird because they both deal with racism and social problems but are shown from a child’s point of view. Further, find a good film version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for the same reason. There is a superior PBS entry, but it is very long. The musical version from the 1970s isn’t awful if you can get past the musical inserts – the themes of the great tale still come through, and it’s a handsome production.
And, while it may sound cliche and you may laugh if you wish, but his project proved that you shouldn’t discount Disney. While they may be treacly sweet, sometimes kids who have seen the worst of what life has to offer often want and even need that kind of a vision of goodness, be it real or fantastic. He used a bunch of old VHS copies of a lot of the lesser-known live action Disney films from the 60s and 70s all of which the video stores gave them to him because nobody was renting them. These were titles like Charlie and the Angel, Scandalous John, Pollyanna, The Littlest Horse Thieves … titles I don’t know if anyone at Disney even knows exist anymore. He said the kids ate them up. They also loved so many of the old Disney True-Life Adventures because many of them had never been out of cities and couldn’t believe how gorgeous the American wilderness shown in these films is. I always found that fascinating since we take so much of that for granted.
As Hal pointed out, there are films like Cuckoo’s Nest and Suddenly, Last Summer and the like which deal specifically with mental illness, but are adolescents – and especially those in the situations you mention – really going to comprehend the deep themes going on in these films, and then cleave on to them? Further, is it considered a positive and/or progressive move to show extraordinarily depressing films to kids already so low they’ve attempted suicide or homicide? I don’t know, and that is a genuine curiosity. My first thought would be otherwise. With that said, though, you can’t get better than Ordinary People.
I hope this helps.
I find HAL 9000’s suggestions laughable. Imagine a teenager being held against their will in a psychiatric ward and then you are showing them movies about how psychiatric wards are oppressive? Hahaha. And they are the crazy ones? Not only that but… set in the 1970/60s psych ward? Good luck getting people to open up after that trick! You’re not allowing the patient to have an unmediated experience. You wouldn’t really be listening. Why would anyone trust the caregivers after that display? How is the patient going to reflect and express their situation when you outright are showing them someone else’s interpretation? And what if these films carry with them not only an interpretation of the setting of the psych ward but also a political agenda. Seems a bit like salting the wound. I understand that film could act as a catalyst for conversation, which is the whole point of the proposed exercise, but it just seems a bit obtuse. Plus, the films are classics and are dated in the present context considering how much psych wards, mental healthcare, and society at large has changed.
The Holy Mountain… an essence of psychomagic.
This is difficult for many reasons, but especially because you are looking for something grittier, but a lot of the grittier stuff has nudity, excessive swearing or violence. How much of that can you show these kids, if any? Anyways, I suppose…
Do The Right Thing
Also thought of To Kill A Mockingbird, but noted that Chris already suggested it
Been a ling time since I’ve seen it, but maybe George Washington?The Pawnbroker (or are you trying to stick to color?)Bigger Than Life maybe?
I thought about Naked, but I’m guessing that is too much
When I first started reading this thread, I thought you were going to ask for suggestions that dealt with the repercussions of death since most of these kids were considering taking their own life or someone else’s. Chris suggested Ordinary People, and I might also suggest Rabbit Hole as perhaps a slightly more accessible, and not quite as depressing film. I’m sure there are lots of other examples of this, maybe The Door In The Floor
Can you give us some examples of a) what films they are already showing these kids, and b) some films that would fit your criteria of what you would like to show them?
This is really difficult. OK, I need to go to the “Funny Top 10” thread, to clear my head of all this ;)
Sounds interesting. Kitchen sink is what came to mind immediately – Sweet Sixteen, Fish Tank, All or Nothing etc. Sorry if I’m actually way off base or anything.
Frederick Wiseman’s documentary might be a good idea (High School or Juvenile Court). Or La Haine.
Good topic, Haha! I’m interested to see how it goes if you end up being able to show any of these!
Anyway, the one movie that I thought of was Shock Corridor, although, yeah, that might be kind of tough to watch if you’re in a mental institution against your will. But I think that’s my favorite movie that deals with bigotism, and it does it in a pretty blunt way with a linear (and even predictable) plotline that would be easily understood.
Maybe White Dog, too? I haven’t seen it, but it’s the same director and is about racism and doesn’t involve a mental institution as far as I know.
And then there’s always Remember the Titans! :P
Castaway on the moon.
If they’ve just been through a violent event, I would think that straight up beauty would work best to jar them out of it, even if only temporarily. Baraka or Koyaanisqatsi, though these obviously wouldn’t work for many, have a hypnotic quality which can draw people in and they have such pretty and international (interhuman) imagery that they can evince emotions without the shortfalls of a narrative features.
Animation—although, depending on their age and environment, it might be too “childish” for them—might also work and provide more structure with which to relate. The films of Shinkai ( 5 centimeters per second ) and Miyazaki ( Spirited Away ) are also both very beautiful, potentially able to distance the viewer from the situation at hand, while also having themes of loss and heartbreak (and, depending on the film, violence) which can possibly open up avenues for discussion without being too close to reality to reopen wounds before they’re healed.
I certainly don’t envy you, determining whether a person is self-aware enough (or in a state capable of self awareness to the extent) that they can watch something like City of God or Fish Tank or Terri and not only see their own situation but the hope within it (without identifying so much with the troubled individuals that they aspire to be them), determining whether they are in the state of mind to view something meant to empower (The Truman Show, Gridiron Gang, GATTACA, Warrior, Billy Elliot) without feeling that they are being patronized, showing them something which will not only help them through the situation, but will benefit them.
I hope I haven’t merely added to the white noise, but I wish you the best with the people you help.
@Mary I happen to find One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest an uplifting film. The Jack Nicholson character comes in there and livens the place up with such scenes as recreating the world series and other scenes such as the mute Native American talking later on in the film. It’s a liberating film where we see the Native American throw a water fountain through a window and leave the mental institution. I don’t know. I guess you’re right on that it reinforces negative stereotypes of doctors in a psychiatric ward, but I still think it’s not a bad movie to show. I find it to be a tear jerker. In The Prince of Tides, Nick Nolte falls in love with Barbra Streisand’s character and it’s not a great film, but it’s an interesting story involving romance and her character’s young son who he teaches football too, even though the son’s father wants him to play the violin. And then I said Chaplin which, I don’t think is as good as Chaplin’s own films, but it shows where he came from that I guess a young person might identify with. I see some Chaplin films being recommended and I would also recommend Modern Times and The Gold Rush. I’ve seen City Lights, but I haven’t seen the Great Dictator. (Have myself a copy of it, but haven’t watched the whole thing yet!) Girl Interrupted is a relatively new film and I think would be relatable to young woman based on the fact that young women are the characters that are focused on in the film. I have no idea what the Snake Pit is about, but I thought I have heard that the main character triumphs over her mental problems at the end. How about Ingmar Bergman? Summer With Monika is pretty good. Persona, Cries and Whispers, The Virgin Spring, The Shame, Through A Glass Darkly. I may have some more recommendations. If I do, I’ll be sure to list them.
Personally, I think The Snake Pit, like Shock Corridor is more likely to be viewed as quaint and campy than relevant and gritty.
I may be wrong, but I think part of Mary’s comment regarding “Cuckoo’s Nest” has to do with the pandering nature of showing a person in a certain situation their own situation, and the condescension of showing them such which also has been framed to offer a certain perspective.
I agree that the movie is good, but if you are being held against your will, and someone shows a movie about a person being held against their will, about how that person revolts and ultimately loses, it can easily feel like they are trying to relate (manipulatively) to you or trying to rub in your face your own predicament. I would guess that most people would not be mentally outside of their situation enough to view something like that. Now, granted, maybe after a rapport had been developed it might be screened as a means to further highlight the therapist-inpatient relationship as it currently exists versus how they might have felt it existed initially, and to show how improvement can come about, but before that point, I suspect she is right in thinking that it would upset more than help.
@A Smith I think you’re right and I think you make a good point. Thanks for the comment.
@Mary Sorry if some of my initial recommendations don’t seem the best at least initially to show to people in mental institutions.
I love One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest but it shows a dated mental health care system and shows treatment in a negative light. Another interesting point was that the movie was so popular and its perception of mental healthcare so one-sided that in the aftermath of the film it would lead eventually to many psych wards being defunded and subsequently closed. Resulting in an increase in the homeless population. Now you get to hear the homeless people muttering how they want to kill you while you wait in line at the 99 cent only store.
“Girl Interrupted is a relatively new film and I think would be relatable to young woman based on the fact that young women are the characters that are focused on in the film.”
Girl Interuppted is 13 years old (made in 1999) and is set in the 60s. I remember the 60s so vividly, like it was only yesterday. Sure I wasn’t alive then, and it was 50 years ago, but those were simpler times. You could also consider showing something like John Carpenter’s The Ward it was made in 2010 and is set in the 60s! Or how about Sucker Punch, it too was set in the 60s starring an all female cast! Then who can forget The Fire Within which was made in 63 and has such a happy ending. (Note the sarcasm).
If you are going for newer material I would suggest something like Little Miss Sunshine or It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Although, Funny Story is more about a sad teen who freely admits himself instead of a teen who is forced against their will and with dangerous intentions of self harm or to hurt others with more severe and immediate problems. So, its has weaker material but its a bit uplifting if not for being a movie suspect of white whine in an existential crisis that has seemingly simple self-help solutions. I will say that it does capture some of the current environment of what a psych ward is kind of like.
If your patients have a sense of humor you could show them Wristcutters: A Love Story its another good film that would probably appeal to younger audiences and might promote discussion. Plus Tom Waits is in it!
Honestly, a psych hold is not that long and is for 72 hours. They can probably hold a person for longer if they think that the person is getting worse. There is a lot of down time but most of the time is spent in group therapy and limited interaction with doctors, of course all of this depends on the facility and in what condition someone was admitted.
HAVE DREAMS, WILL TRAVEL discusses parental sexual assault and the long-term emotional/mental ramifications on the victim
From the OP: From what I gathered from the rehab therapist whom normally conduct film therapy, they generally present films dealing with racial tension, domestic violence, and those living in low socioeconomic classes. After all, the purpose behind film therapy is to trigger the patient with the action on screen.
This made me think of the film Once Were Warriors. I think this might be especially good if you’re dealing with Polynesian adolescents (although many of them might have seen this already). Still, I wouldn’t limit the recommendations to Polynesians. The film fits the bill, although it is quite intense and graphic, so I don’t know if you’ll be allowed to show this. I think the kids will respond to this. On the other hand, if the film is too intense or too close to home, is that such a good thing? Is it better to choose films with adolescent characters?
George Washington might be interesting, but I fear it might be too boring for them. I would have liked to have chosen Killer of Sheep, but I’m afraid that might be too boring as well.
I haven’t seen this movie, but what about Precious by Saffire? Isn’t it about a teenager who gets pregnant?
@Mary I think Little Miss Sunshine is a great selection.
There’s one called Raising Victor Vargas which I don’t know if I was personally too crazy about, but it might appeal to younger people.
The Wanderers meant a lot to me as a kid. might fit what you are looking for.
Precious was such a gritty and messed up movie. Its the kind of movie you see once and that’s it.
I think this is a good film to show teens, but I don’t think it fits the criteria (or objectives) of the OP. (But maybe I’m wrong about that.) Anyway, I really like that film, fwiw.
I don’t think Little Miss Sunshine is a great pick, especially if the adolescents have a lower-class background.
On the other hand, I think Precious would probably fit the bill. Maybe a better film would be Love and Diane, which is a documentary that covers very similar territory as Precious.
“I don’t think Little Miss Sunshine is a great pick, especially if the adolescents have a lower-class background.”
I don’t know how well off they are in the movie. Seemed like they all rode around in a dilapidated yellow bus and had to take care of their grandpa.
American History X
Boyz N The Hood
The Outsiders (1983)
This Boy’s Life
Dirty Harry- The way Callahan cures Scorpio is nothing but extraordinary, also we should admire the way he cures himself in the process by throwing his badge into the the cesspool. and I almost forgot how well he dealt with the case of the suicidal man ….
David and Lisa may be your best bet, especially since it deals with adolescents in a mental health facility. Your clients will easily identify with the plight of the title characters, and it has a somewhat upbeat ending.
You might find some good suggestions here .
I recently compiled a list of films for teenagers/young adults based on what the college students are watching but many of the films are non-linear. and may not fit your criteria.
How about… Where the Wild Things Are?
Good suggestion—that film facilitated a great conversation between me and my daughter.
Aside—Packard, you’ve always been a great contributor here and I have no idea why I wasn’t following you. In any case, remedied.
@ CHRISTOPHER SEPESY “…adolescents – and especially those in the situations you mention – really going to comprehend the deep themes going on in these films, and then cleave on to them?”
I have raised such questions myself during the film selection process as well. I’m conscious about how those entering our hospital setting likely never viewed any films that deviate from Hollywood’s fast pace style of editing. However, as it stands now, films like Forrest Gump, Finding Forester, and Gridiron Gang are not holding our client’s attention. Perhaps, we underestimate the clients’ ability to comprehend these deep themes and a shift towards gritty realistic films as opposed ones with american sentimentality may prove fruitful.
Right now, the rehab therapist at our hospital save discussion after the film completes. I intend to remedy the concern in regards to a polarizing filming style by guiding the patients through the process and make film therapy more discussion oriented. I plan to pause at important key scenes in order to ensure the clients are engaging well with the film, while attempting to integrate the values we stress at our hospital. Hopefully, this will not only prime them for other therapeutic options we have but film therapy actually becomes an outlet for reflection and healing.
@ CHRISTOPHER SEPESY “Further, is it considered a positive and/or progressive move to show extraordinarily depressing films to kids already so low they’ve attempted suicide or homicide?”
I feel the reason patients are seemingly detached from the film experience thus far has to do with the superficial connections the patient creates with the characters on screen. I have talked briefly about American sentimentality and as much as the client may desire closure in films where the protagonist are finally given an admission of love or reconciliation with a parental figure— I believe the patients are questioning subconsciously or consciously how realistic these endings are given the taxing circumstances. Thus, I find patients are in need of realistic films in order to identify their circumstances with since idealizing a perfect scenario has generally only served to disappoint. I will elaborate on this thought further as I respond to other posters, but I still want films that inspire hope. However, the solution in the film may not be the idealized solution the client may have dreamed of but a solution nonetheless…