After I watched Helen tonight, it occurred to me that there are only very few films that deal solely with depression.
“Depression is a common mental disorder that presents with depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, and poor concentration. These problems can become chronic or recurrent and lead to substantial impairments in an individual’s ability to take care of his or her everyday responsibilities. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide, a tragic fatality associated with the loss of about 850 000 lives every year. […]
Depression is common, affecting about 121 million people worldwide.” (WHO)
So what are the reasons that there are in fact very few films dealing solely with issues of depression? Is it too difficult to portrait (maybe because it’s a condition characterised by inactivity)? Or is the subject of depression still too much of a taboo in general?
There are plenty of films dealing with various forms of alcohol/drug-related disorders, psychotic disorders, dementia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, borderline, self-injuring, suicide, anorexia, autism, social phobia, paranoia, pedophilia, sexual masochism/sadism, etc. but very few about depression per se.
What are some other films that you know of (excluding the Comedy genre – so no Garden State or Royal Tenenbaums please)?
- Helen (2009)
- Prozac Nation (2001)
This also may not be what you’re looking for, but I (and others) find Antichrist to be one of the most interesting expressions of depression ever filmed.
Bob has gone into great detail about this but the short version is this: if Christ is joy, then depression is its absence, and certainly this is a joyless film. The marriage is wrong, their parenting is wrong, their sex life is wrong, their vacation is wrong, nature is wrong—it is the absence of good in life. Chaos reigns.
Polarizing film, I’m aware, but I think often for the wrong reasons.
In my opinion, the best is Louis Malle’s Le Feu Follet. I have written extensively about it on this site.
Another that comes instantly to mind is ’Night Mother, adapted from Marsha Normans play. And Rossen’s Lillith.
I suffer from bouts of depression myself and Antichrist was a revelation for me . It’s difficult to elaborate such my feelings about the film as I feel that I connect with the film on a personal level. von Trier himself suffers from bouts of depression himself, severe enough that he has to be hospitalized. The film is not a vision created from a mad man but one from one that is very depressed.
I’ve asked myself if I were to make a film in this state if it would it look like Antichrist, filled with primordial fears and scenes of utter desperation. I think the answer is yes.
I cannot criticize von Trier for creating something about his own issues and problems when I myself understand where he is coming from.
I was thinking of Le Feu Follet, but the trouble with this subject is that it’s not very sexy, can obviously be a downer. If handled seriously we can be brought to empathise closely and share some of the protagonist’s feelings; and if handled otherwise for more diverting effect, well it wouldn’t be very credible i expect. Maybe a Woody Allen turn? So little wonder it’s less common in films than various other mental health problems
Interesting take by Ben on Antichrist
There’s not a whole lot that instantly springs to mind…
I remember seeing a doc a few years ago called A Summer In The Cage which was an excellent document of a seriously depressed individual.
José Luis Torres Leiva’s The Sky, The Earth and The Rain also deals with severe depression, and is quite a film (At least I thought so).
I’ve wondered much the same thing, Grey. I’d be interested to see Helen.
Ben, your post is very similar to the way I feel about Antichrist and the reasons I connected with it.
It’s quite painful to have the realization that at 2:00 you cannot sleep because you are suffering from a bout of depression and the only phrase that sums up your life at the moment is “Chaos Reigns”.
I didn’t laugh at the scene with the fox because it isn’t funny.
the razor’s edge
the night of the iguana
under the volcano
winter light was a act of therapeutic projection on the part of bergman ,the gradual erosion of his faith ,and a forced reconciliation with his estranged parents made him speculate on an alternative present where he had followed his father into the clergy.the depression suffered by the pastor reflected the indeterminate mental state bergman found himself in at this time. separation by jane arden ,is another film which draws on the writers own conflicted past and present as a source of depression .
But actual depression is not the one which has no apparent cause or at least very “banal” ones?
I wonder if there is a film which depicts this state of mind. We know for certain the cause in Antichrist. The mentioned films belong to this kind?
Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet
I felt that Pierrot le fou dealt with depression in some levels, though not as well as Antichrist (which was a revelation for me also, glad I’m not the only one.). Ferdinand’s depression is what gets him in his situation, it propels his aimless wandering, his first attempt at suicide, and the only thing that really abets it is Marianne’s presence. Once she double-crosses him, he decides to finally end it, even though he changes his mind at the last moment. I felt a theme of depression throughout the film, maybe I’m just grasping at straws, though…
depression m is always rooted in the seemingly banal ,its the accumulation of those banalities along with a predisposition to mental illness that ferments all depression.sufferers from depression are stigmatized precisely because there appears to be little to no reason for their illness.
Antichrist deals with primordial fear as well as depression. Is it a coincidence that Dafoe has his genitals crushed and is then he is bound to a grindstone? People who suffer from depression often have anxiety issues as well. What primordial fear do men have? Castration and bondage. I can only imagine these are an expression of von Trier’s primordial fear as a man not all pierced body parts and crushed genitals.
And what of the ending? Women, faces blurred forgotten by time, climb a hill to confront He, the cause of thousands of years of opression.
It’s brutal and effective but the von Trier’s state of mind is difficult to explain unless you have been in such a state yourself.
If you were to make a film about yourself, your worst fears and how you saw the world in such a state would you not make a film similar to Antichrist?
jane arden the co director and writer not only of separation but also the more theoretical the other side of the underneath, had problems rooted in the realm of the abstract, that found physical expression in alcoholism. she committed suicide in her early 50s.
Depression is a pyschologists term, I prefer to use them term anguish. Sorry I cannot propose any recommendations at this moment, unless of course we were talking about the great depression.
godard ,who we must remember was briefly hospitalized by his farther,has always seemed to possess a manic intensity which has fueled his creativity.his aggression and paranoia towards his friends and associates show the dark side of that mania.
this thread has ground to a premature halt,must be a case of compassion fatigue
I don’t think that anyone has mentioned Red Desert yet. It may not have been what Antonioni intended, but Giuliana’s inconsolable instability seems to me to have the texture of clinical depression.
Not sure but:
Taste of Cherry
Rocco and His Brothers
Je T’aime, Je T’aime
Harold and Maude
The Royal Tenenbaums
how about Rosetta?
Harold and Maude
Hamlet and Wuthering Heights – depressed almost brooding Olivier
the documentary Boy Interrupted
and for that matter, the film Girl Interrupted
The seventh continent … Michael Haneke
This film made me feel sick, a really sad sad sad story man :(
Germany year zero (Rosselini) truly dark film.
Tokyo Story (Ozu) I don’t know if this film is considered to be depressing, but I have been very sad for years by this film, but It is a beautiful sadness, I am aware of more things while I am depressed. Happiness is overrated JA
The Fire Within (Malle) This film is the film of depression.
Land of Silence and Darkness (Herzog) I was depressed of how some people actually live, without any kind of language.
The Cove – A recent film here, I was sick and depressed when I saw the japanese killing those intelligent dolphins, It was like watching a Human slaughter.
Some films actually about DEPRESSION:
In a year with 13 Moons (Fassbinder)
About a transexual who has a life of depression but she has a terrible and sick need of love.
Winter Light (Bergman)
About a depressed priest who really lose his faith in God.
Depressed women in a dark landscape, yes there are causes, but they cannot exit this mania for their broken dreams.
Thanks for your thoughts and suggestions so far! I agree with Kenji, the trouble with this subject is that it’s not very sexy. I’ll admit, I still haven’t seen Le Feu Follet yet, but I will watch it soon. I thought Lillith was more about schizophrenia, but I’ll revisit that movie. Night Mother might fit although I wouldn’t characterize the role Sissi Spacek played was in state of severe depression. Thanks for mentioning A Summer in the Cage which is more about a bipolar (manic/depressive) person though. The character Hoffman plays in Love Liza is a good example of what I’m looking for (although the film has it’s comedic elements). The Sky, The Earth and The Rain looks interesting… gotta check it out.
Helen remains the only film I can think of which shows us an authentic portrait of a person’s battle with depression.
[SPOILER] What I liked about it was the fact that there’s no reason given in the film as to why the protagonist suddenly suffers from depression (because the cause often remains unknown). [/SPOILER]
One other film that comes to mind, which I forgot to mention earlier, might be Gus Van Sant’s Last Days.