Family and Caregiver Schizophrenia Discussion Forum

The movie, "Words on Bathroom Walls"

One of the things my daughter loves is watching movies. We recently began going to them again, especially as the movie theaters are mostly empty, and so social distancing is very easy in our town. We saw this movie and both of us enjoyed it. The main character portrays a teen boy with schizophrenia and I think does an excellent acting job. I thought perhaps it would upset her, especially the hospital scenes, but she said it was “excellent” and had no other comments afterwards.

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I remember going to movies mainly alone in recovery, and it makes perfect sense to me that she would enjoy such a movie. One of the things you are painfully aware of when you have SZ or other SMI is that there’s no one like you depicted on screen and most movies touching on mental illness are hopelessly outdated in their depictions of hospitals, treatment, etc. They are all seemingly stuck in the fifties and sixties like One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Girl Interrupted, A Beautiful Mind and Shutter Island. There are a few that are a bit more modern, but hospital stays are shorter now and don’t get much screen time as a result. I often feel filmmakers shy away from the subject, because they are worried about getting something wrong or offending people.

So I tended toward fantasy and romance movies which I could bend toward allegories for my illness. I remember watching Edward Scissorhands for a second time and shushing a couple who were laughing at parts I took all too seriously, or the time my brother and I left an otherwise empty theater where we watched the first X-Men movie, and mused about being “mutants”. I’ll see if I can find the movie. I was trying to think of the last time I saw a movie in the theater the other day and had trouble remembering.

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Hi @Maggotbrane. Thanks for your answer.

I would not otherwise go to theaters except that movie watching is so enjoyable to my daughter. It is a left over favorite activity from her childhood. I don’t think that she would go alone. (Instead she would watch TV alone in her room, which is her second favorite activity from girlhood.) For her young adult years, she stopped watching TV and films, but the illness, when it began in 2016, at age 32, made her start watching TV and films again. I like to go to shows with her as I don’t have to worry about conversation that might upset her, and we get to spend a few hours together. She still doesn’t tell anyone she has a mental illness, but has been told by her psychiatrist that she has schizophrenia and/or bipolar a few times in the past. She never discusses her illness with me, only rarely mentions the hospital.

She also likes fantasy and romance, as you did. Do you watch on TV anymore if you don’t go to the theater?

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I watch mainly reality TV and YouTube nowadays. Mostly veterinary and animal shows, as one of my dogs has been an avid TV watcher for years. Along with competition and project-based reality TV like Project Runway, Mythbusters and Junkyard wars-- things like that.

And when I have time, I binge high-involvement dramas like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and so on. I mainly go to the movie theater for event movies like Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and Disney fare. My best guess is the last film I saw in the theater was Cats. It was both as bad and not as bad as I imagined it would be. Or maybe it was the last Star Wars film- with a similar reaction.

I’m interested in the evolution of the depiction of mental illness in movies and TV, and have a collection of DVDs of related shows and movies that I buy mostly from Goodwill. Many of these date back to my early recovery days and prodrome.

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I saw the movie yesterday. I was the only person in the theater. Seemed like I was back in my early recovery days. While it was well cast and acted, I had some quibbles with the script and depictions.

Here’s my lengthy detailed thoughts and critical review. I’ve tried not to spoil the plot, but some of it may slip out below.

Good things:

There was pushback on and reversals of mental illness movie troupes, especially the “Love cures everything, even Schizophrenia” troupe. They settled for a “well it couldn’t hurt” conclusion which while an improvement, could use qualification. I‘m a fan of Alan Ball who wrote American Beauty and Six Feet Under and other movies and TV series. He has a philosophy of depicting both the “good” and the bad of drug use as it’s more realistic. Sometimes things aren’t so bad or even “positive”, many times they aren’t. There’s some of this relating to SMI in the movie, but as far as the romance goes, it’s still painted an overly rosy picture even if it wasn’t a “cure”.

There’s a scene where the protagonist apologizes to and thanks his caregivers his for mistakes and sacrifices they’ve made which rang very true to me. I had a few scenes like that with my parents that we don’t talk about much, but needed to be said. There are scenes where too much expressed emotion by other characters set off symptoms in the protagonist which rang true too, and a scene where a public reveal of his illness is met with silence. I’ve experienced this unexpectedly several times and I believe it is the norm rather than the exception. People are too uncomfortable because of stigma to react or say anything or ask questions except in private.

I liked that the psychiatrist scenes were played as point of view with the camera/audience as the psychiatrist and the psychiatrist didn’t speak. That’s how it feels much of the time. Psychiatrists often don’t say much except at the beginning and end of sessions. It reminded me of the therapist scenes of early Woody Allen movies, more like stand up than anything else. There were many reverences to movies, some overt, some less so. There was a fight scene that seemed a reference to Ordinary People. A few horror references: Rosemaries’ Baby and Carrie possibly. Overt references to Good Will Hunting and Never Been Kissed which jibe with a shared resonance with romance films previous my mentioned.

I particularly liked the “confession” interactions with the priest played by Andy Garcia. It took me a long time to recognize him under his beard. To me it was a little odd, as his accent made me think he sounded like a converted Jew or maybe a younger Robert De Niro. The role reminded me of my early interactions with my psychologist. Seemed very much a non directed approach, and underlined the value of talk therapy in some cases.

I liked how it showed the protagonist going to school and in other situations seeming either calm, distracted or not “present” while unseen chaos went on around him, and only when things really got bad did they show it bubbling into action in the real world. It is indeed possible to cope like that, I did it for years. It just doesn’t get depicted much. I like that the protagonist was able to stay off medication without detection for so long. This is more realistic than most caregivers know.

I like that they used a Beach Boy song at a pivotal moment in the soundtrack. Brian Wilson has Schizoaffective disorder for those unaware.

Exposition about his symptoms going away while he was cooking rang true, but I feel it wasn’t acted out much at all. There’s a screenwriter’s axiom: show don’t tell. And the movie violated this and missed an opportunity to show that occupation either vocational or otherwise can distract from symptoms and help people cope.

Not so good things:

I felt much of the depicted stigma was often blatant and some of it of questionable legality. Real world stigma is less overt, the term ‘velvet racism’ comes to mind. On the plus side I think the movie covered self-stigmitizing well, although the point of the depicted words on the bathroom wall might be missed by some. I think HIPPAA and ADA protections were completely ignored. I suppose the protagonist wasn’t an adult yet, but much of these protections were ignored to serve the plot. There were other contrivences to serve the plot and some were predictable. No more than a typical romance, but I found them annoying.

The protagonist’s exit from the hospital wasn’t believable and I felt showing the restraints could have been omitted in light of that. I felt the hospital scenes were protrayed in an overly negative light, from the food to the patients in the background, although I think they may have hired some SMI extras which if true was a nice gesture.

I felt the visual representation of hallucinations was over-the-top and not particularly believable or consistent. I understand movies are a visual medium, but photorealistic visions are not common or persistent and the way they represented them fading was not consistent. I feel the movie didn’t do enough to show these as stylistic and not represtational, and not drive home visual hallucinations were rare. On the plus side, I thought the sound design wasn’t bad and the commanding voice when things were really serious was believable. The choice of visually representing ‘voices’ might lead to confusion with DID diagnoses. I deal with enough of this as it is, and it’s difficult for people to understand the distinction.

The caregiver mom was a bit too much of a super mom for my tastes, and the frustration and difficulties didn’t show through. I thought her book collection seemed a bit weak, I would have liked to see Dr Torrey’s book and Dr Amador’s too in addition to Schizophrenia for Dummies (not a bad book, but a bit on the nose). The Starry Night dance seemed gratuitous to me. My understanding is Van Gogh’s presumed diagnosis is not at all definitive. Didn’t like the portrayal of the experimental drug’s side effects. They weren’t clearly represented or consistent and felt gimmicky. If the protagonist had TD tremors there should have been added medication to counteract it.

All this said, I did like the movie and would recommend it, none of the movies about SMI can be perfect and my experience was exceptional and might not align with other people’s.

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I enjoyed this SZ movie…

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Welcome back, @GSSP. I’ve missed your posts and photos.

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Never did watch that movie… Joker…

Now Regal cinemas are closed down again… I understand why, half the time my daughter and I went we were the only ones in the theater.

How are you doing? GSSP?

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Enjoying life to the fullest…

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That made me smile. I don’t know that I have ever “enjoyed life to the fullest”. I wonder what that would mean to me.

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