Film can do many things. It can entertain us, make us laugh and make us cry. It can make us think and feel, keep us awake at night or send us to sleep. It's often easy to get lost in the fantasy worlds, the adventure and the excitement of a two-hour thrill ride where things blow up and stuff. Film can also be a great way to convey emotion and feeling from a real-life perspective. A lot of people watch movies to escape from the real world, but sometimes we find ourselves getting lost in all too familiar scenarios.
#Depression affects more than 15 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older any given year. Here are some of the best films that represented this disorder:
4. 'Kotoko' (2011)
"I must stay alert, otherwise I could die."
Kotoko, by Shinya Tsukamoto, became the first Japanese film to win the Best Film award in the Orizzonti section of the Venice International Film Festival. It follows a single mother whose day-to-day life initially seems somewhat mundane as she stays relatively shut-off from the outside world. As we progress, we learn through her narration that she deals with double vision and schizophrenia that often leads to self harm. A lot of which was inspired by actual experiences of star and singer Cocco.
The camera work is shaky and dizzy, zooming in and out, reflective of Kotoko's visions and the chaos that they cause her, as we watch her try to deal with her condition as well as keep her baby safe. It's heartbreaking to say the least. At one point she asks, “I wonder what other mothers would do?”
There are moments of innocence and happiness while Kotoko is surrounded by the few members of her family that she still sees, whom she has to travel to visit. The majority of the film is spent just with her and this feeling of isolation. She also meets an award-winning novelist (Shinya Tsukamoto) and the two develop a volatile relationship that I won't say anymore about.
Sound design is used effectively as ordinary sounds fade out and the sounds of traffic, crying babies and jackhammers overwhelm everything — all while Kotoko's narration is almost drowned out by the sounds of the city.
#Kotoko is difficult to watch at times, but is powerful in conveying just how terrifying Kotoko's mental space is as we desperately want her to overcome it all.
3. 'Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter' (2014)
"Solitude? It's just fancy loneliness."
By David Zellner, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is based on the urban legend surrounding the death of Takako Konishi, who was reported to have died while searching for the ransom of money buried by Steve Buscemi's character in 1996's Fargo. In actuality, Konishi committed suicide.
This film imagines what would've played out if it had actually gone down like that. Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim) plays Kumiko, a 29-year-old office worker who lives in complete isolation in Tokyo. She works a dead-end job under a boss that she hates, is intimidated by her well-off peers and is constantly nagged by her mother to find a husband and start a life. The only joy she has is her pet rabbit, Bunzo.
She finds a VHS copy of Fargo in a secluded cave (not sure how it got there) and upon watching the tape, she mistakes it for a true story. Helped in no way by the "this is a true story" message that pops up at the start, Kumiko obsesses over the aforementioned scene and begins taking notes. Seeing it as an escape and a way to give her life any sort of meaning, she abandons Bunzo and sets off on a journey to Minnesota using her boss's company card in search for the purported fortune.
Upon arrival, she finds herself unprepared for the blizzards and harsh weathers while also struggling to grasp the English language and lacking funds when the credit card is cancelled. The most heartbreaking thing about this film is her desperation for this to be true regardless of being told otherwise. Kumiko has nothing and has convinced herself of this delusion because she needs this, she needs it to be true. It's all she has to live for, her only tiny piece of potential happiness.
Some of the visuals during the latter half of the film are quite stunning as Kumiko wears something she fashioned out of a very colorful bed sheet against the pure, white snowy backgrounds of #Fargo. The closing minutes are beautiful and will leave you in a state of both joy and sadness.
2. 'The Babadook' (2014)
"You can't get rid of the Babadook."
Australian film The Babadook by first-time director Jennifer Kent takes the ideas behind grief and presents them in a #horror film. The titular monster acts as a metaphor for what widowed mother Amelia Vanek (Essie Davis) is going through after having lost her husband before her now six-year-old son was born. As a neighbor of hers says, "This time of the year is hard for her."
#TheBabadook is still a horror with all the classic elements — there's the creaky doors, the bumps in the night, the shadowy figures and the creepy kid that can see things. Below the surface though, there is something far more terrifying. Amelia has trouble sleeping and performing basic tasks, she has a son who is viewed by other parents as a problem child and she often blames his behavior for her problems. Plus, there's the idea of Mister Babadook, who comes from a pop-up story book, which reads, in part:
I'll wager with you
I'll make you a bet
The more you deny
The stronger I get
These words are shown with images of the creature as a sort of spirit, looming behind its victim and changing their behavior. Another line in the book reads "You start to change / When I get in." This all seems to be quite a clear description of depression, or really of any mental health issue that somebody may face (in this case, possibly Seasonal Affective Disorder). If you continue to deny what you are feeling, it will only take a tighter hold until we're told "You can't get rid of the Babadook." Again, this alludes to the idea that depression isn't something that you just get over. Amelia indeed cannot get rid of the Babadook; it always lingers and all she can do is contain it — keep it under control.
The Babadook is a superbly put-together chill fest that deals with a real-life issue and goes a lot deeper than most films of the genre.
1. 'Melancholia' (2011)
"I know things. And when I say we're alone, we're alone. Life is only on Earth, and not for long."
This film. This damn film. Melancholia is from the prolific Lars von Trier (the director of Nymphomaniac) and the second film in the director's unofficially titled "Depression Trilogy," preceded by Antichrist and followed by Nymphomaniac. Lars von Trier has made a career out of deep stories and controversial subjects, and this — his visual representation of depression and inspired by his own — affected me in a way that few films can. #Melancholia is a film that I loved but don't ever wish to watch again.
We follow Justine (Kirsten Dunst) on her wedding night as she struggles to mask her underlying melancholy from her guests and her new husband. Her mother is cruel and unsupportive and her boss is a selfish, money-hungry man who is persistently trying to get her to think of a tagline for an ad during her special day. The situations become worse, as does Justine's condition while we watch her become almost zombie-like as her state of mind completely deteriorates. Her complete calmness in the face of the apocalypse is chilling as she utters "The Earth is evil. We don't need to grieve for it."
Yes, the apocalypse. As we watch everything with Justine unfold, a new planet is discovered passing through the solar system, threatening to collide with Earth and destroy it — causing the end of the world. This acts as a backdrop to the film and a sort of metaphor for Justine's depression and how she feels. Like The Babadook, depression is represented symbolically (in this case, by a rogue planet). The result of this situation is revealed at the start of the film, a decision that von Trier made so that the audience wouldn't be distracted by the anticipation of what could be, and just focus on what is, and what will be.
The film uses a repeated portion of music from the prelude to Richard Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde (1857–1859). Paired with some of the almost surreal visuals, the music feels hugely tragic and very eerie — scary, even.
The ending left me staring at the screen for about five minutes after the closing sequence, speechless. Like I said, Melancholia is fantastic and I loved it, but I have never felt more down during a film in my life (it's in the title, really). I'll likely never watch it again but it will be imprinted in my memory as a sort of cinema scar that'll likely never fade.
What are some other films dealing with this subject? Let us know!