10 Mind-Bending Films About Mental Illness And Trauma

Unfortunately, mental illness is still a taboo subject. In addition, people often don’t want the stigma that comes with those two words. When it comes to psychological trauma, the brain has its ways to protect us from it. Having said that, the human brain is pretty complex. Actually, we don’t always process traumatic events when we experience them. In many ways, trauma is like a poison that takes a while to act. As a matter of fact, it might take years for one to “digest” what has happened. And another couple of years to overcome it.

Is this conversation getting too sad? Well… the following films are kind of depressing, but they are also beautiful. I guess there’s a certain beauty in sadness? By the way, every trauma is unique and there are different coping mechanisms. Repressing painful memories is one of them. You know, sometimes when your brain doesn’t want to deal with something: it erases it. Actually, it locks all the unwanted stuff into a little box and sends it far away. Anyhow, even if you not in the mood for sad stories, you should give these films a try.

PS: If you don’t want spoilers, then stop reading the post.

10 Great Films About Trauma and Mental Illness

#1 – Shutter Island (2010)

A US Marshall goes to a mental asylum to investigate the disappearance of a murderer.

SPOILER: There’s no murderer, the main character fabricated everything is his mind. Teddy’s wife was clinically depressed, which led her to kill their three children. As an act of mercy and anger, Teddy ended his wife’s life. The whole “investigation” was his way of coping with the trauma of losing his wife and children.

#2 – The Butterfly Effect (2004)

Evan is a young man that experiences blackouts on a regular basis.

SPOILER: There’s nothing wrong with Evan’s brain. The blackouts were a coping mechanism for “unwanted memories”. During his childhood, he was a victim of sexual abuse. His two best childhood friends’ father was a sexual predator. He used to forced the three to star in his “personal” videos.

#3 – A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003)

Two young girls return home to their father and sinister stepmother.

SPOILER: The younger sister is dead. The creepy stepmother is not real. Actually, she is but she didn’t do the things that we’ve seen up until the twist. The main character was having a hard time accepting her sister’s death. Deep down, she partially felt guilty for her death. Therefore, she created this elaborate fantasy, where she paints her stepmother as the villain and herself as the hero.

#4 – Mysterious Skin (2004)

Two boys grow up to live very different lives after one fateful summer.

SPOILER: The alien abduction never happened. That was Brian’s way of dealing with some of his repressed memories. The coach molested both Neil and Brian. However, they both viewed the abuse differently. Neil interpreted it as love, whereas Brian created an abduction fantasy to repress his feelings.

#5 – Sucker Punch (2011)

The main character “Baby Doll” and other four friends try to escape from the mental asylum.

SPOILER: The ending is open to interpretation. The fighting sequences were all part of Baby Doll’s escape fantasy. In the end, the “hero” fails to escape. She ends up getting a lobotomy. It’s sad, but if you think about it, Baby Doll got what she wanted. She did escape, her mind is somewhere else — a place where she can no longer feel pain.

#6 – The Life Of Pi (2012)

A young man is the sole survivor of a shipwreck. While cast away, he finds a Bengali tiger on the boat.

SPOILER: Richard Parker wasn’t real. The Bengali tiger was Pi’s alter ego. For instance, when we see the zebra being taking down by the hyena, it’s actually the cook killing the soldier. The same goes for the orangutan. “Orange Juice” represents Pi’s mother. Having said that, Pi is the one who ends up killing the cook.

#7 – Enemy (2013)

A college professor becomes obsessed with his look-alike after spotting him in a film.

SPOILER: There was never a “twin”. Adam Bell and Anthony Claire are the same person. The main character created these two personas to justify his cheating behaviour. In addition, the two men have very different lives. For instance, Adam has a girlfriend, whereas Anthony has a wife. The pregnant woman is real and she’s the main character’s wife. Having said that, the girlfriend is the “mistress”.

#8 – Black Swan (2010)

Nina is a devoted ballet dancer. Her obsession and mental health worsens as she gets closer to her “Swan Lake” debut.

SPOILER: There’s no one trying to sabotage Nina, it’s all part of her hallucinations. Her obsession with perfection has manifested into a darker version of herself. Actually, the scene where she stabs her doppelgänger is all in her mind.

#9 – Fight Club (1999)

An insomniac white-collar job worker and a “soap maker” form an underground fight club.

SPOILER: The narrator and “Tyler Durden” are the same person. Having said that, Tyler is an alter ego. He’s everything that the narrator wishes to be: charismatic and free of any social conventions. That also explains why Marla and Tyler were never in the same room, expect when they were having sex.

#10 – The Machinist (2004)

An insomniac factory worker becomes obsessed by a co-worker that no one can see.

SPOILER: Ivan is not real. About an year ago, Trevor ran over and killed a boy. However, he did not report his crime making it a “hit and run” case. Eventually, he became consumed by guilt. He developed insomnia, hence his emaciated look.

As you can see, there’s a handful of films that deals with trauma and how people overcome it (or not). Nonetheless, these type of films should never cease to exist. Art is not about displaying what’s beautiful, but showing the ugly in a beautiful way as well.