Top 10 Greatest Movies About Mental Illness

Remember that movie when you choked over your popcorn and spilt the coke on your sleeve? The emotions must have been pretty overwhelming, I guess. But, then there is nothing to wonder about, because movies are meant to portray satirical truths, spiced with actions and laced with nose-dripping emotions! The world of movies is growing rapidly, even faster than many other industries that have benefited mankind. Not just a mode of entertainment, movies have even proved to be a source of inspiration time and again. Movies have been made on literally everything, ranging from the life and times of Mahatma Gandhi to the future of the world after it came to an end! However, one of the most exploited of the genres happens to be that of medical situations, which when spiced up with the emotions of great actors, work wonders in the box office. There have been movies on crippling illnesses, which conveyed a message how one can overcome the barriers and stand up in life. But with changing times, mental illnesses like amnesia, schizophrenia, dyslexia, anxiety and even depression have been well portrayed in movies, many of which have been recognised with a plethora of international awards. The impact of such illnesses on the life of the victim and the society have come a long way in gripping the emotions of the masses. Though choice varies from person to person, there are some great movies, which have not only portrayed some of the most prevalent of the mental illnesses, but have done so in the most artistic of ways!


1. A Beautiful Mind (2001)

A Beautiful Mind

This Oscar winning American biographical drama film, inspired by the novel by Sylvia Nasar revolves around the life of John Nash, a Noble Laureate in Economics, starring Russell Crowe, along with Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly, Paul Bettany and Christopher Plummer in supporting roles. “A Beautiful Mind” effectively portrays the life of a person living with paranoid schizophrenia who endures delusional episodes while painfully watching the loss and burden his condition brings on his wife and friends. Portrayed as a Mathematical genius, Nash suffers from auditory and visual hallucinations, paranoid ideations, delusional thinking, and a distorted perception of reality, which disrupts his relationship with his family, friends and colleagues, especially because he is perceived as being so smart and the bizarre behaviours he exhibits are so incongruent with the perceptions that others had of him. The well-built storyline combined with the mind blowing acting of Russell Crowe, makes this an all-time favourite for all movie fans.


2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Based upon the novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey, this American drama film directed by Milos Forman, starring Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, and William Redfield was the second to win all five major academy awards. Set in the backdrop of a mental asylum run by a steely, unyielding Nurse Mildred Ratched, who employs subtle humiliation, unpleasant medical treatments and a mind-numbing daily routine to suppress the patients, the movie suggests that there is a thin line between “normal” and “abnormal”, much of which is guided by fear. The protagonist, McMurphy, a recidivist anti-authoritarian criminal serving a short sentence on a prison farm for statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl, is transferred to a mental institution for evaluation. Though the movie is considered to highlight anti-social personality disorder, it is really very interesting to watch McMurphy socialise with the other patients and change the atmosphere of the asylum! He not only proves himself to be brave enough to stand up against the nurse, but also inspire the sanity in everybody. More than just a film, it gave voice, gave life, to a basic distrust of the way in which psychiatry was being used for society’s purposes, rather than the purposes of the people who had mental illness.


3. Fight Club (1999)

Fight club

David Fincher’s Fight Club is based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk, starring Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and Helena Bonham Carter. The movie places strong emphasis on the evils of modern consumerism, and adopts a “fight the system” attitude throughout. The film portrays how multiple personality dissociative disorder haunts the protagonist in his pursuit of happiness, a common man who is discontented with his white-collar job and goes through what is called a mid-life crisis. This insomniac office worker in search of a way to change his life crosses paths with a devil-may-care soap maker, Tyler Durden, played by Pitt and forms the fight club for those who want to brawl recreationally and soothe the sense of entrapment they feel. Violence is used as a metaphor for the conflict between a generation of young people and the value system of advertising. The free-spirited, impulsive and all-in-all a revolutionary character, which is just a figment of his mind, represents the urge for freedom in people trapped by the materialistic culture of modern society. One of the most controversial films of all time, Fight Club has since gained a strong cult popularity.


4. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The Silence of the Lambs

Directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Ted Levine, and Scott Glenn “The Silence of the Lambs” is based on Thomas Harris’ 1988 novel, featuring Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer. However, the entire story revolves around another psychotic criminal “Buffalo Bill”, desiring to be a woman, which is his motivation for the capture, imprisonment and murder of women. This psychological thriller is a showcase of the evils that can be caused by someone suffering from Antisocial Personality Disorder. Like most other people with this psychological disorder, Hannibal shows no remorse for hurting others, especially the people who gets in his way, and he is certainly fine with committing murder. He manipulates people to get what he wants and amuses himself by offending and toying around with others, displaying a common symptom of people with Antisocial Personality Disorder, a disregard for other people’s rights. Even Clarice is shown to have ugly childhood memories of fear and trauma, arising from the slaughter of lambs in her uncle’s farm, which are a perfect blend for the bonding between Lecter and her, as they work on the profile of Bill. All-in-all, Silence of the Lambs is a heart-racing thriller that has arguably one of the most interesting characters in cinema history, making it a must watch for movie lovers.


5. Shutter Island (2010)

Shutter Island

This Leonardo DiCaprio starrer psychological horror film by Martin Scorsese deals with the problems of psychogenic amnesia in U.S. Marshal Edward “Teddy” Daniels, an investigator of a psychiatric facility on the titular island. Based on Dennis Lehane’s 2003 novel “Shutter Island”, the movie describes the torture that Teddy’s mind suffers due to the organised crime and collective guilt in the mental asylum. Though a simple theme, it leaves an everlasting impact on the viewers, the way DiCaprio has done judgement to his role. His sudden retrograde autobiographical memory loss that stayed with him for years, made him make up an alternate world of his own, where he actually tries to fight the criminals for doing injustice to the mentally ill. However, the trance is broken by the explanation given by Dr. John Cawley, played by Ben Kingsley. The movie presents an exciting and intellectually interesting puzzle to the viewers, leaving them awed by the damages of the illness.


6. Psycho (1960)


Much need not be said when it comes to Alfred Hitchcock. Based on the novel by Robert Bloch and loosely inspired by the crimes of Wisconsin murderer and grave robber Ed Gein, “Psycho” is one of the greatest of Hitchcock’s creations. It gave a new direction to the way sexuality and violence used to be handled by American movies. This psychoanalytic thriller starred Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, a disturbed motel manager, Vera Miles, John Gavin, and Janet Leigh as Marion Crane, a secretary. The movie boasts of the one of the best scenes in the world of cinema – the murder of Leigh in the shower scene. Norman, who is shown to have murdered his mother and lover in the past, erased all memory of his crime under the veil of a split personality syndrome. Though the movie deals with multiple personality disorder, instances of amnesia have also been highlighted among the psychological character.


7. Memento (2000)


This psychological thriller by Christopher Nolan is another beautiful movie taking into account the way anterograde amnesia has been highlighted in Leonard Shelby, played by Guy Pearce, and the portrayal of the plot using a sequence of black and white and coloured scenes shown in reverse order. Leonard cannot store new explicit memories because of his disability, and so he develops a system for recollection of his activities using hand-written notes, tattoos on his body and Polaroid photos of incidents. He actually sets out to avenge the death of his wife, as suggested by the film, and commits a murder in the process. The film received critical appreciation because of its unique, nonlinear narrative structure and motifs of memory, perception, grief, self-deception, and revenge. Medical experts have even cites “Memento” as one of the most accurate and realistic description of amnesia in any movie, because of its portrayal of different memory systems and the neurobiological working of human memory.


8. Black Swan (2010)

Black Swan

The commendable acting and dance performances by Natalie Portman as Nina and Mila Kunis as Lily, in the production of “Swan Lake” ballet by a New York Company makes “Black Swan” a beautiful Hollywood creation by Darren Aronofsky. Presented in the form of a psychological horror-thriller, it deals with illness like Obsessive compulsive disorder, Schizophrenia, Dissociative disorder and Borderline personality disorder, which makes Nina lose her grip on reality and delve into a living nightmare. Nina, playing the role of Princess Odette – the White Swan, slowly loses her mind as she becomes more and more like Odile – the Black Swan. The family pressure and the behaviour of her friends makes her life equally eerie and interesting as she tries to cope up with her situations but fail miserably towards the end. The beautiful portrayal of ballet dance along with the graveness of Nina’s mental situation makes Natalie Portman well deserving of the Academy awards for the Best Actress.


9. The Butterfly Effect (2004)

The Butterfly Effect

Chaos Theory says that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world. This concept was exploited by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber in their psychological thriller “The Butterfly Effect”. Not just the mere portrayal of science fiction in the best of ways, but also the presence of Aston Kutcher and Amy Smart led the film to a great success in the box office. Evan Treborn, a 20-year-old college student, becomes a victim of paedophilia, which induced a variety of psychiatric disorders including memory loss. He finds it difficult to remember events of his life that are stress-oriented, which is why he maintains a journal of his own. The movie has however bestowed him with the supernatural ability to travel back into his past, as he reads through his journal, and make minor changes in his past that reflect into his present. The film won the Pegasus Audience Award at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival.


10. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Silver Linings Playbook

If you love the “good bad-guy” attitude of Bradley Cooper, then this is another movie that ought to be in your playlist. In this American romantic drama by David O. Russell, based on the novel The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick, Bradley Cooper, playing Pat Solitano, is a teacher suffering from bipolar disorder, who has just been released from a psychiatric hospital. The two most attractive traits that his character portrays are his determination to win back his estranged wife and the endeavour he puts in to make his life normal again. But he continues to suffer from episodes of agitated mood and depression which makes him socially intolerable by the people. Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Tiffany Maxwell, a young widow, is also shown to suffer from erratic mood disorders, which however helps the two of them to solve their issues and examine their relationships. Among the numerous accolades, the movie was nominated for the Academy Awards in eight categories, with Lawrence winning the Academy award for the Best Actress.


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