As part of our series on mental health and wellness, Lexus Killingsworth highlights five films that explore different forms of healing.
Healing (n): to make well again; to restore health.
The process toward wellness is different for everybody. However, the string that connects everyone on their journeys is the need for healing, in ways big and small, and, oftentimes, the desire not to have this experience alone. I have selected a few films that engage the process of healing with the support of one or more people. While these films explore different methods of mutual support—specifically for those navigating mental health—they all share a common thread of portraying the benefits of having others by your side.
Adapted from Sapphire’s compelling 1989 novel, Push, director Lee Daniels’ Precious highlights the story of a 16-year-old African-American girl during the ’80s who suffers from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse at the hands of her parents. After becoming pregnant for the second time by her father, Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) is sent to an alternative school. In this space and with a newly formed community of classmates and her teacher, Precious is able to find solace from her home life and abusive mother. The process of healing begins for Precious as she is supported by these individuals through thoughtful listening and conversation.
Artist and filmmaker Cauleen Smith’s drylongso chronicles the life of a young African-American female photographer in college, Pica (Toby Smith), who is trying to balance the struggles of her dysfunctional family with school. For a class assignment to photograph a “dying breed,” Pica begins to document black men in her community—afraid they may become extinct due to the increase in gang violence. At the end of the assignment, Pica creates a pop-up gallery in an empty lot that features the photographs. In doing so, Pica is able to bring her community together not only to continue the conversation of violence against black men but also to bring about a sense healing for her community.
In the two-part television miniseries Sybil, directed by Daniel Petrie, Sybil Dorsett (Sally Field), a substitute teacher in New York, has a breakdown in front of her students and is subsequently fired. After receiving a neurological examination by Dr. Wilbur (Joanne Woodward), a licensed professional, Sybil is informed that she might have a form of hysteria. However, Dr. Wilbur realizes through a series of concerning events that Sybil is actually struggling from dissociative identity disorder (formerly and unofficially referred to as multiple personality disorder). Sybil is initially hesitant to seek professional help from Dr. Wilbur, citing religious reasons as to why she should not accept assistance. However, Sybil realizes that she does want help for her blackouts and breakdowns and cannot do so alone. Through nearly a decade of working with Dr. Wilbur to recover her repressed memories and, ultimately, uncover the root of her multiple personalities, Sybil is eventually able not only to meet her other personalities, but combine them so that she can function as one person rather than switching constantly.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
In Silver Linings Playbook, directed by David O. Russell, Patrick “Pat” Solitano (Bradley Cooper) has just moved back in with his parents after being released from a psychiatric hospital where he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In the process of trying to win back his estranged wife, Pat meets the recently widowed Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who convinces him to enter a dance competition with her. As they practice for the competition, their companionship helps to mend other rocky relationships within their lives as well as the recent heartache felt by both. Silver Linings Playbook is a quirky, at times cloyingly so, love story that nevertheless underscores the benefits of companionship in creating more caring environments for mental health and wellness.
Haneri, a short film directed by Rakhi Mutta focusing on the mental health of a Punjabi-Canadian family, explores the relationship between a young woman, Ruby (Kiran Rai), who struggles with depression and anxiety, and her family. Despite their limited knowledge of this illness, her family still tries to understand and navigate Ruby’s internal battles. Highlighting the voices of South Asian youth struggling with mental health—voices often left unheard—Haneri is a work of art that allows space for discussion, an opportunity for healing, and, ultimately, a sense of collectivity for people and their loved ones struggling with mental illness. Haneri is available to watch on YouTube.