Showing 191 - 200 of 372 annotations tagged with the keyword "Mental Illness"

Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

This film is biographical, based on the life of the actress Frances Farmer (1914-1970), who was briefly successful in Hollywood in the early 1940’s and was then institutionalized for mental illness. She was "cured" by a transorbital prefrontal lobotomy.

The film begins with Frances (Jessica Lange) winning a high school writing competition with an essay criticizing God. This outspoken intelligence characterizes her. As a young actress, she wins a trip to Russia in a competition run by a Communist newspaper, performs on Broadway, and ends up in Hollywood. Quickly, however, it becomes clear that her unconventional behavior and attitudes make her vulnerable to people, including her overbearing and vicariously ambitious mother (Kim Stanley), who demand that she conform to more passive forms of femininity.

When Frances is arrested for drunk driving, her mother puts her in a "convalescent home," where she is given insulin injections in the guise of "vitamins." She escapes and, deciding that the pressures of the film industry are causing her drinking problem, tells her mother that she won’t be returning to Hollywood. Her starstruck mother, appalled, has her committed.

After undergoing the closely filmed experiences of the strait jacket, the padded cell, and shock treatment, all in the frighteningly bedlam-like atmosphere of the asylum, Frances submits to psychiatric surgery. This is perhaps the most disturbing part of the film. She is lobotomized in front of an audience by a mallet-wielding surgeon who boasts he can do ten patients per hour because "lobotomy gets ’em home."

Sure enough, Frances is allowed to go home. The film ends several years later in 1958, when Frances Farmer really did appear on the television show, "This is Your Life." We watch the show through the eyes of Harry York (Sam Shepard), the journalist who has always loved her, and he goes to meet her afterwards.

She has been transformed: composed and seemingly serene, but fundamentally blank, she has become a chilling shadow of herself. Early on in the film, she refuses to cooperate with a psychotherapist, saying "I don’t want to be what you want to make me: dull, average, normal." By the end of the film she has been reduced to the hollow appearance of all these things--and is grateful for it.

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A Face at the Window

McFarland, Dennis

Last Updated: Aug-21-2006
Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Cookson Selway has had a problematic childhood (his mother dressed him as a girl and his father was a murderer) and a complex youth (after dealing cocaine and becoming an alcoholic, he went into the restaurant business, made a fortune and retired at thirty-nine). Now 44, he is settled into wealthy middle age, living in Massachusetts with his wife, Ellen, a mystery writer, and his teenage daughter, Jordan. When Jordan goes away to boarding school, Cook and Ellen move to London so that Ellen can research a new novel.

Cook, always unconventional, sometimes sees things no-one else can, and in England, his condition, whatever it is, becomes worse. He begins to believe that the Willerton, the old hotel he and Ellen stay in, is haunted. He encounters three "ghosts," a small boy, an adolescent girl, and a man about his own age who is always drunk and repulsively lascivious. He learns that, years before, a girl died after jumping or falling from an upstairs window. It is rumored that she had been sexually abused by her drunk uncle. The only other person who seems aware of the ghosts is Pascal, the French bellboy, who soon becomes Cook’s ally.

Cook begins acting increasingly strangely, and his wife and the people she befriends (in particular the Sho-pans, an elderly Chinese couple) are convinced that Cook has started drinking again or is having some kind of mental breakdown. The reader is never given a final explanation for what happens; the "ghosts" certainly seem to reenact events from the hotel’s history, but they are also deeply linked to Cook’s own obsessions. They are all, perhaps, aspects of himself. Both fascinated and horrified, he is unable to reject them, even as his obsession estranges his wife. Only when it causes the death of Pascal is he able to leave the hotel and, perhaps, the ghosts. The couple return to America, and tentatively begin to recover.

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Dialogues with Madwomen

Light, Allie

Last Updated: Aug-17-2006
Annotated by:
Dittrich, Lisa

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

This documentary presents a pastiche of illness narratives, the stories of seven women (including the filmmaker and the associate producer) who have struggled with mental illness, including depression, bipolar disorder, and multiple personality disorder. Intercut with the interviews are reenactments of key events in the women? lives; vivid depictions of sometimes frightening, sometimes exhilarating mental states experienced by the women; films and still photographs from the womens' childhoods, and archival film footage. In the process of exploring their illnesses and recoveries, the women discuss experiences that hurt them (rape, misdiagnoses, racism) as well as those that helped them heal (creativity, caring, therapists, and spirituality).

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Doctor Faustus

Mann, Thomas

Last Updated: Aug-17-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The full title of this novel is "Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn as Told by a Friend." Mann wrote it during the latter part of World War II when he was living in exile in the United States. The Faust character in this story is a German composer named Adrian Leverkühn (1885-1940), whose biography is recounted by his childhood friend, a schoolmaster named Serenus Zeitblom. Zeitblom presents the tale in his own voice--in essence, the novel is an extended reflection on the composer’s life (the past) set into the context of the deteriorating military situation in Germany (the present) as he is writing; i.e. the same period that Mann is actually writing the novel.

Adrian Leverkühn starts out as a student of theology, but succumbs to his passion for musical composition. His early pieces, though technically skillful, lack energy and imagination. However, all this changes when the young man experiences himself as having made a pact with the devil. In a confession written years later, Adrian recounts that he "voluntarily" contracted syphilis in an encounter with a prostitute, an episode that he believed was emblematic of this Faustian bargain.

In the confession he recreates his dialog with Satan, who promises the composer an artistic breakthrough, if he agrees to forego human love. As a result of the pact, Leverkühn sets off on a brilliant 24-year career, becoming the greatest German composer of his time. Throughout the novel Serenus intersperses technical details of Leverkühn’s many compositions, culminating with his masterwork, an oratorio called "The Lamentation of Doctor Faustus."

Adrian Leverkühn had been a self-centered youth who failed to reciprocate the friendship and devotion that others, especially Serenus, had lavished upon him. As an adult he leads an austere, solitary, monk-like life. Yet, while he lives only for his music, he also yearns for love. His personal life consists of a series of aborted relationships. Leverkühn becomes attracted to a female acquaintance and asks a friend to court her for him, only to learn that she has fallen in love with the friend.

Toward the end of his career, Adrian’s 5-year-old nephew comes to live with him in the country. The nephew ignites in him another spark of love, only to be snuffed out when the boy suddenly dies of meningitis. Finally, just as he is in the process of "unveiling" his great composition to a select group of friends, Leverkühn experiences a "stroke" and lapses into a coma from which he recovers physically, but not mentally. He survives for another decade in a demented, childlike state, and cared for by his mother.

The larger theme of this somber work relates to the decline of German culture during the decades before the onset of the Nazi era. Mann explores the collapse of traditional humanism and its replacement by a mixture of sophisticated nihilism and barbaric primitivism. In "The Story of a Novel" (1949),

Mann wrote that "Dr. Faustus" was about "the flight from the difficulties of a cultural crisis into the pact with the devil; the craving of a proud mind, threatened by sterility, for an unblocking of inhibitions at any cost; and the parallel between pernicious euphoria ending in collapse with the nationalistic frenzy of Fascism." In Zeitblum’s narrative comments, Mann subtly relates the composer’s personal tragedy to Germany’s destruction in the war. Mann also claimed a "secret identity" between himself, Leverkühn, and Zeitblom.

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Dancing with Elvis

Stephenson, Lynda

Last Updated: Aug-15-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Fifteen-year-old Frankilee's sense of justice leads her to conspire with her mother to kidnap Angelica Musseldorf from a home where there is every evidence she has been consistently beaten and abused. With reluctant cooperation from her father, they take the girl in, confront the parents, and install her in Frankilee's room for an indefinite stay. Angelica, who asks to be called Angel, is not only scarred, but needy--indeed, over time, demanding. As her parents shower her new roommate with attention, clothing, lessons, Frankilee struggles with her deepening resentments. She confides them to Wanita, the family cook, an African American whose long service to the family has given her a place of special affection.

When Wanita's son is killed in an accidental shooting, Wanita abandons the family for a time; she returns, sorrowful, but steady, to see Frankilee through her own trauma. Suspicions aroused, Frankilee decides to do some detective work with the help of a reluctant boyfriend, and discovers that Angel's "parents" are an aunt and uncle with a criminal record in fraud; they have staged abuse in order to situate their orphaned niece with unsuspecting families of means who will take on the expense of her upbringing and education. In her efforts to expose the fraud, Frankilee is attacked by the aunt who is, in fact, violent, but she survives with some stitches and a sobering sense of what it might mean to be both kind and discerning in offering help.

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Absence of Mercy

Stone, Robert

Last Updated: Aug-01-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Mackay’s story begins in the 1940s when, at age 5, he was sent to a "boarding school" run by the Catholic order of the Pauline Brothers. Mackay’s mother had herself been institutionalized for paranoid schizophrenia and his father was not in the picture. In the school Mackay was exposed to pervasive violence: "intramural" violence wherein the stronger children taunted and beat up the weaker ones; classroom violence in which the instructors slapped or beat with a razor strop those boys they deemed to be errant in any respect; organized boxing matches; and, most feared, "statutory evening punishment" where students had been selected out by a Brother to be humiliated and beaten after the evening meal and prayers. The latter violence was characterized by "the absence of mercy" and a sadistic ritualism that induced "sick-making terror" in its victims.

We follow Mackay through additional episodes of violence as he progresses through delinquent adolescence--now living in a welfare hotel with his mother--through a stint in the Navy, marriage and fatherhood, and, finally, to an episode in the New York City subway that is the crisis point of the story. In the Navy he is once again victimized by a drill instructor who humiliates Mackay into losing the "instinctive cringe" he had developed during his years at the institution.

Mackay reads in the newspaper that an old buddy--"they had suffered shame and pain together that could never be explained to anyone (38)"--has been murdered in the subway while coming to a woman’s aid. Mackay is terribly troubled by this incident, not only because of the earlier close relationship, but also because he finds himself intrigued by the story. A year later, Mackay is in a similar situation--in his presence, a well dressed but deranged man is threatening a woman in a subway station.

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Portrait of Dr. Gachet

Van Gogh, Vincent

Last Updated: Jul-28-2006
Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

Dr. Gachet looks beyond the viewer with melancholy gaze. His eyes, drooped with sadness, appear to search resignedly for something in the distance; his skin tone is sallow. He rests his head on one hand, while the other hand rests precariously on the table beside him. Lines of color swim around and through the doctor--a technique distinctive to Van Gogh--all of which are directed almost uniformly towards the top left corner of the painting. Amidst this hubbub of color and energy, the Doctor rests impassively in what seems a commentary on his mental health.

Upon the red table rest two books and a vase of flowers. The books are titled Germinie Lacerteux (1864) and Manette Salomon (1867-68) and were written by two brothers who worked in close collaboration, Edmond and Jules de Goncourt. According to M. Therese Southgate, the books may thus represent the close relationship between Vincent van Gogh and his brother, Theo, which Southgate calls "symbiotic, and eventually tragic" (Theo became insane after Vincent's death and died six months later). (See page 207 of alternate source.) The vase contains flowers of foxglove, from which the heart medication digitalis is derived. The flowers, therefore, may represent the physician aspect of Dr. Gachet.

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Girl, Interrupted

Kaysen, Susanna

Last Updated: May-17-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Written with controlled elegance, this is an absorbing autobiographical account of psychiatric hospitalization. Twenty-five years after the fact, the author describes the two years during her late adolescence in which she "slip[ped] into a parallel universe." The surreal nature of the experience is reflected in darkly comedic recollections of her inner life, the other patients, their families, the staff, and of forays into the outside world.

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Paris Requiem

Appignanesi, Lisa

Last Updated: May-17-2006
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

James Norton travels from Boston to Paris at his domineering mother's urging to bring home his fragile sister, Ellie, and their journalist brother, Rafael. He discovers Rafael devastated by the death of his Jewish lover, Olympe. Suicide, accident, or murder? Ellie is confined to a wheelchair owing to an unexplained paralysis. James is drawn into finding solutions to both problems and his investigations lead him to seedy brothels, the bureau of a hypnotist, the morgue of aspiring neurologists, and the wards of la Salpetrière, the famous neuropsychiatric hospital for women. The autopsy reveals that Olympe had been pregnant and the questions about her death multiply. The exoneration and return to France of Dreyfus plays as a backdrop.

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The Salt Eaters

Bambara, Toni Cade

Last Updated: May-15-2006
Annotated by:
Moore, Pamela

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The novel is set in a small, Southern town. Velma Henry, a long-time civil rights activist and feminist, sits in a hospital gown on a stool listening to the musical voice of Minnie Ransom. Old Minnie is a healer; she heals people by contacting the points of physical or psychical pain in her patients and relieving them. She is helped by her spirit guide, Old Wife. Scars heal and wounds close in minutes under her touch.

Velma needs her help because she has just tried to kill herself, sick of the painful fight for change that never comes. Her healing takes a long time, for Minnie must first convince her that she wants to be cured. The two are surrounded by tourists, doctors, and passers-by. They are in a clinic that focuses on traditional medicines of all kinds. The novel describes the inner-healing process of Velma, the efforts of Minnie and the thoughts of people looking on or associated with the scene.

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