With more communication and less stigma by the day, depression and mental illness in general is becoming more and more visible in modern society. Many people will suffer from depression in their lives, myself being one of them, so it’s only natural to look to art to see how these feelings can be communicated and worked through. Movies about depression are a common source of either comfort, or outrage at how this ailment is portrayed, so here are 10 movies that deal with depression in a sensitive, sometimes upsetting, and often difficult way. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest will not be one of them as its story, in terms of mental health, is outdated.
We begin with this little-seen 2001 film starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, Zooey Deschanel and Don Cheadle. Gordon Levitt plays Lyle: a trouble teenager who is sent to a juvenile psychiatric ward after beating up another teen with a baseball bat. Manic shows that some movies about depression come at the topic sideways, as Lyle meets other troubled teens on the ward, who have different problems. Lyle’s anger masks his true pain, while his friend Chad (Michael Bacall) suffers from bi-polar disorder. Manic is a tough watch, but even in its abrasive tone it tells the story of a group of teenagers who are marginalized by their problems. Lyle’s purpose throughout the film is to try and escape, but his true journey is to realize that he needs to take the help that is being offered to him. Manic is the most obscure film on this list but it is completely worth a watch.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story
The directing duo of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are no strangers to movies about depression and stories that focus on mental health and addiction: with gems like the Ryan Gosling film Half Nelson, and their latest film Mississippi Grind that deals with gambling addiction. The duo has a knack for human drama, but one of their most successful films comes in the form of the dramadey It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Based on the novel by the late Ned Vizzini, the film stars Kier Gilchrist (Atypical) as suicidal teen, Craig Gilner. After contemplating throwing himself off the Brooklyn Bridge, Craig decides to voluntarily commit himself to a psychiatric hospital. It’s Kind of a Funny Story is one of the lighter movies on this list as it deals with its serious subject in a deft manner, mainly thanks to its great eye for casting which includes Emma Roberts, Zach Galifianakis and Viola Davis.
Adapted from Susanna Kaysen’s memoir about her 18-month stay in a psychiatric facility, Girl, Interrupted is one of the frankest movies about depression that you will ever see. Set during 1967 and 1968. Girl, Interrupted charts Kaysen’s experiences as she rallies against her doctors and the nursing staff, after being admitted after a suicide attempt that she keeps telling everyone who will listen that it was anything but. Directed by James Mangold, who most recently brought pain and sorrow to the X-Men franchise with the brilliant Logan, Girl, Interrupted main weapon is the relationship between Susanna and the sociopathic and manic Lisa Rowe, played by Angelina Jolie in an Oscar winning performance. While Jolie gets all of the plaudits, Winona Ryder deserves just as much credit for her performance as Susanna. Despite the towering nature od Lisa, Ryder makes sure that Susanna never gets lost in the background with one of the most assured performances of her career.
Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet will always be remembered as the doomed lovers Jack and Rose from the ridiculously successful Titanic. While the move put them both on the A-list, it’s hardly a showcase for their talents. How great it is that Skyfall director Sam Mendes managed to bring the duo back together for the excellent period drama, Revolutionary Road. Based on Richard Yates classic novel of suburban ennui, the film stars Di Caprio and Winslet as a very unhappy couple whose marriage is slowly disintegrating even while they are enjoying more and more success. The two leads are brilliant as a couple that is the polar opposite of Jack and Rose, and it’s anyone’s guess which of the two is the best. Some would argue that Winslet, who won a Golden Globe for the role, just edges it as the way her performance communicates her characters depression is incredibly powerful and subtle.
A Single Man
Before A Single Man Colin Firth was known as ether Mr. Darcy, or for fighting with Hugh Grant in a fountain in the first Bridget Jones movie. Everyone knew he was a good actor, but it took his Oscar-nominated turn in A Single Man to show everyone that he was a truly great actor. Based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood, Firth plays George Falconer, a gay English professor who is grieving due to the death of partner of 16 years, played by Matthew Goode, as he plans his suicide. As the directorial debut of fashion designer Tom Ford, A Single Man looks gorgeous, (and I’m suitably jealous of George’s entire wardrobe) but doesn’t shy away from the darker aspects of Isherwood’s novel, one of which is a heart-wrenching performance by Julianne Moore as a character that is just as lonely and broken as Firth’s.
500 Days of Summer
At first glance, 500 Days of Summer may not look like it qualifies as a movie about depression, but that’s only because it is first and foremost a movie about romantic delusion. Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel make their second appearance on this list as Tom and Summer. Tom is seen at first to be a traditional romantic hero, and he would be in any other movie, but he actively ignores the reality of his relationship with Summer, thinking that he will wear her down over time. The opposite happens leading Tom into a severe depression. 500 Days of Summer is a movie that puts romcom conventions under the microscope but, nearly a decade after its release, Joseph Gordon Levitt has to remind fans that Tom was in the wrong and that the movie is about how he grows as a person.
Prozac Nation exploded onto the literary scene as a no-holds barred autobiography that should the many different facets of having depression. The book’s author, Elizabeth Wurtzel became a sensation after the book was published which meant that a movie adaptation wouldn’t be far behind. The movie, which stars Christina Ricci as Wurtzel, wasn’t as barbed or as influential as the book it was based off, mainly due to the unlikability of the lead character that some audiences found off-putting. This was back in 2001 when Tony Soprano was still the only game in town when it came to anti-heroes under analysis, but modern audiences, who are not as offended by a female lead character being flawed, will get a lot from Prozac Nation and Ricci’s lead performance. Prozac Nation has become one of the most realistic movies about depression, showing that can affect literally anyone, regardless of background.
Lars Von Trier has become an increasingly controversial, and off-putting figure in the landscape of cinema, but there is no denying the power of Melancholia. Much of the success of this movie, and its portrayal of depression, can be credited to its star, Kirsten Dunst. It’s common knowledge that Dunst is an extremely underrated actor (some of that is due to being tied up in the manic pixie dream girl, a term that was coined to describe her character in Elizabethtown), but her career is littered with brilliant performance: from Claudia in Interview with the Vampire, to Fargo season 2, and The Beguiled. Melancholia is her best work as her role as Justine, which was informed by Dunst’s own experiences with depression, puts across the staggering lows and physically exhaustion that comes with it. In a movie in which a bigger planet destroys Earth, Dunst makes the human factor the most important.
Adapted from Michael Cunningham’s excellent novel (which won the Pulitzer Prize), and directed by Stephen Daldry, The Hours tells the story of three different women in three different times and their fight with depression. Taking much of its structure from the Virginia Woolf novel Mrs. Dalloway, The Hours even has Woolf as one of the main characters. Nicole Kidman plays Woolf, a role in which she won the Oscar for Best Actress, with Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep leading the other two plots. Each story deals with depression in a sensitive fashion, particularly the feelings of loneliness, isolation, and failure to connect with others. Kidman thoroughly deserved all the plaudits, but Moore is deeply affecting as housewife Laura Brown, who is in such pain that she strongly considers committing suicide. Despite its subject matter, The Hours never falls into melodrama as it deeply respects its character’s journeys, as well as their flaws.
I realize that Fight Club is one of the more far-fetched movies about depression, considering the true nature of Tyler Durden, and I’m not saying that depressed people are likely to personify their id and try to destroy the capitalist society. That said, the first act of Fight Club is one of the most relatable examples of depression committed to screen. Edward Norton’s nameless narrator feels spiritually dead, suffers from insomnia, and can only feel good about himself when he is surrounded by the terminally ill. David Fincher’s movie, and Chuck Palahniuk’s novel does use depression as the launch-pad for Fight Club’s exaggerated story, but anyone who has felt depressed, who cannot sleep, and who feels like their life lacks meaning or purpose can relate to Norton’s character. Until Tyler turns up at least.