The Inner Critic: Exploring Mental Health Through the Movie Anomalisa

Anomalisa-2015-pipolunette   Today, one of my friends from church and I decided to go to the cinema and watch the recently released film Anomalisa.  Voted as “the most human story of the year and it doesn’t involved a single human” Anomalisa is a story of fear, paranoia, mistakes, and self-acceptance.  Michael Stone is a successful businessman, presenter, and leader with a complicated and confused personal life.  Currently married with a son, Stone is plagued by memories of his past girlfriend and internal conflict.  Throughout the film, we see Stone’s mental health deteriorating until it eventually disrupts his daily rhythms and especially his interpersonal relationships.

The movie itself was quite strange.  It was graphic, overly sexual, and dropped a number of “F” bombs.  It was disturbing and not true to the previews at all.  For this reason, I cannot recommend the movie to you; however, I will say that the one thing I did appreciate about the movie is that it gives us an opportunity to reflect and talk about mental illness.

In some ways, our culture is becoming more attuned with mental health issues.  In recent years, there have been several innovations and advertisements that seek to make us aware of the plight those who face anxiety or depression experience.  In particular, the U.K. has recently unveiled an advertisement called the “Power of OK” in which people are urged to be mindful of those around them who wear masks rather than being upfront about their feelings and emotional state.

Nevertheless, I find that as a culture, we are still quite behind in our ideas surrounding mental illness.  I know that in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. questions like “how are you” or “are you alright?” are truthfully little more than polite greetings.  We do not ask such questions because we want a deep answer, but rather because we have been conditioned to ask them.  As I mentioned in a previous blog post, many people in countries such as Germany or Japan only ask such questions to those who are closest to them and when they truly have an investment into the other person’s life.  In many ways, we could learn from such cultures especially in our churches where people should be free to express themselves without fear of judgement or of being a burden.

Anomalisa offers little in terms of its plot line, graphics, or cinematic presentation, but it does give us an opportunity to enter into the mind of someone who loses touch with reality, is insecure, and is unable to control their emotions.  It also portrays the helpless responses those who do not experience mental illness may give to someone who does.  Responses of concern and empathy mixed with confusion, anger, and impatience.  Hopefully Anomalisa will foster and encourage dialogue about our cultural perceptions surrounding mental illness and will ultimately propel our society forward by creating a more loving and safe community where all feel accepted, wanted, and loved.

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