When it comes to mental illness in movies, I pay close attention.
For instance, there were many people, audience and critics alike, who thought “Silver Linings Playbook” portrayed mental illness authentically. It’s a movie whose main character suffers from Bipolar Disorder, and its drama—and comedy—largely stems from the effects it has on the sufferer and the family around him. While some of it felt authentic, the film leaned heavily on the light side of the disease, and tiptoed around its dark side. Yes, there were manic moments of behavior, but they were most always played for comedic effect.
I do think comedy serves a purpose in such cases—it’s often necessary to laugh at the seemingly unlaughable—however, if the light is to be examined, and consequently utilized for the sake of dramatic storytelling, the dark must be as well. These two extremes must be given an equal spotlight.
I know firsthand the effects of living with someone with mental illness. My sister, Briana, suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder, the disorder that the main character in “No Alternative” suffers from. Its symptoms are not dissimilar to those of bipolar disorder, in the respect that there are opposing extremes. The opposing extremes come into play in the sufferer’s relationships: they oscillate between extreme closeness and extreme dislike, distrust, even hatred, of others. As you might imagine, this is a nightmare for family and friends—it’s a collective, shared nightmare between sufferer and those people close to the sufferer that most always redefines the relationship into one of mutual suffering—that’s if the relationship lasts. Usually, the sufferer ends up pushing everyone, no matter how close, away. There are a lot more lows than bipolar—the highs one experiences as bipolar are few and far between with BPD—there’s depression, there’s social anxiety, there’s image distortion, there’s physical recklessness, there’s an increased likelihood of severe dissociative states, and virtually all of these hinge on the sufferer’s belief that he or she is the sum total of what other people think of them.
It’s a cruel illness. In other words, there’s no amount of self-willpower that can adequately combat the core of this disorder—you’re not in control of how you feel; rather, everyone else around you is in control of you. At least that’s how you feel. You start off with lots of friends, and slowly but surely, you watch yourself shut them out and push them all away from you—lifelong bonds, gone, often in an instant. It’s nearly impossible to maintain a friendship with someone with BPD—you go from cherished confidant, to a target of venom. Imagine, then, what it’s like to be a family member? Walking away, as harsh as that may sound, just isn’t an option.
Borderline Personality Disorder is, quite often, genetic. I don’t have any kids, and while I would like to have one, I would be a liar if I didn’t say that one of the reasons I’ve been hesitant is the fear that I might have a child who is afflicted with what my sister was afflicted with. People afflicted with BPD also have high rates of corresponding disorders, such as anxiety, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders and suicidal behavior. My sister suffered from all of these. To be frank, it’s amazing she lived as long as she did.
I struggle with the idea of others suffering from BDP on a daily basis.
I also struggle, at least currently, with having to tell my parents that my movies are my children, and accordingly, they are their grandchildren. Movies have the ability to not only create life, but also transcend death. I think that’s ultimately the underlying motivation for any artist to create art. It’s a noble, if not sacrificial, pursuit. It’s also a way of reaching a greater understanding of people, and for me, in this case, a way of understanding my sister. On screen, such characters can be examined and scrutinized, but also distilled and enjoyed, and used as reflections—mirrors to hold up to the world, to examine the world, to examine ourselves, in hopes of making us better, of changing us, perhaps in some fundamental way.
Filmmaking should be a struggle for understanding. It’s not escapism; it’s confrontation. Sufferers and non-sufferers alike need to confront mental illness. It’s the only thing that can help. That’s the point of “No Alternative.”
It’s almost impossible in present day Hollywood to procure funding for material that isn’t a thriller, or a horror movie, or a comic book movie—Hollywood rarely ever funds coming-of-age films. Generally speaking, Hollywood isn’t funding indie films anymore—there are just tent-poles (studio movies made for 150 million and up) and microbudgets (movies made for under a million, often far less than a million). For filmmakers like me who exist in the steadily disappearing middle space of filmmaking, crowdfunding has become a necessity. It’s how indie movies are made now. This is something I’ve written a lot about over the past few months. I’m hoping we can rebuild this artistically important space, one movie at a time—and right now I’m attempting to fight the good fight with my new film: “No Alternative.”
Please take a look at the Indiegogo page for “No Alternative” and consider joining the cause: http://igg.me/at/noalternative
William Dickerson received his Master of Fine Arts in Directing from The American Film Institute. He is a writer and director whose debut feature film, Detour, was hailed as an “Underground Hit” by The Village Voice, an “emotional and psychological roller-coaster ride” by The Examiner, and nothing short of “authentic” by The New York Times. He self-released his metafictional satire, The Mirror, which opened YoFi Fest’s inaugural film festival in 2013. He recently completed his third feature, Don’t Look Back. His award-winning work has been recognized by film festivals across the country. His first book, No Alternative, was declared, “a sympathetic coming-of-age story deeply embedded in ‘90s music” by Kirkus Reviews. His latest book, DETOUR: Hollywood: How To Direct a Microbudget Film (or any film, for that matter), is available now. He currently serves on AFI’s Alumni Executive Board and is a Faculty Member at the New York Film Academy.