[A Schizophrenic Reviews the Portrayal of Mental Illness in Movies]
Spider is a British-Canadian drama and thriller released in 2002. It centers around Dennis, a man who has suffered with acute schizophrenia for 20+ years. The story begins as he is released from an institution and sent to a half-way house for the mentally handicapped, in order to transition into life on the outside once more.
Dennis is presented as shy and disconnected from the rest of the world. He typically keeps his head down around others, rarely talking or interacting with them, his words coming out as incoherent mumbling. Despite this, he is a friendly man, and when approached by others, acts in a kind, albeit fearful, manner even if that simply means humoring their own psychotic ramblings with nods and awkward looks.
As he goes about his days, the audience starts seeing him in odd situations with strangers who seem not to acknowledge his presence. He always finds his way back to the half-way house and eventually, we see characters being switched with different actors, some of which are the strangers who have been disregarding Dennis.
We see the protagonist observing a poor family consisting of a father, mother, and son. Soon after, it can be determined that this young boy is, in fact, Dennis from his childhood. One of the others he had been watching turns out to be a woman his father had an affair with.
Near the end of the film, the manager of the half-way house is replaced with this woman, making Dennis become increasingly anxious and paranoid, thinking he and his mother are in danger. These feelings come to a head when he witnesses his mother being murdered by the promiscuous pair, and subsequently his own murder of the stepmother that led to his original hospitalization.
Dennis is now certain that he must kill the manager, whom he believes is his father’s mistress. It is revealed in a flashback, just as he is about to slaughter the woman in her sleep, that his father never actually killed his mother and neither did another woman replace her in the home. Instead, it was the boy’s illness that made him believe these things. Just as he remembers that in his initial attempt to kill this woman, he actually murdered the mother he sought to avenge, the manager wakes up in her bed and Dennis sees who she really is: simply the manager.
The movie ends with our protagonist being sent back to live in the institution with a refreshingly understanding and compassionate doctor that we were introduced to earlier in the film during other flashbacks and visions.
Dennis is an entirely accurate depiction of a schizophrenic who has suffered lifelong with the disorder. It’s important to remember that the intensity of which schizophrenia presents itself in patients varies greatly from individual to individual. Dennis’ particular case, however, is a classic one of moderate-severe schizophrenia.
The representations of disorganized thought is shown well through the order in which past memories are presented to the audience, in addition to his erratic and easily confused behavior trying to go about simple tasks. A disconnection from reality, the trademark feature of schizophrenia, is incredibly well related to viewers by luring them into thinking as Dennis does.
Though it’s fairly clear that we’re watching his mind unravel, we fully believe in the story of his father’s adultery, his mother’s murder, and his own vengeance. This ‘stepmom’ is the center-point of Dennis’ paranoia, so when she is suddenly present as the manager (in a position of power), our own anxiety begins to build.
It isn’t until his moment of realization of this delusion, that we realize it as well. The sudden, unanticipated switching of actors, some even before they are explained through a flashback, also helps with the immersion into the mind of a person whose reality is different than truth, changing without reason and without logic.
Hallucinations are portrayed in this film as voices Dennis hears at night when he is alone in his room, as well as the people from his past that he sees taking over his current life. These are both quite accurate. The most common hallucination, by a vast amount, in schizophrenic patients are voices much like the mutterings when Dennis is trying to piece together his disorganized thoughts.
Therefore, while not a portrayal of every schizophrenic, Spider does portray this case-type with 100% accuracy.
I absolutely love this film; it is now one of my top favorites. Nonetheless, I have to take off a little bit here because of how slow it was too start. Now, I’m good with knowing a creator has to setup the environment before throwing too much action in, but this was one of those movies that if I wasn’t watching as part of a project, I’d have probably switched it off due to its speed of progression.
However, what I take off here for being slow, makes me add to the accuracy of the depiction of schizophrenia. This is because the disorder pulls its victim into an irrational mindset gradually, rather than throwing them full-force. The actual development of schizophrenia can be abrupt, but it is usually gradual and once a person has the illness, especially if symptoms have receded with treatment, complete breaks from reality and into delusion are slow-coming.
So I fully recommend giving Spider a watch. It was well-thought out, researched, and put together. The actors are great, as is the atmosphere and cinematics.
~Sahreth ‘Baphy’ Bowden