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February 2012 Posts

01/02/2012 09:36:35

In Our Name

Introduction

In Our Name is a low budget feature film, written and directed by Brian Welsh, which was launched at the London Film Festival in October 2010 and dedicated to all military service personnel who end up in prison after trying to return to civilian life. It was well researched through Welsh’s discussions with returning soldiers as well as his contact with the charity Combat Stress. It tells the story of Suzy, brilliantly played by Joanne Froggatt, a soldier just returning to her home in a run down area of the North East of England after a tour of duty in Iraq.

In Our Name

The film follows her struggle to cope with civilian life again and in particular with the difficulties she has in reconnecting with her young daughter. It is interesting to note that the parents of the young girl who acts Suzy’s daughter, are actually both soldiers in the army. It offers an excellent portrait of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but also focuses on the topical issue of guns and mental illness. Unusually, the protagonist is a female soldier, and In Our Name highlights the effect that Susie’s PTSD has on both her husband and her daughter. 


The Film

The film begins with private Suzy and the fellow soldiers from her unit returning home by train, where she is welcomed by family and friends at the house she shares with husband, Mark, who is also a soldier who has previously served in Iraq, and their daughter, Cass. At first Cass is unwilling to interact with her mother and Suzy seems able to cope with this behaviour, until it becomes clear that all is not well in Suzy’s perception of the world. In the context of some hooliganism in their impoverished residential area, Suzy starts to develop paranoia that eventually becomes extreme. Her hypervigilance for potential dangers is brilliantly portrayed, and permeates throughout the majority of the film, as she becomes especially fixated on protecting her daughter. Unable to get close to her husband and unable to sleep properly, Suzy starts to drink alcohol in greater amounts.

When her sister invites Suzy and her soldier colleague, Paul, to attend the primary school where she teaches, in order to talk to the children about their experiences of war, Suzy recounts the memory that is haunting her. This revelation explains the origins of the guilt that Suzy is feeling and the flashbacks she is suffering as well as providing an understanding of the importance, for her, of protecting her daughter. As Suzy’s symptoms of paranoia, flashbacks, hypervigilance, loss of libido and depression increase, her relationship with husband Mark becomes ever more strained. Her absence of libido is the trigger for Mark’s increasing frustration that results in him suspecting that Suzy has been unfaithful to him. His mental health begins to suffer and his underlying angry personality traits are revealed, with serious consequences.

In the final scenes, when Suzy flees with her daughter and a gun that she has taken from the barracks for protection, the serious nature of her condition becomes even more apparent. I do not wish to describe the ending here, but suspect that it will raise your heart rate.

Relevance to the field of Mental Health

As a contemporary portrait of post-traumatic stress disorder, In Our Name offers a perfect platform to discuss the diagnosis and management of the condition, with reference to Suzy’s symptoms and behaviour, and the effect that her condition has on her close family. The film also depicts the difficulties that some servicemen may have in seeking help, because they feel doing so may jeopardise their chances of promotion. For a general introduction to PTSD, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has a good factsheet, but for more information about PTSD related to military combat, the charity Combat Stress also has lots of information, including some case studies.

The other topical issue that is raised by In Our Name is that of gun possession and mental illness. There are two aspects of this issue that could be further explored alongside a viewing of the film. The first is the topic of mentally ill soldiers carrying guns and the second concerns the process of licensing guns to the general public who may have had or may develop a mental disorder. For the first topic, I would recommend a reading of the recent article published in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, in September 2011, by Peter McAllister, Neil Greenberg & Max Henderson entitled: Occupational psychiatry in the armed forces: should depressed soldiers carry guns? (vol17, 350-356). The abstract of this article is freely available. This article describes the work of the UK Defence Mental Health Services in detail. With regard to the second issue, most people in the UK will be aware of the recent tragic events on New Years Day 2012, in which a middle aged man, legitimately licensed to hold 6 firearms, with previous mental health problems, shot dead his partner, her sister and her niece. This incident has highlighted the growing debate about how gun licences should be issued and then monitored. The medical profession currently have no statutory role in the process, but the BMA is involved in discussions with the Association of Chief Police Officers about this matter. A statement of the current interim guidance for doctors on this matter is available at the BMA website. The film could provide a good starting point for a debate on this very important issue.

Perhaps the fact that the film’s ending does not resolve the outcomes for all of the main characters offers an even better opportunity to discuss their possible futures. What is left in no doubt, however, is the detrimental effects that serving in a war can have on an individual’s mental health and on their close family relationships and it highlights the importance of having appropriate care available whenever it is needed.

•  More information about In Our Name is available at IMDB and here is the link to the official trailer.

•  The DVD can be purchased at amazon.co.uk.

•  Minds on Film is written by consultant psychiatrist Dr Joyce Almeida.

 

 
28/02/2012 09:06:23

Archipelago

Introduction

Archipelago is the second feature film by the British writer-director Joanna Hogg. Released in the UK in March 2011, it tells the story of an upper middle class family who are gathered together for a farewell family reunion in a rented house on Tresco, one of the Scilly Isles off the coast of Cornwall. In a style of cinema known as neorealism, the film is composed of still shots, eschews close ups until the later stages, and creates its intimate atmosphere through the use of natural light in both indoor and outdoor scenes. The audio track is composed solely of sounds from the environment it depicts. 

 

Archipelago

Additionally, and in keeping with neorealism, two of the characters are played by non-professional actors, the artist and the cook, and the scenes were filmed on location, in chronological order with a significant amount of improvisation in the dialogue. This creates a very realistic feel to the film and increases our voyeuristic involvement in its characters interactions, which are sometimes painfully difficult to watch. Infused with quiet desperation, lightly veiled unhappiness and unexpressed emotions, Archipelago tackles the uncomfortable truth that ‘all is not well’ beneath the surface of the apparently prosperous upper middle classes. In particular, the film examines the subject of absent fathers, in two different contexts, and the effect that this has on their young adult children. 


The Film

The film opens with the arrival of Edward (Tom Hiddleston), by helicopter, on Tresco, where he is met by his mother Patricia (Kate Fahy) and sister Cynthia (Lydia Leonard). The back story slowly unfolds as we learn that Edward, who is in his late twenties, has left his well paid city job and is soon to travel to Africa where he will work as a volunteer for eleven months, helping to teach sexual health within communities afflicted by AIDs. He outlines his need for a purpose in life but gradually reveals his uncertainty about whether he has actually made the right decision. Cynthia, his older sister, is critical of his choice and shows her resentment of his freedom to travel abroad in this way. Patricia, their mother, has arranged this farewell get together in a rented holiday home that they visited many times when Edward and Cynthia were young and where they all seem to recall fond memories. However, the full family reunion fails to take place as time passes and Patricia’s husband doesn’t arrive. We feel his distant presence only through phone calls that he makes to Patricia and Cynthia, in which Patricia becomes increasingly frustrated and let down by his absence at her longed for gathering. As his father’s failure to show up becomes more certain, Edward voices several critical and disrespectful comments about him, revealing their lack of closeness.

The two other significant characters in this drama are the cook, Rose, who has been hired to look after the culinary needs of the family during the holiday and Christopher an artist and friend who is engaged in teaching Patricia and Cynthia painting. The real life artist, Christopher Baker, describes his painting process as a need to find the chaos in representation while he resists exercising too much control, something Patricia openly acknowledges is hard for her to do. In contrast to the extremely controlling attitudes of both Patricia, her absent husband, and Cynthia, Christopher becomes a proxy father figure to the ‘hen pecked’, over compliant Edward as he tries to reflect on the meaning and purpose of his own life.

Rose, the paid cook, attracts the attention of Edward, who tries to treat her as an equal, in a way that brings criticism from both Patricia and Cynthia, as he befriends her and wants her to join the family at mealtimes, blurring the boundary of employer and employee. The ensuing debate gives rise to one especially embarrassing scene, in which we feel Rose’s discomfort acutely. However, we also learn that Rose’s father died suddenly in an accident a few years earlier and she, her mother and her sisters, have only just ‘emerged from the coma’ of grief that they were in. In an attempt to include Rose, the family invite her and Christopher to lunch at a hotel, empty at this time of year, where Cynthia creates a scene by complaining about her food, whilst the rest of the group remain mostly silent. Her growing anger and frustration is later released in a row at the house, but the real feeling of equilibrium only returns to the group when Patricia loses her temper with her husband on the phone just before the end of the holiday.

Relevance to the field of Mental Health

Archipelago is not a film that portrays overt mental illness, rather it seeks to give us an insight in to the complex origins of the problems that may drive someone to seek psychotherapy of some form. Cynthia’s unhappiness, irritability and seeming dissatisfaction with her self and the world, suggests that she might benefit from a psychological treatment. The film is so skillful at involving the viewer in the family’s interactions that it would definitely offer a great platform to discuss the role of unconscious motivations, inner conflicts and defence mechanisms that form the basis of psychoanalysis and the approach taken by psychoanalytic psychotherapy, described on the information pages of the British Association of Psychotherapists.

For a broader consideration of psychological therapies, a reading of the Royal College of Psychiatry factsheet on Psychotherapies could form the basis of a discussion on the whole variety of treatments that might be of use to the various characters in Archipelago were they to seek help. I would strongly recommend this film to anyone interested in, or actually working as a psychotherapist with individuals or families.

For anyone interested in a further psychoanalytic exploration of films, The Institute of Psychoanalysis is currently showing a series of films and discussions called Screening Conditions, which takes place on Sunday mornings, at The Institute of Contemporary Arts, London. Here is further information about all of the Institute’s events examining the relationship between psychoanalysis and the arts.

•  More information about Archipelago can be found at IMDB as can a short trailer.

•  The DVD can be purchased at amazon.co.uk

•  Minds on Film is written by Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Joyce Almeida.

 

 

 

 

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About this blog

 

Minds on Film is a monthly blog that explores psychiatric conditions and mental health issues as portrayed in a selection of readily available films.

Please note that this blog may contain plot spoilers. Any views expressed are purely my own.

Dr Joyce Almeida

Dr Almeida is a consultant
psychiatrist working in the private sector in the UK.

 


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