Sunday, September 5, 2010

Clean, Shaven

Lodge Kerrigan (director), 79m, 1994

The film depicts the world through the eyes of Peter Winter, a schizophrenic in his twenties. The depiction of insanity has grown into a genre ( List from Wiki) and schizophrenia is a sub-species. Some films, like A Beautiful Mind and Proof, romanticize the condition. Ingmar Bergman, in The Hour of the Wolf and Through a Glass Darkly has given cameos which seem more like generalized reflections about the human condition. Stanley Kubrick cashes it into a horror in The Shining. What is very sure is that the inner world of a mentally sick person is a mysterious and by no means a glamorous one and an adequate representation of this harrowing widely prevalent disease will have to be awaited. Perhaps this can only be done by a film director suffering from schizophrenia, but if he could do that, he probably would not be one.

The present film deals with the condition with something like clinical honesty. Peter hears sounds with a heightened intensity (like electric wires humming) but this is more associated with narcotics than schizophrenia. He hears a threatening and abusive voice, presumably that of his father. He is obsessed with seeing his daughter, who was given to adoption. There are gruesome scenes of self mutilation--he is completely (but wait, nothing is that complete) possessed. The film has a superb climax, which resolves the plot threads on their own terms.

Kerrigan retains objectivity and does a fine job of not underplaying or romanticizing the condition. He shows it for the terrible thing that it is. What is most remarkable is the humanity and compassion he has retained. He is  reminding us that the mentally sick are human beings, no matter how extreme the disturbance. Schizophrenia is not something one is, but something one has.


Nathanael Hood said...

In case you missed it, he wasn't just mutilating himself for the hell of it. Notice that in the scenes where he mutilates himself, it is always accompanied by a high-pitched screech. When he finishes, the sound cuts out.

From someone who has had experience working with people with mental illnesses, including schizophrenics, I think I know what he was doing: he was cutting out what he believed to be radio transmitters embedded in his skin.

Such paranoid delusions are common among paranoid schizophrenics. They believe that somebody or something, usually the government, some law enforcement agency, or even aliens, embedded them with trackers so they could be monitored. The schizophrenic believes that only after they are physically removed can they finally find some modicum of peace.

S. M. Rana said...

Yes, I was avoiding spoilers, and I too have some awareness of the actual thing. It was the transmitter and receiver that was bothering him all along. The ending is dramatically tidy but the desperate mutilations and the agony from which they originate are a kind of rudimentary suicide. In that sense the ending is kind of sentimental, since there was really no way out. Your third para is correct and I agree with it since I know of a case with almost identical symptoms.