Friday, September 26, 2014

The Film, Frank, and How It Portrays Mental Illness

I recently saw Frank, written by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan, at Cinemapolis. Directed by Lenny AbrahamsonMichael Fassbender plays Frank, a rock star based loosely on Chris Sievey, an artist who performed in the '80s and '90s under the name Frank Sidebottom while wearing a fake head, and who Jon Ronson toured with at the time.

Chris Sievey (the inspiration) and Jon Ronson

I know what you're thinking, "Michael Fassbender wears a fake head the whole time? You mean, we don't get to see his beautiful face?" I thought it was crazy, too. But there is meaning behind it.

First of all, as I said, Frank is inspired by Frank Sidebottom, who did actually wear a fake head. Second of all, the character of Frank in the film has severe mental illnesses that cause him to want to wear this fake head and do other sad things. The dark comedic moments complement the serious undertones of this film. A lot of people don't understand mental illness or have a lot of misconceptions. It's a very taboo topic that people don't like to talk about. I think Frank touches on that and portrays mental illness in a very accurate and powerful way.

The Wire interviewed writer Jon Ronson to discuss this portrayal of mental illness and the parallels between fiction and reality. Here are a few great quotes from Ronson:

"...It just interested me so much, that kind of beautiful naïveté when you’re young and see the tortured artist as being fabulous, and then when you’re faced with the reality of being with a tortured person and it’s not at all fabulous. It’s not fabulous to the person and it’s not fabulous to the people around the person."

"It felt like it probably would have been irresponsible to make this film that says you should aspire towards torment and mental illness because that’s where the great art comes from, when usually it’s the opposite of that."

"People have kind of strange relationships with mental illness... We love nothing more than to declare other people insane. We always want to turn [mental illness] into something that it isn’t, so one thing I really wanted to do in the film was turn it into something that it is. The reality of what it’s like. Toward the end of the film Jon gets everything that he wants, he gets Frank to himself and it’s like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? It’s really bad. He’s stuck with this damaged person and it’s not like the way he wants it to be at all."

There's a scene in the film in which Jon meets Frank's parents. Jon asks about Frank's upbringing and asks if something traumatic happened since he has mental problems. Frank's parents reply with something along the lines of, "No. He's had a normal life. It's just his brain doesn't work properly." Also, when Jon assumes his mental illness is the cause of his brilliant artistry, Frank's mother says, “the torment slows him down.”

NPR writer Tomas Hachard writes a great review of Frank, stating: 

"For most of Frank, Abrahamson walks this potentially offensive line largely by playing it as part of Jon's ignorance: At the cabin, Jon excitedly explains, "I have found my abusive childhood, my mental hospital, that which pushes me to my furthest corners." The film quite clearly means to deride the notion — heard particularly when discussing outsider art or musicians like Daniel Johnston, who Abrahamson has said also inspired the film — that mental illness can somehow be a path to boosted creativity...

Yet toward the end, there are suggestions of a lack of compassion for some of these characters. After letting the audience think it's OK, if not necessarily tasteful, to laugh at jokes about attempted suicide, the story shifts and we are left to question if there was ever any humor in it at all. Whether the film fully accomplishes this transition from comical (and almost sneering) to empathetic is its own open question. My vote says it does, but it's a fine line, one that Frank necessarily risks overstepping with its complex, but worthwhile, attempt at being facetious, satirical and emotionally bare all at once."

I agree with Mr. Hachard whole-heartedly and highly suggest you see it to decide for yourself.

No comments:

Post a Comment