Movies rarely portray mental illnesses well. If they aren’t making fun of people with mental conditions, they mix up the symptoms purely for dramatic flare or as a plot device. More often than not, movies with characters with schizophrenia fall into the latter category, focusing more on sensationalizing the condition rather than showing the nuanced lives people with schizophrenia live.
However, a few depictions of schizophrenia in movies manage to provide a more accurate look into what it’s like to live with the condition. Let’s dive into five films about schizophrenia and evaluate how well they portray characters with schizophrenia.
What Is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder that affects one’s perception of reality. People with schizophrenia disconnect from reality and may experience delusions and hallucinations. Their unrealistic perception of the natural world may disrupt their lives, limiting their ability to complete activities of daily living.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of schizophrenia fall into three categories:
- Psychotic symptoms shift an individual’s perception of reality, causing hallucinations, delusions, disordered thinking and abnormal body movements.
- Cognitive symptoms impair one’s ability to pay attention and remember, making it difficult to follow conversations and use learned information to complete tasks.
- Negative symptoms cause the person to lose motivation in things they once found enjoyable. These symptoms may cause them to withdraw from daily life and social activities. They may also find it challenging to express emotions, resulting in rigid facial expressions and a monotone voice.
Characteristics of Good Movies About Schizophrenia
Any good movie interweaves solid facts with imagination and artistry to provide audiences with both entertainment and education. Accurate movies with schizophrenic characters must walk the same tightrope, especially since they showcase a highly stigmatized mental health condition.
Accurate movies based on schizophrenia should:
- Understand schizophrenia symptoms: Well-researched movies don’t conflate its symptoms with those of conditions like dissociative identity disorder. The diagnostic criteria outlined in the DSM-V can provide a good outline for schizophrenia symptoms.
- Portray nuances in behavior: Schizophrenia exists on a spectrum and includes conditions like brief psychotic disorder, catatonia and schizoaffective disorder. People with schizophrenia generally aren’t violent, delusional individuals who deserve to be institutionalized. Additionally, symptoms vary based on criteria such as age and sex. Consequently, accurate movies with characters with schizophrenia don’t generalize the condition’s symptoms and behaviors.
- Showcase schizophrenia’s behavior patterns: Schizophrenia is an incurable mental condition. However, people with schizophrenia don’t always display all the symptoms full-time. Sometimes, the symptoms are severe, but with treatment, the individual enters into remission. The best movies with schizophrenia depictions integrate different behavior patterns into their characters’ artistic decisions.
5 Movies Characters With Schizophrenia
The five films on this list show an accurate depiction of characters with schizophrenia. The selections don’t mock or belittle the condition, and some manage to provide nuance to their characters.
While this is a numbered list, the movies aren’t ranked based on the quality of their portrayal or entertainment value. Also, the list below contains spoilers, the reveal that a character has multiple personalities or is an unreliable narrator is an often used trope.
1. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
A Beautiful Mind portrays the story of John Nash, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and mathematician, through his academic and professional career. The Department of Defense tasked Nash with finding communication patterns in published media to help subvert a Soviet plot.
While working, Nash thought Soviet agents were pursuing him. He was eventually committed to a psychiatric hospital due to his erratic behavior and paranoia, where he underwent shock therapy before being released on medication.
Nash refused to take his medication. However, he went on to win the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences despite experiencing delusions and hallucinations.
The film certainly sacrifices some accuracy when portraying Nash for dramatic effect. However, A Beautiful Mind succeeds in showing how the effects of schizophrenia bleed over to family members and other loved ones.
2. The Soloist (2009)
The Soloist is another film about schizophrenia that shows the life of cellist Nathaniel Ayers.
As a child prodigy, Ayers had a promising career but was forced to drop out of Juilliard when hallucinations from schizophrenia disrupted his ability to learn. Believing that his sister was out to kill him, Ayers ran away from home and ended up on the streets playing the violin.
The film shows an LA Times journalist’s efforts to help Nathaniel and ends with him playing in an orchestra despite still hearing voices.
The Soloist is a good film for anyone curious about the systematic failure that contributes to the stigma people with schizophrenia face.
3. Donnie Darko (2001)
Donnie Darko follows Donnie, a teenage boy who sees and talks to a giant rabbit that tells him the world is ending. Due to his visions, Donnie’s therapist diagnoses him with paranoid schizophrenia. However, Donnie ignores his medicine and the rabbit influences him to commit several crimes around the neighborhood.
The film lets viewers decide whether Donnie’s visions and actions are real. However, it gives a good look into the behaviors that paranoid schizophrenia might elicit in teenagers enduring the struggles of puberty and high school bullying.
4. Images (1972)
Images is a psychological horror movie that follows Cathryn, a children’s author who hears voices and experiences visual distortions while pregnant. Her thoughts, visions and actions become increasingly violent until she murders someone.
The film is one of the few depicting female characters with schizophrenia. While it falls victim to the myth that people with schizophrenia are often violent, it also communicates the horror many people with the condition experience when battling symptoms.
5. Shutter Island (2010)
Shutter Island is another psychological thriller film about a U.S. Marshal trying to find a woman who drowned her children.
The Marshal, Teddy, has PTSD from his time in the army and sees the woman he’s searching for in multiple locations around Shutter Island, a place mainly populated by psychiatric patients.
As the film progresses, it’s unclear which events occur in Teddy’s imagination and which happen in real life. He eventually undergoes a lobotomy and continues to live on Shutter Island with fellow patients.
This popular film successfully tricks the viewer into experiencing a false sense of reality, just like what people with schizophrenia may experience.
Where To Get Accurate Schizophrenia Diagnosis
Even the best movies with characters with schizophrenia overly dramatize the condition’s symptoms to capture and entertain audiences. Thus, you can’t rely on film to determine whether you have schizophrenia.
If you suspect you have the condition, getting an accurate diagnosis from certified mental health experts is the only way to get help. Our experts at Restore are well-equipped to make the correct diagnosis and chart a treatment pattern for you. You can call anytime at (877) 594-3566 to speak with compassionate professionals who will help you lead a healthy life.