This blog post is going to be about a list of movies that portray mental illness with utmost beauty and sensibility.
People often shy away from talking about mental illness like depression, anxiety, and any other medically termed mental disorder.
Movies are always a great medium to express one’s opinion and perspective towards an idea, thought, and situation. The film world has greatly influenced the culture of who you are and where you come from.
Likewise, movies that are based on a protagonist with mental illness are reality-based. You will see the character who deals with a mental illness is complex and has a depth in thinking.
Hollywood has created several such mind-blowing movies where the protagonist has a mental illness, and movies show their stories
Let’s have a look at the movies that I have compiled for you.
Movies That Portrays Mental Illness Beautifully
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Director Lynne Ramsey’s ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ is a terrific psychological thriller film that is based on a 2003 novel by Lionel Shriver about a school massacre.
It is a bit underrated film which deserves to get more attention. The story follows Eva, played by the talented Tilda Swinton, who left her freedom and bohemian lifestyle for having kids.
Kevin (Ezra Miller) is a socially awkward and disturbed kid who has committed a massive massacre at his high school.
Eva, whose son has committed this heinous crime, is trying to cope with the situation and trying to figure out is she is responsible for Kevin’s complex psychology. The film is about the horror story of motherhood, of a mother, and it blends with a lot of emotions at a different level.
The mother-son bonding is supposed to be happy and loving, but in the film, Kevin finds happiness in making his mother scare with all his weird psychopath behavior.
It’s a disturbing film but trust me, both Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller has performed with utmost perfection. The movie is one of the best that portrays mental illness in such an explicit manner.
A Beautiful Mind
With an IMDB rating of 8.2, ‘A Beautiful Mind’ is a beautiful biographical drama film on the life of a Nobel Laureate in Economics and Abel Prize winner mathematician John Nash.
John Nash is unlikely a hero in his world, and Russell Crowe has played the character impeccably. John Nash had schizophrenia, a mental disorder in which the victim hallucinates, get delusional, and behave erratically.
The film chronicles his early life and how the disease took a toll on his genius mind. Russell Crowe has successfully managed to exhibit the core goodness of Nash that inspired his followers and his wife to support him and give him hope.
The movie shows Nash’s shocking and very painful courses of insulin shock therapy.
It is a remarkable film that shows even though the legendary John Nash was physically and mentally frail, that didn’t stop him from continuing with his research work in the field of economics and mathematics that later won him the Nobel in 1994.
With an IMDB rating of 8.5, director Todd Philips created one of the best films ever in the history of Hollywood. The film is a tribute to the late Heath Ledger, who has made the character Joker an iconic figure.
Joaquin Phoenix’s character Arthur Fleck is a lonesome, poor, and failed comedian who wears masks as a clown and disguises himself to be a happy man in the world where he gets beaten, bullied and rejected.
He is a dark and grim personality who failed miserably in everything in his life and slowly transformed into a cruel and mischievous ‘joker’ who create chaos in the city of Gotham.
According to me, it would be wrong to say that Arthur Fleck has a mental condition. He drove himself into that state of mental disbalance due to his extreme hatred towards the system and the society that didn’t acknowledge him.
The portrayal of mental illness in the film is showing the character’s vicious transformation that finds solace and justice by creating chaos and fear, among others.
His acute depression, anxiety from being a lonely person, drove him to craziness. He tried to be an empathetic character, but a constant stigma and insecurity lead him to mental deterioration.
I find Joaquin Phoenix’s performance weirdly exceptional, and with ‘Joker,’ he has set his bar way high.
I watched ‘Black Swan’ long back, but still, I do remember the movie clearly because of the incredible performance of Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers.
The movie tells the story of a ballerina who is a committed young dancer, and she got promoted to the lead dancer for a new production of Swan Lake. As she started rehearsing for the dance, her psychic changes, and she becomes more delusional.
The movie is sensational, and director Darren Aronofsky has created the character Nina who loses her sanity soon after she grabs the opportunity ‘Swan Lake’ in the quest for perfection.
The most amazing thing to watch in this film is the performance of Natalie Portman, she is fragile, beautiful, but her obsession for perfection pushed her psychic hard.
The ending of the film has a layered meaning that represents her deteriorating mental condition. ‘Black Swan’ represents mental illness in an out of box storyline.
I watched this amazing film ‘Girl, Interrupted’ a few days back on Netflix. The classic 1999 drama film that stars Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie as two young women who met each other in a mental hospital.
The story follows Susanna Kaysen, played by Winona Ryder, who is diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder. The film is a memoir chronicles of her time in the hospital and her equation with the other patients, especially with Lisa (Angelina Jolie).
Lisa is a sociopath with a manipulative nature and escapes the hospital several times once with Susana too. Lisa is only a good friend to Susana, but her rebellious and insensitive behavior drove her away from Susana.
Unlike other movies, this is one of the best movies that portray mental illness beautifully.
Silver Lining Playbook
2012 critically acclaimed drama film, which fetches the talented Jennifer Lawrence the Academy Award for Best Actress, is one of the best Hollywood movies to watch.
It portrays Bradley Cooper as Pat, who was in a mental health facility after he brutally attacked his wife’s lover. After he got out of the facility, he shifted to his parent’s house.
He is not the charming Bradley Cooper here in this film; rather, he is a little crazy with fits of anger, whenever the flashbacks of his wife and her lover come into his mind.
The bipolar disorder Pat meets the edgy and erratic Tiffany and involved in circulating their mania into long runs. Both the characters are weirdly amazing together battling their own mental conditions.
The film has sweetly portrayed someone dealing with bipolar disorder and how with love and being around with the people who can make them happy and content.
It’s an entertaining film to watch with appreciable performances.
Swiss Army Man
2016 Swedish American comedy-drama film has a unique and quirky take on portraying the mental illness.
Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano star in the film telling the story of a lonely man and a magical corpse when the protagonist Hank (Paul Dano), was stuck on a deserted island.
Hank found comfort in the farting rotten limp body played by Harry Potter boy Daniel Radcliffe.
The movie is hilarious, fun, and took the matter of mental illness in a different way by which I mean ‘comical.’ Here, the mental illness is the theme of loneliness and emptiness of Hank.
But apart from this, the physical intimacy and homoerotic edge is explained by the collaboration of both the characters.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Stephen Chbosky’s directorial coming-of-age film is based on his novel of the same title, which tells a story of a young freshman, Charlie struggling with depression after the suicide of his best friend.
It is an amazing teen movie not entirely a love story; it portrays issues like mental health, physical abuse, and suicidal. The movie features teenage life dealing with depression, love, the joy of friendship, togetherness, and adolescence.
Charlie (Logan Lerman) is the protagonist who is introverted, shy, and loves writing going through a difficult time in dealing with his traumatic past, which gets revealed in the movie slowly. His friendship with Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller) gives him joy and hope.
It is a beautiful film on mental illness, and it received a great response from the audience and the critics. Emma Watson particularly outshines everyone with her grace and effortless performance.
Lars and The Real Girl
2007 romantic comedy-drama film ‘Lars and The Real Girl’ is a sweet movie that shows the protagonist Lars, played by Ryan Gosling, is an extremely introvert person who finds it difficult to socialize apart from his family.
He is diagnosed with a medical term schizoid personality disorder. He doesn’t open up and shares his emotions with any living person. He is hypersensitive to touch and fears intimacy.
The story makes a twist when Lars introduces a girlfriend whom he met on the internet. Surprisingly, his girlfriend is a full-size plastic woman, and he named her Bianca.
The movie shows how Lars makes Bianca his coping mechanism for emotions. It is a slow film, but Ryan Gosling has performed brilliantly.
Benny & Joon
Benny & Joon is a classic 1993 romantic comedy film starring Johnny Depp and Mary Stuart Masterson. It is one of the best films because of the storyline that follows a refreshing subject of a brother Benny and his sister Joon who has schizophrenia.
The mentally challenged Joon falls in love with Sam (Johnny Depp). The movie intended to show a healthy and sweet romantic relationship between Sam and Joon. Sam’s quirkiness in acting makes him the best in the film.
Joon is different from the rest yet capable of developing a lovely romantic relationship, and that’s the sweetness about this film.
I recently watched ‘Melancholia’ a visually stunning and effective movie that shines a light on mental condition, depression, and fears.
It is a science-fiction psychological drama film on mental illness and paints a realistic picture of how depression affects a person inside out and how they face misfortunes.
Justine (Kirsten Dunst) symbolizes the story of all the victims. She is seen sabotaging her wedding night and fall into a hole of mental catastrophic.
More than the complexities of the storyline, what I like the most about the film is the beautiful cinematography.
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
Johnny Depp and young Leonardo DiCaprio starring American classic 1993 film ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’ is partially a coming-of-age film.
It tells the story of Gilbert, a young man who works at a grocery store to meet the daily needs of his family. He is taking care of his mother, who has an eating disorder and his young autistic brother Arnie played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
Gilbert is caught between his responsibilities for taking care of his family as everyone is dependent on him.
The movie revolves around the character Gilbert and trying to explain a family of mental and physical disorders.
This portrays Gilbert’s relationship with Arnie, who needs constant support and care from Gilbert. How Gilbert is managing all and what’s affecting him is defined in a layered way.
It is a humble movie that shows how each character is dealing with their mental issues. The movie has a rating of 90% in Rotten Tomatoes, if you haven’t watched the film yet you are going to regret it because it’s one of the best classic films of all time.
Martin Scorsese’s directorial film ‘Shutter Island’ is a critically acclaimed film with an IMDB rating of 8.2. It is Martin Scorsese’s one of the masterpiece film that has an intense thriller and psychological suspense in the plot.
The story follows Teddy Daniels (Leonardo Dicaprio) suffering from Delusional disorder creating a pseudo world around himself as a coping mechanism of his traumatic past.
The film has a lot of twists and turns begins with Teddy, a U.S. Marshal who is assigned to investigate a place called ‘Shutter Island.’ But the main story is about mental illness that Teddy is suffering from his past, where he killed his wife because she drowned their children.
Teddy playing the role of a U.S Marshell, is a part of his therapy performed by his doctor Chuck (Mark Ruffalo).
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of the finest cinemas in Hollywood. With an IMDB rating of 8.7, the movie tells the story of Randell McMurphy, who acted of being insane so that he can skip the criminal prison ward and is shifted to the hospital of the mental institution.
He joined a group of men who are also not crazy; instead, they are the free-spirited individuals who want to shake up the system that they protest. Mr. Nicholson, as Randell, performed effortlessly with grace.
The movie features the mistreatment of psychiatric patients during the sixties. Randell fought for the mentally ill people who also have free-thinking and right to live.
I have become an admirer of Jack Nicholson after watching his performance in ‘The Shining.’ ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ is even better.
It is always a pleasure to watch Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio onscreen to perform together.
Sam Mende’s 2008 directorial film ‘Revolutionary Road’ is a film about a married couple during the 1950s living in the suburbs of Connecticut dealing with depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies.
Both the actors never failed to impress us with their brilliant performances in whatever movie they acted. Kate Winslet as April is an exhausted, emotionally frail and depressed person who is looking for a way out from her marriage.
It’s beautiful and engaging screenplay makes it one of the many best movies that portray mental illness beautifully.
Beautiful Boy is a biographical drama film based on the memoir of father-son relationship David and his son Nic Sheff.
The movie tells the fragmented chronicles of the journey that both experienced during Nick’s drug addiction.
Carell and Timothy Chalamet performed their respective roles with utmost dedication and perfection. Chalamet portraying Nick’s journey of drug addiction to the process of withdrawal feels incredibly realistic.
Carell playing the supportive father David is emotional. His bonding with Nick is graceful, friendly, and emotionally dependent on each other.
But what more to see in the film is how the two actors pulled the entire movie on their shoulders with unbelievable acting.
The entire movie talks about a young boy who is drowning in drug addiction and how hard the journey gets when you think of recovering. There is pain, and it hugely affects your family.
Infinitely Polar Bear
Mark Ruffalo, starring’ Infinitely Polar Bear,’ is a less known film but having a beautiful storyline that’s based on mental illness.
The movie follows the story of a father, Cameron, who is a bipolar disorder individual but takes the responsibility of taking care of his two daughters when his wife is away.
Rotten Tomatoes rated the film 81%. The movie pretty much revolves around Cameron, how he deals with his mental disorder, and how he keeps a healthy relationship with his daughters.
Christian Bale, as Trevor in the 2004 psychological drama film ‘The Machinist’ follows the story of Trevor, who is suffering from extreme insomnia.
His lack of sleep causes several serious mental health issues. He begins to hallucinate, which increasingly gets scarier as his condition deteriorates.
It is considered as one of the best psychological thriller film ever made. Christian Bale character Trevor as an acute insomniac, is vulnerable.
His physical transformation is historic and shows how dedicated he is towards this profession. It says he lost almost 60 pounds to play this character.
These are some of the best movies that portray mental illness, and I can recommend you to watch them all. If you have any suggestion, then please feel free to comment or reach out to me at Paulomidutta89@gmail.com.