Just When You Thought it Was Safe to Get a Roommate with Mental Illness.

I have just watched a film called "Roommate". It was one of those stalker movies which seem to have proliferated since the release of "Single White Female", I believe in the early '90s. And the thing about "Roommate" is, that aside from being a bad film, it is also one of the most grossly misrepresentative of mental illness I have seen in recent years.
The action, if you can call it that, centres around one young girl, Sara, as she goes off to college for the first time. Needless to say, Sara is attractive, Sara is popular, Sara has a good relationship with her family, Sara soon meets a boy, who is also good looking, and Sara is talented in the area of fashion design. In short, Sara is so banally perfect that she makes you feel like being sick.
However, there is one fly in Sarah's designer ointment, and that is her roommate, Rebecca, who at first appears, like all "psychos" in such films, to be sweet and charming, but later turns into a manipulative, violent stalker from hell.
At first oblivious to Rebecca's true nature, Sara does not know that she has beaten up her best friend, blackmailed a college professor who made a pass at Sara, kidnapped a member of Sara's family, and even killed a fluffy little kitten, which Sara had brought in off the streets, by putting it in a tumble dryer. I mean, just how evil can you be? I can almost cope with the stuff Rebecca does to humans, but the cat is just a step too far.
It is only when Sara goes with Rebecca to her home that things start to become clearer for her, at one point Rebecca's Mum asking Sara, "so, how is Rebecca doing? I mean, is she taking her medication?" At this, Sara suddenly baulks, goes back to her room at college, only to discover that Rebecca takes, or should be taking, a drug called Zyprexa, or Olanzapine, which, she finds out via the Internet, is used "in the treatment of psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia and bipolar". And, in the predictable denouement, Rebecca is finally found out and suitably dispensed in the grisly way that all such evil-doers inevitably are.
So, all becomes clear. The reason why Rebecca is such a "freak" is because she suffers from either schizophrenia or bipolar. It's funny, though, that in the film, Rebecca does not display the symptoms of either of those illnesses. She is just presented as a thoroughly strange, violent character, who appears to be fully cognisant of her actions, which, if she were truly in a psychotic state, she would not be.
Once again, then, a link is made between mental illness, violence, and just plain bad behaviour, which, for those of you who have read this blog, I needn't remind you is a spurious link. And this would all appear to stem from a misunderstanding of the terms "psychosis" or "psychotic". Whereas in actuality psychosis is merely a term which describes a set of symptoms, such as delusions and hallucinations, in some movies it appears you cannot call someone "psychotic" without them being violent, criminal and deviant. Such films propagate a fear of mental ill health which is wholly unwarranted.
What I also found irksome about the film was its portrayal of the "normal", of which Sara is a shining example, as opposed to the abnormal or deviant, as represented by Rebecca. It seems that in the environment such movies advertise, someone who is even slightly "different" would come to be feared and vilified, not just the likes of Rebecca, and that cannot be, to my mind, a very tolerant place to live.
What's more, I just don't know how movie-makers can get away with distributing this sort of misrepresentative crap anymore. If this were gay or other minority groups being portrayed in this way, then everyone would surely be up in arms, but of all the reviews of this film I read on the Internet, not one of them mentioned its grossly unfair portrayal of mental illness. And, it didn't seem to affect the film's box office return either, with it going to the number one spot on its opening weekend, raking in an estimated $15 million.
Just as you begin to think that you are making inroads into the problem of stigma, then, a film like this comes along and blows your apparently grandiose ideas out of the water. Indeed, just as we may have got people thinking that it might be safe to live with someone with experience of illnesses like schizophrenia, there always seems to be some negative portrayal hanging round the corner, or a college dorm, inevitably brandishing a very sharp knife.


klahanie said…
Dear David,
First of all, apologies for not commenting on your previous posting. I did read it, along with numerous other postings on that awful day which displayed the epitome of evil and the selfless bravery of many.
Now then, in regards to this article, I consider what you have written up in regards to that film the "Roommate", most disturbing and dismaying. I thought we had moved on, made some significant progress in the eliminating the misleading and unfair stereotypes of mental health concerns. This film appears to be a setback. Have you considered making your concerns known to those who made this movie?
Show that you are "up in arms" over such portrayal?
With very kind wishes, your way, Gary
David said…
Dear Gary,
Indeed, I thought too that perhaps we had got past such negative stereotyping, but it seems not.
Perhaps as we have experience of mental illness ourselves and know so many who have had similar concerns, we see the more positve side of things. Unfortunately, it seems, if this film is to be taken as an indicator, there is still a lot of ignorance and prejudice out there. One hopes, then, that this film is not a representation of how most people feel, but who can say? Who knows how deep such seemingly ingrained prejudices run?
As for writing to the folks who made this film, I think I may have to address it to the whole of Hollywood, as they appear to be one of the main perpitrators of this sort of tripe.
Anyway, thanks for commenting, Gary.
Best Wishes, and some Bernard Hermann music, your way,
The Manic Chef said…
Whoa! I'm going to make sure I don't watch that film, in my present state of mind, it would make me sick, and just stunned. I can't watch films like that on a hyper-manic state, which I find most things positive, but with agitating under pining. What can we say? The world is the world, and many that walk amongst life not caring at all how people are or are not. Your writing really gets to the 'root' of all things which you desire to express. But, we must struggle on. You would think with many famous/excellent actors who do suffer from Bi-polar that it would change societies "stereo-typing". But, alas who knows. Excellent and informative piece, may many more people read this. You could make a great educational 'critic'! Later.....
David said…
Dear Manic Chef,
Thanks for your comment and kind remarks.
I do hope people will read this blog and come away perhaps a little better informed about mental ill health- what it is and what it most decidedly is not.
Anyway, you'll do well to steer clear of seeing "Roommate". I thought that not only did it display some horrible prejudices, it was also just not a very good film.
But, as I point out in my post, this didn't stop many peole from seeing and apparently enjoying this movie, which kind of begs the question of just how many people may share its rather warped interpretation of mental illness. Still, one hopes that others may question such things, and, as you say, we who do have expereince of mental ill health must, in the meantime, "struggle on".
With Very Best Wishes,

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