Depression on the cinema screen: 10 depressed film characters

by Kitty Knowles
Wednesday 24 September 2014
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It's fairly easy to think of ten depressed film characters, but how do their portrayals affect public understanding of the condition? Registered Clinical Psychologist Ruth Ann Harpur-Lewis, an RSCPP Therapist, says that cinema can help people who have depression – and those who don't – to better understand its effects.

"Watching one film is not going to portray what depression is like for everybody," says Harpur-Lewis, "but I think they can provoke conversation. What's important is that films show someone as a whole person."

Watching one film is not going to portray what depression is like for everybody

For Ruth, the role of Frank in Little Miss Sunshine succeeds in doing this: "You have someone who is depressed and it is a big part of the story. You see the impact on his family and how the family rallied together and supported him, but it isn't all about his depression. He is a whole person with other whole story lines as well."

It's also important to recognise that different people experience depression in different ways, says Ruth. "Some people may relate to the characters in Ghost World more than Little Miss Sunshine because depression is very different in different people. We need to see different characters and how they experience depression."

10 Depressed Film Characters:

1. Frank (Steve Carrell) - Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Frank tries to commit suicide after his boyfriend leaves him, but is welcomed into the warm – if dysfunctional – arms of his sister's family. The clan road trip across America in a VW camper to enter Olive (the youngest family member) into a children's beauty pageant.

 

2. Enid (Thora Birch) - Ghost World (2001)

After luring him out on a fake date, Enid falls for Seymour – a social outcast many years her senior. But, when Seymour begins to date a woman his own age, Enid is left crushed. She alienates herself from her best friend and eventually boards a phantom mystery bus to nowhere.

 

3. The Beast - Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Unable to find inner peace and acceptance the Beast shuts himself away in his castle, isolated from the world. What he learns though, is that however difficult, it is by letting friendship and love into his life – in the form of Belle – that he is able to live a full and happy life.

 

4. Marvin the Paranoid Android - The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

The resident robot on a time travelling space ship, Marvin has a "brain the size of a planet" with little opportunity to use it. Despite being called "the Paranoid Android" and a "maniacally depressed robot," Marvin is remarkably resilient and waits for billions of years to be picked up after he's ditched on a foreign planet.

 

5. Richie Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson) - The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Although a number of the Tenenbaums appear to suffer from depression, it is the impossible love story between Richie and his half-sister Margot that drives him to attempt suicide. He neatly clips his hair, trims his beard, and removes his signature sunglasses before self-harming over the bathroom sink.

 

6. Eeyore - Winnie the Pooh (2011)

The treasured A.A. Milne character barely has the energy to do anything, and when he does get involved with Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh and the gang, he almost always does so "gloomily". Well known for his morose temperament, and seemingly unable to do anything about it, Eeyore seems destined to isolate himself in the darkest corner of Farthing Wood. 

 

7. Susanna (Winona Ryder) - Girl, Interrupted (1999)

In the film adaptation of Susanna Kaysen's memoir, Susanna checks herself into a suburban psychiatric hospital after attempting suicide. Feeling lost and depressed she befriends the other girls on the ward and rebels against the staff. Only through writing a journal does she start to recover – but not all the girls are so fortunate.

 

8. Eve (Geraldine Page) - Interiors (1978)

Interiors is not only the first Woody Allen film that the director didn't star in, but it is his first poignantly unfunny drama. Eve, an interior decorator, falls into a deep depression when her husband leaves her, creating palpable friction with her two daughters. As she becomes desperate and suicidal, she cannot see the pain and damage she is inflicting on her family.

 

9. Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) - The Hours (2002)

Based on the Micheal Cunningham novel, The Hours tells three stories which feature depressed characters. The earliest is of Virginia Woolf as she struggles to write her novel, Mrs Dalloway. Plagued by hallucinations, memory loss, and lack of appetite, Woolf appears – at times – suicidal. At one point she lies down next to a dead bird, totally identifying with its frailty and its lack of ability to keep on living. 

 

10. Lizzie (Cristina Ricci) - Prozac Nation (2001)

As in the autobiography by Elizabeth Wurtzel, Lizzie graduates from Harvard to become a reviewer for Rolling Stone. However, she is unfulfilled. She becomes cruel to her friends and is increasingly aggressive towards her family. As her depression worsens she finds herself unable to write, in a cycle of alcohol and drug abuse, and unresponsive to medication and therapy. Only after an attempted suicide does she begin to recover.


Finding support


You can find out more about symptoms and causes of Depression, including how to find a therapist. If this route is not appropriate for you, your GP can assess you and direct you towards support.

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Updated 23 October 2014