National Alliance on Mental Illness
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On Morality, Love and Schizophrenia
By Dina Al Qassar, NAMI Intern
A movie about a young man’s quest for love isn’t uncommon, but Patrick’s Day adds a magical twist to what could have been an ordinary movie about love. The lead character of the film, Patrick, has schizophrenia and he has been under his mother’s wing ever since he was a child. His mother, Maura, is very protective of him and her love for him is almost suffocating. One day Patrick meets Karen, a flight attendant who has had suicidal thoughts, and falls in love with her. His love introduces her to life again, yet his mother is furious. She enlists the help of a dysfunctional police detective to separate the two. Little does Maura know what her attempts to separate her son from his lover mean for herself.
Patrick’s Day is a provocative and heart-breaking story that explores the notions of love and morality. The movie, which premiered at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, this spring, is written and directed by the independent Irish director Terry McMahon. There are currently no plans set for future festivals or wide-spread distribution unfortunately, but visit www.patricksday.ie to stay up-to-date with the film and see when chances become available. NAMI had the opportunity to speak with him about his captivating movie.
NAMI: What was your inspiration behind this movie?
I used to work in a psychiatric hospital in Ireland; so many wonderful people worked and lived there. But if anything suggested about or led to intimacy, it was shut down completely as if the notion of intimacy was unacceptable.
The hospital never had a male in the female ward; they were disturbed by the simple idea. I was the first male to be in the female ward and I noticed time and time again how intimacy was completely ruled out of these people’s lives.
I’ve seen people impose morality on people because of their gender or mental health, or whatever stereotype they decide to put on people. I would watch the guardians and parents come in during the weekend, and without any malicious intentions, they imposed their own morality on their children or whoever they were looking after. They took away the patient’s self-morality and determination and imposed their own.
It is as if the protection of moral servitude was more important than a person’s own freedom, feelings and morals.
What’s the message behind this movie? What did you want it to say?
The movie explores the notion of normality and the right to love and intimacy. The message of this movie was to have people rethink their views and beliefs on conventional normality and to understand that everyone has the right to love. When you are mentally healthy, because somebody has deemed you as mentally healthy you have the right to love, but when someone categorizes you as mentally ill, you can lose that right to love. In fact, your intimate feelings are cause for suspicion and are a cause of problems and panic.
I wanted people to see how ridiculous and unfair the notion and nature of labeling is and how it is preventing people from finding love. I also wanted to show the difference between self-determination and controlling others and how harmful and destructive it is to impose our own morality and ideas upon another free human being.
Were there any problems that you came across in choosing schizophrenia as the illness to focus on?
Moe Dunford’s (who plays Patrick) brother is diagnosed with schizophrenia and he had a problem with the word schizophrenia, so at first we wanted to make sure that the word would make sense to him and not offend him. Once we made sure that Dunford was fine with it, we moved on to the next step.
When Patrick is identified as having schizophrenia it allows us to explain what it is, correct some common misinformation and move on. Some people think the diagnosis is totally bogus because there are many subcategories to schizophrenia, while others disagree. I used this debate surrounding schizophrenia to allow myself more room to play with the word usage in addition to the manifestation of symptoms.
In the movie there is a line where Patrick, the main character, says “I’m schizophrenic” and Karen, his love interest, replies, “Aren’t we all.” I had the line in the script and I took it out, and I put it back in again several times before deciding to leave it. The ambiguity and simultaneous popularity of the terms allows us to explore different aspects of the illness and allows the plot to grow outside of it as well.
The whole point of choosing schizophrenia was to provide the audience with something that they would know and understand and recognize. When the audience can identify the disorder or diagnosis they are then able to move on and to focus on the plot and the message rather than trying to figure out what his diagnosis is. By doing so, we are trying to highlight the other issues such as Patrick's mother’s suffocating and unhealthy love, imposing morality and controlling the right to intimacy.
Were you concerned about the reception of the movie by the mental health community or people in general, especially after your last movie Charlie Casanova?
There were people that were going to hate this movie and attack it for the simple fact that I made it. Other than that I wasn’t that concerned about it in that sense; it’s not a provocative movie.
What I feared was that it might offend people by simply using schizophrenia as the main subject matter. So I spoke to several people—doctors, individuals with mental illness, people I know, etc.—and had them read the scripts. I had many responses, some embraced it, some were angered by it, others were deeply touched and said, “How could you know my life story?”
One of my main concerns was that it might come off as anti-ECT or pro-ECT or whatever; the movie isn’t anti or pro anything, it’s an exploration of an individual’s right to intimacy and the entire system we create to take that from them. It’s to highlight how we impose and trample on people’s own fundamental rights.
Why did you decide to characterize Patrick’s mother, Maura, the way you did—as a strong and controlling mother?
I love the idea of exploring the notion of a female character who is trying to find herself. She doesn’t act out of malice, and is convinced that she’s doing the right thing. She removed herself from the world and focused primarily on her son. She tried to control her son greatly—out of love—yet it’s Patrick who introduces her, and all of them, to love and they don’t realize it.
She is able to discover her ugliness and how she’s destroying people without knowing it. As horrific as her actions are, she was able to rediscover herself and become a different person and a remarkable mother.
When my own mother died, I held her in my hands and I remember watching the life leave her and the sound of a silent breath. She was a powerhouse of a woman, but she didn’t understand what the world was capable of. She was capable of unintended cruelty because she didn’t understand the world when she grew up and had to eventually come to terms with herself. When she was diagnosed with cancer, it changed her and brought out the best in her. She was remarkably stoic, yet she seized every day. I didn’t know my mother much, but then I saw that there was a remarkable human being in there, one that we didn’t see.
There is a scene towards the end of the movie when Maura stares at the wall with all of Patrick’s birthday photos and then she starts taking them down and crying, why does she do that?
It’s an imprisonment of memory, photographs capture moments in our lives and it changes with time. The photograph that never affected you can break you down, because your memory has been broken, because your heart has been broken. She has an altar, a tabernacle of her photos with him on his birthday, all taken in the same place, and they’re structured like a prison which mirrors the psychological prison that she constantly puts him in.
She then recognizes what she has created and the things that she thought she knew as truths were all exposed as dangerous and she realizes all the damaging losses. She allows her son to find love, and by that being a true mother.
You opted for a very silent ending, why did you decide to do that?
Patrick hears the soundtrack in his head; this is mentioned at the beginning; but after so much ECT he loses the sound of the music in his head. So what happens when Karen returns is that she brings back that music. It’s a film about delusions and reconstructing memories, now let me ask you, is the ending a delusion or is it real? It allows you to make your own choice, and that opens it up for the audience to decide. The ambiguous ending allows you either the relief of believing in magic or believing in a fatalistic reality. It questions truth versus memories, reality versus cruelty.
What do you hope people watching this movie take away from it?
The hope is that the movie will help fight the stigma of mental illness and advocate for the cause. But the movie is intended to have a profound sense of empowerment and to create a visceral response to touch people personally; it hits them in their stomachs and it leaves an impact. It won’t result in any healing, but it will empower individuals and allow them to change their lives and themselves.
Films are supposed to impact the individual. Say I was a lonely and isolated person and I watch a movie about a person who is lonely and isolated and that person finds love—that film would move me. If after watching that film I pick up the phone and ask someone out for coffee or whatnot, that’s magical.
When Moe saw the movie with his parents and brothers—my most important audience—his brother went through that process. He wanted a girlfriend, he wanted love, and after watching the movie he felt empowered and liberated. His parents were profoundly touched; it had a huge impact on their family. That was remarkable. For him to see that movie and feel a profound sense of empowerment, that’s the most important thing to me. It is individuals like him that I made this movie for.