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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday July 28, 2020 


How seriously should we - or will we - take the presentation of mental illness in the Farrelly brothers' new film, Me Myself & Irene? That's the crux of a debate ignited by SANE, the Australian organisation that helps people affected by mental illness, concerned about the depiction of Jim Carrey's character as a schizophrenia sufferer. ANDREW L. URBAN reports.

The Executive Director of SANE, Barbara Hocking, stresses that her concerns were triggered by the promotional material she has seen for Me Myself and Irene, including the official website. "We have requested a screening of the film but we don't have access to one until the day before its release," she told Urban Cinefile.

"In its publicity, Me, Myself & Irene purports to be about someone who has a ‘split personality’, inaccurately identified as schizophrenia. Carrey’s character is portrayed as having two personalities: Charlie and Hank. When ‘mild’ Charlie forgets to take his medication for schizophrenia, he turns into ‘aggressive and violent’ Hank. This is an inaccurate, offensive and stigmatising portrayal of people with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia does not mean split personality. It is a serious but treatable mental illness which causes pain and distress to those with the illness, their families and close friends."

"is not intended... (as) a realistic presentation of mental illness" Chris Sioris, 20th Century Fox

But, says Chris Sioris on behalf of the film's distributor, 20th Century Fox, "It's meant to be an entertainment from filmmakers who are known to push the envelope and is not intended - nor should be taken as - a realistic presentation of mental illness."

And that's the message Hocking wants Fox to prominently display prior to - and at the conclusion of - each screening. And also on the video when it's released. (Sioris wouldn't comment on the request, but it seems unlikely to eventuate.)

"SANE is concerned that those who see this film will take away inaccurate and stereotypical views about schizophrenia," she states, "leading to a misunderstanding of the condition. Of greatest alarm is that the primary target group for the film, 15 to 34 year olds, represents the peak age for onset of the illness. This impressionable group is most in need of accurate, balanced information about the illness and its treatment.

"Dr Jonathan Phillips, president of the Royal Australian New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and a patron of SANE’s StigmaWatch program says: ‘As psychiatrists, we all too often see the unnecessary harm caused by stigma resulting from inaccurate media portrayal of mental illness.’"

"unwise to use the word 'schizophrenia'" Barbara Hocking

Hocking says "we certainly don't want to stop people enjoying a movie, but neither do we want the movie to feed the myths and misconceptions that surround the subject, which affects about 180,000 Australians." Hocking believes that it is possible to make a comedy that deals with schizophrenia, "but you have to get your facts right. If you were with a group of people with schizophrenia you could have a good time and lots of laughs…but you'd be laughing with them, not at them."

She also makes the point that the US-based distributor was unwise to use the word 'schizophrenia' and takes particular exception to a scene in which Carrey's character, without the medication, is seen wearing a Nazi uniform.

The Australian film ANGEL BABY was a dramatic love story about two young people with schizophrenia. Hocking says that film deals with the subject responsibly and with accuracy and "despite not having a happy ending" it shows how people can deal with the illness.

"there is good taste, bad taste - and Farrelly taste." Renee Zellweger

As Sioris suggests, in the case of filmmakers such as the Farrellys, the issue of taste is the test: to quote Renee Zellweger, "there is good taste, bad taste - and Farrelly taste." So the bottom line question is whether the film plays sufficiently over the top to avoid being taken at all seriously as far as the illness is concerned. The chances are it does for most people, but that may not be enough to satisfy SANE.

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Me Myself & Irene

Barbara Hocking, Executive Director, SANE

For accurate information about schizophrenia, visit the SANE website.

20th Century Fox website

Jim Carrey as Hank

Jim Carrey as Charlie

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