55 Steps to Informed Consent

Sera Davidow
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Warning: I made the decision to include ‘spoilers’ in this piece. As this is a true story, the information I reveal is already circulating. Additionally, it is pivotal to why I feel people should see this film — and, most importantly, ensure other people beyond this community get exposed to this film. Maybe even involuntarily.

 

“Everybody’s here to ‘help’ me. That’s why I need help.”

Eleanor Riese

“I always thought it was my primary job to care for the patient, not manage them for my own convenience.”  

– Collette Hughes

 

 

55 Steps is a new film (though long in the making) written by Mark Rosin, directed by Bille August, and starring Helena Bonham Carter and Hilary Swank. In some ways, it’s one of those unlikely ‘buddy’ films. However, this time, rather than featuring some iteration of two men bonding, it centers around two women: a lawyer with a tendency to work long hours, and Eleanor Riese, whose stacks of journals documenting her journey with psychiatric drugs indicate that she has spent far too much time incarcerated in hospitals.

The film begins with a fairly graphic and intense scene showing Eleanor (played by Carter) being restrained, forcibly drugged, and left in seclusion. There, she has at least one seizure unwitnessed by those who have left her lying alone on the floor. Some hours later, she urinates on herself when no one responds to her pleas for a bathroom. The scene was so true to life that, in the screening in which I participated, one audience member who’d been through it herself got up and walked out. But another said, “Good. Good that it’s so real. Good that people will finally get to see what it is like.”

Note that she said “what it *IS* like,” and not “what it was like.” And therein lies one of the risks of this film, based on a true story, and therefore set some 30 years in the past. We want people to see the truth of what has happened to so many of us behind those locked doors where far too many seem to believe we have belonged to get “help,” but haven’t been interested enough in the conditions to look for themselves. We want them to know it’s still happening. Not much has changed.

Eleanor first meets her lawyer, Collette Hughes (played by Swank), when she calls seeking an attorney from a payphone in the hospital following the ordeal described above. We don’t know quite who she calls, as we hear only her brief demand. Collette responds quickly, and before she even meets Eleanor, she is warned that she should expect a “very explosive patient.” But what she gets in Eleanor is a smart woman who says what’s on her mind and is ready to fight for what is right — not just for herself, but for all others like her who want a choice about the psychiatric drugs that they are given. Before it’s too late.

Carter’s portrayal of Eleanor seems a little “Rainman.” In other words, a little too “cute” and stereotypical; her lines a little too scripted and perfect for the moment. However, both Rosin (the film’s writer) and the real life Collette Hughes (both of whom were at the 55 Stepsaforementioned screening) swear it’s right on the mark. At one point in the film, Collette notes that Eleanor’s chart indicates that she was drugged simply for being “sarcastic.” Collette calls that a violation of her First Amendment rights. She is not incorrect.

However, the film ultimately focuses less on the First Amendment and more on the concept of informed consent. Although unclear in the way that the film is shot, the story spans the course of five years during which Collette fights for Eleanor’s right to choose whether or not she takes psychiatric drugs, what she takes, when and how much. Unfortunately, as we learn fairly early on, it’s too late for Eleanor to have too much choice herself. The drugs have already done so much damage to her body that she’s unable to use the bathroom without inserting a catheter, and unable to stop taking at least one of her prescriptions without seizures ensuing. In many ways, the fight is less for Eleanor, and more for those who will follow in her path.

The fight is not easily won, and Eleanor can’t bear to keep walking up the 55 steps to the court room after the first loss. Yet Collette hangs in there, with Eleanor’s fiery encouragement and sometimes not-so-gentle ribbing from the outside. Collette is also partnered with another attorney, Mort Cohen (played by Jeffrey Tambor), who was actually the lead attorney on Eleanor’s case.

It is perhaps this section of the film — where the focus is on Collette and Mort — that I found most difficult to watch, and for very different reasons than the opening scene. The audience is introduced to the fact that, although Collette is Eleanor’s lawyer and has been doing all the foot work, Mort will always be the one presenting the case before the court. There is a painful sequence during which Collette is coaching Mort to learn the details and technical terms related to psychiatric drugs and their risks (something with which Collette was naturally quite familiar, given her past career as a nurse) before he’s in front of the judge. At that point, more than one of us wanted to yell at the screen, “Sit down and let her do it herself!” But that’s not how it happened in real life, and real life Collette was clear that she didn’t see that as an issue. So, I’ve tried to let it go.

It’s also during this period in the film that we have to make our way through doctors agreeing to support Eleanor’s argument for informed consent, not because of the potential harms caused by psychiatric drugs, but because they believe that a collaborative approach will increase adherence to the prescribed regiment. And, at one point, Mort himself argues to the court that — in spite of all the harms caused — most people will likely still take the drugs even if given a choice because “they want to get better.”

This misses an opportunity to push further, into the realities that the psychiatric drugs so often aren’t making many people ‘better’ at all. It hurt a little bit. Okay, a lot. Some folks in the audience flinched or grimaced. But Mark Rosin explained that he took those words directly from the court records (the real life Mort actually spoke them), that the film couldn’t fight all the issues (especially since it’s based on real events), and that it was likely a strategy to get the court to listen.

And that strategy (if it indeed was one) did work. In reality (as in the film), after a lengthy battle, the courts (mostly) sided with Eleanor and laws were changed in California that required informed consent and placed significant limitations on a hospital’s ability to forcibly drug someone. But I’ll be honest, the real win in my eyes — at least the one that matters most at a national level — wasn’t the court’s decision.

Not long after Eleanor’s case was won, she died. And, for the first time ever (at least that I’m aware of), a film featuring mainstream movie stars explained in clearly written words placed directly on the screen that Eleanor Riese died at the age of 47 due directly to the negative effects of psychiatric drugs. To me, that’s the real win right now.

This film is imperfect. It doesn’t argue all the points quite the way I’d like. Frankly, I wish more liberties had been taken with the truth. But the importance of this film can’t be ignored. The implications of getting the general public to unwittingly walk in to a large dose of reality are too tangible.

55 Steps was released in the US this week by Vertical Entertainment. It’s currently available through various streaming sites, including iTunes and Amazon.  It is set for limited release in theaters next month (November 16) in locations to be determined.

But will anybody see it? Are Helena Bonham Carter and Hilary Swank’s fan base enough to draw in folks who otherwise wouldn’t take an interest in the subject matter? Will the release of 55 Steps steer Hollywood toward or away from topics like this? We all know how capitalism works, so it seems like some of that is up to us. After years of trying to get people to listen, but finding ourselves preaching mostly to the choir, this is yet another tool that is primed for our use.

So… let’s use it.

110 COMMENTS

  1. Yes, thanks Sera. I will have to see this.

    I really have a hard time though grasping the legal significance. Involuntarily committed a number of times, I didn’t consent to treatment, informed or otherwise. Is this about status, voluntary versus, or something else? I dunno. Once out of the hospital I was out of their hands.

    When big pHarma is getting bad press, and taking hits in the movie theaters, I think maybe MIA is having some kind of positive impact.

  2. You’re absolutely right. That IS a win. We see a film about a real human being who got murdered by psychiatry – the very system which was so flagrantly touted as “helpful” in an American court of law. Hell, I’ll watch this movie, if only for its painful, yet glorious moment when #FAKESCIENCE gets exposed as a barbarous scam that kills you long before you’ll ever expect it to!

  3. I was diagnosed with Diabetes Type 1 this year. Not anytime soon but I too am likely to die directly from the negative effects of psychiatric drugs. Thought I was OK, I was a survivor, that nightmare was all in my past. I quit that poison in 2007 but it got me. I knew I was never the same after that withdrawal sickness.

    “Don’t worry its safe” That doctors exact words when he handed my that sample bottle of Zyprexa and I was reading those fine print medical words on the paper in the package.

  4. This movie is a revolution. I read about it just yesterday, and I could not believe that someone made a movie about the victim of the psychiatric DRUGGING. I can’t believe it.

    Remeber that book “Dear Luise”? The girl said —IT WAS MEDICINE THAT KILLED ME.
    YES IT WAS. The have killed Martin Luther King MORE THAN ONCE.

    “On my gravestone I want it to say that it was the medicine that killed me.” – Luise.

    Manufacture of madness – Thomas Szasz
    Re- visioning psychology – James Hillman
    Peter Gotzsche, Breggin, Rober Whitaker, and so on.

    MAINSTREAM MOVIE CAN NOT BE IGNORED!
    IT IS HOLLYWOOD, THEY HAVE MONEY THERE!
    BAHAHAAA.

      • I do not need his friendship or compassion, nor Hillman’s. I NEED THEIR BOOKS and knowledge.
        Szasz was a critic of psychiatry, but he was not a phenomenologist of the psyche. Only Hillman was. Phenomenology of the psyche was destroyed by pseudo scientism, Kraepelin, Bleuler, to control the masses, not for understanding the mechanism of the psyche. Scientism destroyed the real image of the psyche. Szasz was a crticic of the psychiatry, he did not know what psyche was. His critique of the psychiatry was very logical, still, he was a nihilist.

          • Read Hillman Re – visioning psychology, you will understand why I rely on the others for knowledge.

            666 is the number of a man. From theological perspective – PSYCHE IS A BEAST, because it is higly untheological. And in the place of psychology we have hidden theology and psychiatry is an inquisition, neither scientism neiter empathy. Psychiatry is using false empiricism and has nothing in common with true image of the psyche.

            Myths are against one “true god”, while myths are psychological truths, and god is a form of spiritual fiction which destroyed real psyche, because of its connections with death, and for theologians/christians death is the greatest enemy . Death is the essence of the psyche.

            Spiritualists, they can not stand the cruel truths about the psychological reality (e.g Anneliese Michel), so they refuse too admit that she was a great, great , extremely great hero of descent (into cruel psychologial reality ).

            HADES/STRICTE PSYCHOLOGICAL REALITY is far from THE shallow apollonian ego. Ego in apollonian kind of perception.
            Apollonian ego archetype/ perspective is the greatest denial of the psychological reality. (rationalism, christianity/science pseudo are against psychological reality)

            Hades is a psychological reality and apollonians.-authoritarians or theologians are using it for their own egoic purposes, for their careers, for money, for their own purposes/ they condemned psychological man using theological/pseudo medical negation. Because they are egoists and barbarians. Money, theology, rationalism, science, drugs and the others fetishes of authoritarians – means nothing in psychological reality. Psyche is a hostage to theology, to scientific psychopaths, to capitalism, to material reality, and so on.

            For human being there is one truth — psychological hades which is a psychological base for every other state of psyche, even for apollonnians and they are the least psychological human beings.

            Rationalism,theology and scientism are quite a limitations of thinking I do KNOW that mythic reality, the reality of Hades is real, and it is beyond EGO control and that Anneliese Michel was a drastic proof of this. I do believe in what she was going through, because I am empath and I am able to feel, maybe one tenth of what she was going through — that reality is extremely cruel/lethal and theologians and psychiatrists are souless IDIOTS.

            Hades reality, mainly psychological reality, beyond APOLLO jurisdiction is UNBEARABLE FOR SMALL FEEBLE EGO. I am against tehological and pseudo medical fictions. Because I know that reality, reality of HADES can kill everyone—–

            AND they call it simply schizophrenia, they refused too accept that reality, they ridiculed that reality, THEY SOLD THAT REALITY. They will pay to that reality.

            I completely reject psychiatric jurisdiction over psyche and theological fictions for ONE GREAT REASON —–THEY ARE LIARS.
            THEY DESTROYED PSYCHOLOGICAL REALITY.

            AND THEY DO NOT BELIEVE IN THE POWER OF THE PSYCHE.

          • I don’t feel so poorly about Thomas Szasz at all. He exposed psychiatry for the thoroughly non-medical pseudo-science that it was (and continues to be). He’s not nearly so much of a witch doctor as your run-of-the-mill psychoanalyst who thinks he is “healing” people, and spends so much time going around in circles with them, and, as a rule, not making much progress, unless your idea of progress is all talk.

            As for being dragged to mass, Szasz was not Catholic. He was, I take it, a non-practicing Jew.

          • I love Szazs’s ability to cut through the bovine excrement. Some of his essays vie with Mark Twain’s writing style for biting humor.

            Many Catholic kids leave the church. I got the idea from his commenting on the guilt viewing the cross brings. (Not my experience.) I imagined some pious granny dragging young Thomas to church against his will. Like many hypothetical scenarios it was wrong.

        • Szasz was unparalleled in his deconstruction of psychiatric ideology and his evisceration of the semantics of “mental illness.” Without him there never would have been even the thought of an anti-psychiatry movement. However he was limited from taking this further by his antipathy towards Marxism and his inability to understand the alienation of people under capitalism, both from the product of their labor and from their own nature.

          • Why do people insist that any new idea publicly espoused is impossible without the person who is the first to bring up the new idea. Idolatry. You do understand that when you say “without him bla bla” you are idolizing him. If you disagree, you did use the word “never”. Or were you just exaggerating?

            Szasz, as far as I can tell, is calling bluff on “mental illness”, in line with Hitler’s eugenics of the 30’s.

        • It is impssible to understand what psychiatry is without Szaszs Manufacture of madness, and it is impossible to understand what psyche and DSM is, without Hillman’s Re -visioning psychology.
          This knowledge means more than all the money in the world.
          Wisdom is priceless.

        • R. D. Laing fancied himself something of a writer, okay, but he hardly came close in terms of numbers. Thomas Szasz authored more than 30 books I believe. I’d have to call that some kind of accomplishment.

          On top of this, unlike Laing and so many others, Szasz was consistently and adamantly opposed to forced “mental health” treatment. In this regard I consider him the psychiatric survivor’s friend.

          I’m not knocking Szasz.

          Did he have his faults. Sure. He thought anti-communist a complement, and his faith in a free market economy made his thought in some respects resemble Social Darwinism. However, his virtues outweighed his faults by far, and made him seem a head taller than his nearest competition.

          All in all, I’m not knocking Szasz.

    • “We want them to know it’s still happening. Not much has changed.”

      In this new age of video surveillance in “hospitals” we should have an endless supply of evidence that its still happening. How does all that video of the assaults and atrocities behind locked doors manage to stay out of public view ??? I just remember the most common reaction from people being violated in that Universal Health Services (NYSE‎: UHS) hellhole posing as a hospital was stating “I am going to sue this place!” Its a logical reaction until you realize the staff has heard that at least 1000 times and nothing ever happens so that threat is useless for self defense.

      I think people should do some “Project Veritas” on their asses. One person get admitted and one sneak in a key-chain 720p DVR camera as a visitor so the person admitted can record the atrocities. You get some video of the assaults by staff then contact the people assaulted and give them the video to show a lawyer… Could be profitable too.

      Police used to think they could brutalize at will till people started recording them. With police you have to be in the right place at the right time as its completely unpredictable, for people reading who have never seen in those “hospitals”, the assaults are routine.

      That’s it. I just like putting that one out there maybe I will inspire some people LOL

  5. what bothers me now is how the rest of the medical establishment covers up for the psychiatrists. and the excuses, justifications, etc. from the -real- doctors not only keep coming…they just keep getting more indepth with their lies and excuses, plus a healthy dose of Orwellian double speak. so…

    they know what hospitals do to people. and they not only do nothing, they refer people…to psychiatrists…on a fairly regular basis. is all of medicine sold out to the 1% and their agenda?

    it is worth noting that the medical establishment is surprisingly authoritarian, materialistic, and at times…dogmatic and violent. psychiatry takes it up several notches, on a daily basis.

    i dont know how relevant this is…its just been on my mind. are doctors, in general, doing more harm than good, in Generation Rx?

    • Good point.

      I’ve been battling with medical doctors for almost ten years. I’m fine with the GP that I have now but it took us a while for her to understand how our relationship was going to function. I told her during our first meeting that her job was to inform and advise and that my job was to make the decisions and that if she thought it was going to work in the reverse then we couldn’t form a patient-doctor relationship. She does well. I can’t say the same for one who told me during my first meeting with him that I was going to take statins whether I liked it or not. Needless to say, that was our first and our last meeting. I told him that I had some choice in the matter and when he asked how I figured that I pointed to my feet, got up, and walked out of the office. I did not pay the bill even though they handed it over to a collection agency.

      I believe that a lot of this attitude is set by their education in med school. However, one of the problems is that doctors usually are the best students in school from grade school through college and are always given preferential treatment. They come to expect this. Many of them come from privileged families where their parents are doctors or lawyers themselves and so they haven’t experienced many people saying no to them. It’s interesting how many med students and baby doctors feel that it’s not necessary for them to recognize anyone else, like passing people in the hall and saying good morning. We have a teaching unit in the “hospital” where I work and we have med students and interns who rotate through during the year. Many of them have to be forced to say hello as they pass staff in the hallways or on the unit. I’m not sure whether it’s a matter of arrogance or fear of where they’re at since most of them are never going to choose psychiatry as their specialty but they’re forced to do a psych rotation.

      • Hi Stephen — Physicians become more and more clueless as “medicine” grows more & more corporate and beholden to technology.

        Your standard “country doctor” could assess your symptoms, put them into context and using a combination of intuition and deduction come up with a reasonable diagnosis. Now if your symptom is potentially linked to 10 different causes they want to give you a test for each one. The primary goal is not your well being, but covering their asses so they don’t potentially miss something and get sued.

        It’s a dilemma, since we spend a lot of time talking about how psychiatry should be “de-certified” as a legitimate branch of medicine. Problem is the legitimacy of the entire field is suspect. Allopathic medicine is unexcelled at providing first aid, everything else not so much. And if you have cancer they’re liable to speed you along to a very uncomfortable demise.

    • I found the docs who endured military service like WEII ect. have had more of a wider perspective and heart. Not all but some.
      Now it seems that the system of getting to medical school is rigged. Parents pay for tutors in preschool just to keep their kid in the upper mix. And how are any “ othered” folks ever going to fight such an entranced secret system?
      As soon as you walk in the door of an upper class PTA meeting – by your skin color, by your dress, by your accent. And if heaven forbid you fit “ the criteria” if your child is in the special needs stream oh my oh my oh my. Actually some of the best teachers are in Special Ed- I you are lucky to get one of the good ones wow. Not all but I did put my other kids in a tracked classroom because of how good the team of teachers were. Those kids deliberately dumbed themselves down so as not to get put in the other stream.
      Lots of kids in the advanced classes ran into trouble. Sometimes med students and residents as well. Not enough life discomfort.
      Medicine is a contract between community and folks in the community. For multiple reasons including several systems that are corrupted that contract seems to have been smashed to smithereens.
      I would love to have a transgender doc, or First Nation, or African American, or Huspanic- anyone who has lived life with no rise colored glasses in. I would trust them and take their advice and really ponder it instead of in the first three minutes of a new pt interview want to get up and leave.
      At least in other medical types there is a chance for running into a possible good one. Psychiatry is less and one is hardly ever believed- at least for me in my time on the other side of the desk. I worked with some caring ones back in the day before bio took hold- also know it wasn’t all pretty for many- but never had one that helped only hurt. Some tried but their efforts still damaged.
      I want docs who lived through stuff in al specialties.
      I
      I knew of one resident who got into trouble for referring too many of the patients to Social Services- just discharge planning, nothing else- not billable you know.
      Holly Nesr has an old song” It Could have been me…”
      I think she needs to rewrite it and title-
      “ It has been most of us and now we Rise Together”
      I just don’t know how to make it happen. By having been taken off the streets and forced treated my fear stands in my soul. I do not know anymore. Blocks and walls and I don’t have the wherewithal to surmount them anymore.

      • Holly Nesr has an old song” It Could have been me…”

        Wow, first mention I’ve heard of Holly Near in ages. Fantastic, timeless song as well. In the 70’s the mental patients liberation movement practically made “Sister Woman Sister” its theme song:

        “Sister woman sister, can you still feel any pain? Or have they robbed you of your anger while putting Thorazine in your veins?”

  6. The “Hollywood Reporter” was not very nice with their review of this movie.

    I just put “Hollywood is” into Google and auto suggest suggested “Hollywood is a cesspool” ROTF I will put screenshot in the forums. Thanks Google, my thoughts exactly.

  7. Incredibly moving, stopped me in my tracks. I think it should be an essential introduction for all budding mental health professionals. Lest they forget.

    Am I right in saying that, in the UK, we basically do not have even the right that Eleanor Riese achieved in California 31 years ago? Specifically, even if you “have capacity”, is it really the case that you cannot refuse treatment if you are sectioned?

  8. I agree with Sera Davidow that it is an important film. However, I found it deeply disappointing, and in my opinion it does not truly challenge the status quo. The people who made the film are not against neuroleptics: Helen Bonham Carter believes that Eleanor Riese simply needed “the right amount of medication” (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/helena-bonham-carter-55-steps-interview-eleanor-riese_uk_5bc4f660e4b0fed45beb93d7). The film does not show or suggest that Eleanor Riese came off or wanted to come off neuroleptics! Eleanor’s diagnosis – paranoid schizophrenia – is not even once questioned in the film.

    I found Eleanor’s portrayal very patronizing and cringeworthy. She is depicted as childish and even arrested in her psychological development – an exuberant little girl in a woman’s body – obsessed by her rosaries and completely asexual. The film offensively implies that mental patients are “children in adults’ bodies” and intellectually disabled. It will surely not convince “normal” people that mental patients are humans just like them!

    Interestingly, the film never asks the question WHY Eleanor became psychotic and what made her completely suppress her sexuality. I know very little about the real Eleanor Riese, but she may have been a victim of sexual abuse or some other trauma before she became psychotic – the film never even suggests such a possibility because it chooses to portray “schizophrenia” as a mysterious brain disease…

    I was also annoyed by the film’s ending. Eleanor Riese was killed by neuroleptics at the age of only 47. And because of neuroleptics she had to use a catheter to urinate for many years – I once had a catheter inserted at a hospital and I know how it hurts… But the authors of the film want us to feel good when the lawyer receives the award after Eleanor’s death – they want us to believe that this is actually a story with a happy ending!

    • Yes I think those are good points. The film didn’t move me as much as the trailer did actually. I was probably hoping for too much, but nonetheless I have to give it 2 cheers. A great effort that clearly had very little money. I think Helena Bonham-Carter, despite her controversial “right level of medication” remark, deserves enormous credit for helping this film happen and working so hard on her character. If it raises the issue of psychiatric abuse just a little then thats a step in the right direction.

      The technicalities of the law weren’t really made clear. It appears that California already had a law against forced treatment, but that the hospital were essentially breaking it. Their limp defence was, well, if we aren’t medicating to, erhem, help the patient, then we are in breach of the same law. The judgement is worth a read – some of the criticisms of medication are quite good actually, pointing to cognitive disablement and the full raft of life threatening side effects – this is 30 years ago.

      https://caselaw.findlaw.com/ca-court-of-appeal/1771297.html

      It made me think that even a story thats quite straightforward, that doesnt require a big cast or elaborate sets etc, can still be a problem for writers. There were lots of little issues that didnt get fleshed out enough, but I don’t want to be picky about a noble effort to portray a difficult subject.

    • Great and valuable remarks. I have read that awful insulting review, too. Psychological man needs political defenders, not jokers, inquisitors, liars and traitors in medical disguise.

      Psyche needs truth and loyalty, not childish barbaric well educated arrogants who needs scapegoats to survive.

    • TBI can cause childish behavior. So can continual patronizing and put downs in an institution.

      Few realize most folks with psychiatric “diagnoses” do have legitimate brain problems–along with countless other health issues. Long term druggings and shock cause brain injury.

  9. Concerned Carer: I was also probably hoping for too much! Obviously it is great that such a film was made. I think, however, that one could make a much better, much more powerful, much less patronizing and much less predictable film about Eleanor Riese. Powerful, uncompromising and non-patronizing films about “mentally ill” people are being made – the Romanian film “Beyond the Hills” (2012) by Cristian Mungiu is a great example. Unfortunately the people behind “55 steps” were much too Holywoodian in their approach and did not question many of the widespread assumptions about mental health issues and mental patients.

    Helena Bonham Carter surely put a lot of effort into playing her character. The problem is, however, that she has clearly her assumptions about “schizophrenics” – that they are people who don’t look, don’t behave and don’t talk like “normal” people; who can say something considered rude out of the blue etc., who have their obsessions etc. This myth perpetuates prejudice towards psychiatric survivors, but the truth is very different. I have a close friend who was diagnosed with schizophrenia many years ago and who is not using neuroleptics; I was literally shocked when he told me about his diagnosis – it was impossible to guess from his behaviour and speech that he had been a mental patient (like me). By the way, he told me that he knows some people who have been clearly damaged by neuroleptics.

    I would say that Helena Bonham Carter was trying too hard to transform herself into a “schizophrenic”; but there is no need for any transformation, unless we assume that a “schizophrenic” is somehow deeply different from “normal” people. I feel that Bonham Carter (unsurprisingly) wanted to show the range of her acting skills, her capacity for metamorphosis, but it came at a heavy cost: it was impossible for me to identify with Bonham Carter’s Eleanor, and the character did not make me think of any real people diagnosed with schizophrenia, but of Dustin Hoffman’s character in “Rain Man” or Sally Hawkins’s character in “Maudie” – two other excellent examples of actors doing their best to metamorphose themselves into an “odd” person.

    Isn’t it striking that the reviewer from “Hollywood Reporter” http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/55-steps-film-review-tiff-2017-1036523 wrote: “The actress certainly dresses, speaks and moves as if she were in one of her former romantic and professional partner Tim Burton’s grand guignol Gothics. And her snarly demeanor and exaggerated body movements are so shamelessly self-indulgent that they demean the very person the movie aims to honor”?

  10. I must say I couldn’t really recognise Eleanor either, but who knows, she may have actually been like that. HBC’s Eleanor seemed quite hard to get close to, distant. I think I was expecting someone even more prickly, more tempestuous, more distraught, that we the audience could really feel for.

    I hope noone gets cross with me, and please note I do not believe in mental disease, just states of distress. But I expected Eleanor to be far less functional than she actually was. I’m not being patronising, I just think when you are dealing with issues that are depressing your mood and psychosis, plus being physically disabled by a drug thats also addling your brain, it is to be expected that you will act in a way that reflects the turmoil, despair, fatigue and discomfort you are in. At times it seemed that it was Eleanor who was the level headed one and it was the lawyer who was starting to lose it. However I think that was intentional and was meant to demonstrate Eleanors improving health as she reduced her dose.

    • I agree with you: it was very impressive that Eleanor was able to live on her own, talk to lawyers, and generally live an independent life. And – very importantly – despite her traumatic experiences and suffering the film portrayed her as a happy, cheerful person who “every day found something in her life to enjoy, something to be grateful for”. In this sense the film carries a very uplifting message. I may have been too harsh in my earlier comments, though I continue to feel that this important and heart-warming film has some major weaknesses. I hope that one day many films will make it clear that the boundary between “mentally ill” and “normal” people is wholly artificial and incredibly harmful, and that neuroleptics are always toxic and debilitating and should never be used for a long time (if at all). Nowadays one really does not need a lot of money to make a film without stars or a documentary, and hopefully we will see many independent films challenging mainstream views on mental health issues.

  11. i think right now psychiatry has become so powerful,and it has so thoroughly permeated all strata of society to such an extent that it seems to be one of the few ‘truths’ Americans can agree on: mental health “helps.”

    facts don’t phase religion. I say that as a Christian, btw…I’ve seen thoughtful Christians, and I’ve seen blind faith-style Christians, and I’d say that the widespread faith in psychiatry is far more dangerous and far more frightening than 99.9% of bind faith Christianity.

    I don’t think anyone in Hollywood will come down hard on psychiatry, not after Tom Cruise’s severe punishment for speaking out. Its an Industry Town…they’re here to make $$$, and pissing off the psychiatrists and their lackeys is not good for business, not at this time in history.

    So, don’t expect actors and actresses to take up our cause. Maybe that’s a good thing? A cause that cannot be completely declawed and sold to us by beautiful people, then forgotten (at best) a couple years later? Save the whales? Free Tibet? Remember that South Park episode, from way back when…Getting gay with kids? Even back then, celebrity radical chic was rubbing people the wrong way.

    At least this film is something of a faltering, imperfect step towards…(re)humanizing those who struggle or have struggled, those who are psychiatry-ized, etc. An imperfect film, or no film at all? The lesser of two evils is often the best one can hope for, especially from Hollywood. 🙂

          • Nothing. Nothing is inherently wrong with shaving half your head and wearing a plaid shirt with polka dot pants either. But you should expect funny looks from people. And it will give sanist critics plenty of fodder if you denounce psychiatry in public.

          • And it will give sanist critics plenty of fodder if you denounce psychiatry in public.

            This is the problematic part, though it might at first seem to be a no brainer. What “fodder” does it give anybody for someone to be acting in weird or quirky ways? We have the right to be as idiosyncratic as we want without being labeled “mi” — even as we denounce psychiatry. We shouldn’t join in with the poking fun at weirdos, and considering odd behavior proof of “mental illness” (or validate others who do the same).

    • yeah_i_survived: Like you, I am pessimistic about Hollywood. However, “55 Steps” is not a Hollywood movie – it is a German-Belgian coproduction and it will be released only in select cinemas in the US. I really don’t think that such a film could have been made in today’s Hollywood!

      As to actors, let’s not forget that Kirk Douglas wanted to turn “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” into a film for years – and his son Michael co-produced it. So yes, there are actors who genuinely care about important causes, including the cause of psychiatric patients and survivors…

  12. Speaking of films, has anyone seen “A Hole In One”? It stars Meat Loaf of all people, and takes place in the 50’s when lobotomies were being pushed as almost trendy. It’s darkly ironic as well as educational re: the climate surrounding lobotomy during that period in history. I recommend it.