Sometimes I Think About Dying: Finally, A Film About Women's Mental Health Without The Cliches

(MENAFN- The Conversation) This article contains spoilers for Sometimes I Think About Dying.

Director Rachel Lambert's sweet and sedate film Sometimes I Think About Dying frames suicidal thoughts as a strategy for survival.

In the film, introverted office worker Fran (Daisy Ridley) takes solace in increasingly elaborate, surreal and aesthetic fantasies of her own death, including hanging from a crane, lying dead in the woods and being attacked by a python. But she isn't seemingly suicidal. Or even depressed.

She is isolated and lacking connection, but this seems to stem as much from choice as from social anxiety. Fran doesn't want to conform to the social expectations she sees her colleagues awkwardly performing in order to fit in.

The film begins with the retirement of likeable colleague, Carol (Marcia DeBonis) and pivots with the arrival of her replacement, Robert (Dave Merheje), who has relocated following a divorce. Affable Robert uses gentle humour to fit in to the workplace, but the moment when he reaches out to Fran on the work message board shows that he also seeks a deeper connection.

Lambert understands the gendered nature of the pressures we feel and the strategies we adopt to fit in within social and work environments. Men are seemingly accepted more easily than women as being eccentric or laconic, as we see with several of Fran's colleagues.

Soon Fran and Robert go to the cinema and a restaurant for pie, but these don't feel like dates, just the first steps in a tentative friendship.

While Robert struggles to prise information from Fran about who she is and what she likes, the film's fantasy sequences give us access to the complex and creative inner world into which she escapes in order to feel real. Lambert and Ridley really understand and connect with Fran's psychology, and reveal it in a way that avoids either pathologising her or reducing her to a quirky indie movie cliche.

The trailer for Sometimes I Think About Dying. Mental health on screen

Having recently completed a book on the historical interactions of psychiatry and cinema , I have watched a lot of films about young women quietly – and sometimes not so quietly – descending into“madness”.

In films like Repulsion (1965), Images (1972) and Black Swan (2010), young female characters' violent experiences of psychosis are exploited by male auteurs to confound and impress audiences and critics.

The proliferation and persistence of this cinematic trend prompted the Canadian film critic Kier-La Janisse to class them as a specific “psychotic women” sub-genre. These films typically trigger flurries of psychological think pieces that ask questions such as: “What mental health problem has she really got?” .

Lambert's film is therapeutic rather than diagnostic. She doesn't want Fran to change. Just to feel as comfortable being herself around other people as she is when she's alone.

One of Fran's fantasy sequences. Vertigo Releasing

The film concludes with Fran sharing her titular secret with Robert, opening up the possibility for understanding, intimacy and connection – for a more real friendship rather than a romance. As the film shows, the need for connection and intimacy is a universal human need rather than an individual mental health issue.

As the recently retired Carol explains:“It's hard being a person.” This is the simple but substantive message of the film.

Living and dreaming

In one scene, Fran goes to buy doughnuts as a gesture of goodwill with the office and as an olive branch to Robert. In the cafe, she bumps into Carol. This is the film's most poignant moment.

Fran asks why Carol isn't on the dream cruise with her husband that she had long saved for, and had retired to enjoy. Carol's husband had a debilitating stroke on the eve of their trip, and now she is just waiting to see if he will ever recover. Carol had spent her working life dreaming about living, and this dream has been cruelly curtailed.

In the film, dreams of living and dreams of dying are two sides of the same coin. They are alternate strategies for coping in a banal but uncertain world.

Dave Merheje and Daisy Ridley in Sometimes I Think About Dying. Vertigo Releasing

Ultimately – as in Harold and Maude (1971), an older but similarly unconventional film making the connection between social isolation and thoughts of suicide – the protagonist's dreams of dying are actually wishes for and a pathway towards connection, acceptance and freedom.

Sometimes I Think About Dying concludes with Fran and Robert hugging in the office copy room, which has now been taken over by the forest floor upon which Fran had earlier fantasised about lying dead.

Fran's inner world and external reality have become aligned and alive through her sharing with Robert. The slow camera pan revealing Fran's merged worlds is accompanied by With a Smile and a Song from Disney's 1937 animation, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Lambert said the unusual but effective song choice was “found” by accident. It was initially suggested in jest by the editor, but they both then realised that it felt emotionally right.

This final act of freeing yourself from expectations and doing what feels right is a fitting ending for this cliche-avoiding film.

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  • Mental health
  • Film
  • Film review
  • Loneliness
  • Isolation
  • Friendship
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Give me perspective

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