What was your favourite pastime as a child and that one bait that your mum used to feed you vegetables? What was the first thing you asked dad to do once you fasten your seatbelts for a long road trip? What was one thing you bonded over and formed fan clubs at school ? and waited keenly for the next premiering? What ate up a major part of your sleepovers alongside gossip?
A cartoon, a song, and a movie. I’m sure these must’ve been the answers that played through your mind in a jiffy! This something that made it to at least one or even more parts of our everyday schedule, this that made us laugh out loud or cry but moreover helped us relax, this something called ‘Entertainment’ has become an integral part of our lives as much as food and friendship. There are a lot of activities that are parts of our lives, but if I say that none of them enjoy the importance voluntarily or involuntarily we give to entertainment, I’m sure you won’t disagree. Entertainment, which is an entire ecosystem in itself, owes this sustained demand to one of its many features – relatability. Be it One Direction’s ‘Little Things’ or Maeve Wiley from ‘Sex Education’ or Ethan Hawke from ‘Before Sunrise,’ there have been characters and characteristics we’ve related to on different levels.
This is one of the reasons why has stood the test of time. In fact, it is a testament of people of a particular time and their stories – be it the Shakespearean theatre that challenged its systems, Burmese marionettes that puppeteered its ways to the world, the Limbo dance and the Rap that began as a medium of resistance and assertion but is a celebrated music style today. Over time, entertainment has evolved into a channel that transcends the taboo of mental health and often gives it the centre stage, unlike entertainment over the years where serious topics have often taken a backseat. That said, let’s delve into the movie ‘All the Bright Places,’ the cartoon ‘Winnie the Pooh’ and the song ‘Keep Breathing,’ each of which took different aspects of mental health to the mainstream entertainment without compromising but enhancing instead, like copper streaks on a blonde head.
MOVIE: ‘ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES‘
One of Brett Haley’s masterpieces based on Jennifer Niven’s novel that won the ‘Goodreads Choice Award’ for the Best Young Adult Fiction, ‘All the Bright Places’ is a must watch. Although the movie has done justice to its name, it would be biased if I didn’t say that there are not-so-bright parts too. It revolves around the lives of two teenagers Theodore Finch and Violet Markey, played by Justice Smith and Ellie Fanning respectively, who want to escape their small towns in Indiana and their lives too, on a figurative level.
Violet Markey is a popular girl at school who, after the demise of her sister Eleanor in an accident, quit from her social life and turned out to be a recluse who kept battling survivor’s guilt for nine months post the traumatic experience, till Finch came into the picture. Theodore Finch is a boy with a sparkle in his eyes, who suffers from bipolar disorder and suicidal tendency. Although he is not a good socialiser, he takes a special interest in Markey whom he spots standing on a ledge and eventually saves, not just from taking off from the ledge but in coming out of her shell as well. In a way, it is ironic how Finch, who is socially distant himself, plays a key role in roping Markey back into the social frame.
The mental disorder which takes a toll on Finch is conveyed both explicitly through the undertones of his dialogues and implicitly through the subtle gestures and expressions, thanks to Justice Smith’s remarkable acting. His complacent nature, inability to connect with his peers at school, random and impulsive escapades, lack of interests, preference of solitude over crowds or gatherings, shutting down, locking himself in confined spaces – all these behavioural traits portrayed by Finch amplify the signs that a person with the same problem might typically exhibit. This also gives the viewer a red alert to keep a tab on people around them and to reach out to them. It also works as a reality check on oneself at the same time. The movie also shows various coping mechanisms used by people like Finch such as constant self-reassurances, penning down and classifying his thoughts and feelings on different colours of sticky notes based on the mood, painting, outdoor activities, traveling and copious amounts of fresh air and sunlight. It also underlines the fact that childhood trauma and damage from bullying can come a long way.
The poignancy of the plot, clubbed with the commendable performances of the cast, makes ‘All The Bright Places’ a state-of-the-art movie. It is a package of heartwarming moments, aesthetic frames and magical dialogues. It is one such movie that satisfies both the rational and romantic reader, but leaves an ache lingering somewhere within, nevertheless.
Trigger warning – Viewer discretion is advised in case of those with suicidal thoughts or tendencies and it would be wiser to watch it with a trusted adult.
CARTOON: ‘THE ADVENTURES OF WINNIE THE POOH’
This cartoon needs no introduction, right? I’m sure it must’ve been an integral part of your childhoods, as much as mine. ‘Adventures of Winnie the Pooh,’ as the name suggests, is the story of Pooh bear and his friends in the eventful Hundred Acre Wood – Christopher Robin, Kanga, and Roo (a kangaroo and a junior kangaroo), Eeyore (a donkey), Tigger (a Tiger), Rabbit, Piglet and Owl who are what their names are. This cartoon has more to it than its friendly animals who make us want to be a part of their beautiful, rich forest which is a part of Christopher Robin’s book. On a closer look, it is evident that the Hundred Acre Wood and its inhabitants are nothing but a microcosm of the human psyche and it’s different parts or layers. The ‘Adventures of Winnie the Pooh’ is an adventure into one’s own self. Each character’s character speaks for themselves.
The book and the fictional forest within it is symbolic of us and the deep, doleful yet dainty, self-contained personalities within us. The workaholic Rabbit with a drive for perfection in things he does, the adventurer Roo who is always up for anything in a constant search for something new, the protective Kanga with a caregiver air around her, Owl the erudite who is keen on volunteering to dole out help, Tigger the hyperactive who is an impulsive risk-taker, shy little Piglet who has a self-esteem as small as himself, Pooh with his shares of obliviousness and obsessions and Eeyore who is an epitome of the damp and the dull. Of all these characters, Eeyore the donkey is that which intrigued me.
To look at it from the angle of affective fallacy, the grey color of the donkey is symbolic of the dark, unpleasant parts in us – that part of the psyche that Sigmund Freud calls the ‘unconscious mind.’ His head always hangs low towards the ground, his movements are sluggish as though he is dragging himself along, his eyes are droopy and gives a perennially exhausted look. Unlike all the places marked in the forest’s map as Rabbit’s house, Pooh Bear’s house, etc., Eeyore’s home is called ‘Eeyore’s Gloomy Place: Rather Boggy and Sad.’ Eeyore is often seen to be detached from the group, just like his tail that gets detached from him and falls off then and now. He walks in the back, behind everyone else in the pack. A significant point to note is that Eeyore’s character doesn’t evolve or undergo changes. This magnifies the fact that depression might take quite a long time to come out of and sometimes a coming out is out of the question.
Irrespective of whether or not this inherent complexity is a product of the conscious artistry of a mastermind like A.A. Milne, it is, hands down, his best and sought after brainchild.
SONG: ‘KEEP BREATHING’
The storm is coming but I don’t mind.
People are dying, I close my blinds.
All that I know is I’m breathing now.
I want to change the world, instead I sleep.
I want to believe in more than you and me.
But all that I know is I’m breathing.
All I can do is keep breathing.
All we can do is keep breathing
Now x 3,
All that I know is I’m breathing.
All I can do is keep breathing x 9
This is the song Ingrid Michaelson wrote for the last episode of Season 3 of the series ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ in the year 2007. It is both a confession and therapy in itself, more or less like a monologue of someone who is mentally and emotionally numb. Shutting down the blinds when there are people dying, wanting to change the world but sleeping instead, not minding when a storm is coming are all indicative of the nonchalance of the person and the partial and total detachment towards the world. This detachment, the fact that he or she tends to close in, feelings of helplessness, loss of interest and energy are suggestive of the person being someone with social anxiety and depression.
There is a constant sense of reassurance and self-consciousness that resonates throughout the song. The verse ‘All we can do is keep breathing’ is repeated 9 times in the chorus, this transition from the realisation that ‘All that I know is I’m breathing’ to the acceptance that ‘All I can do is keep breathing’ to the acknowledgment that ‘All we can do is keep breathing’ is symbolic of the prevalence and rampancy of these mental health matters in the psyche, the self and the community. It’s an honest appraisal of the point that no part of the social strata is not impervious of these issues.
It’s easy to fathom how mental health makes it to the mainstream. But ever thought why? The where will answer the why. Where do the characters come from? Where does the lyrics come from? Where does the story and the backstory come from? Where does the genre come from? From you and me. Taking the liberty to tweak the ever famous jargon of democracy, I would say that entertainment too is- of us, by us and for us. The myriad of emotions that we humans feel, the nuances that are so omnipresent yet overlooked, the happenings and mishaps, human relationships that are as tangled as Rapunzel’s hair before its done by the witch and the tenacity of it.
This essence is what art and entertainment imbibe and impart simultaneously. This is why, a bipolar Finch said, ‘Even the ugliest of places can be beautiful.’ This is why a clinically depressed Eeyore said ‘It never hurts to keep looking for sunshine.’ This is why Michaelson sang ‘All we can do is keep breathing.’ This is why all this is entertain-mentally yours.