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Psychologist examines how films such as ‘Infinitely Polar Bear’ increase understanding of mental illness

Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana in
Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana in "Infinitely Polar Bear"
Sony Pictures Classics

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The new film "Infinitely Polar Bear" starring Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana has nothing to do with polar bears, but a lot to do with bipolar disorder.

It's a heart-warming memoir with edge based on the filmmakers' experience growing up with a dad diagnosed as manic-depressive (as it was labelled when we meet the character in the 1960s.)

It's the latest film this year to hone in closely on mental illness. Last month, Kristin Wiig was cast as lottery winner diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in the dramedy, "Welcome to Me." Plus "Love & Mercy," the biopic about the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, was revelatory in its handling of Wilson's misdiagnoses, struggles with medication, the connections between art and madness, and his lifelong journey seeking solace.

Psychologist Danny Wedding has examined how Hollywood handles mental illness in four editions of his book, "Movies and Mental Illness: Using Films to Understand Psychopathology." Wedding says filmmakers are allowed to take artistic license, such as in "A Beautiful Mind" showing John Nash's hallucinations as visual rather than auditory, but that movies can benefit society's awareness.

Wedding perceives the trajectory of films moving in the right direction. What are his thoughts on the classic "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?" What about absurdist comedies such as the Farrelly Brothers' "Me, Myself and Irene?" Which films do you think help or hurt our understanding of various mental disorders?


Sylvester Amick-Alexis, Ambassador for Bring Change 2 Mind and lives with bipolar disorder

Mädchen Amick, Actress best known for her role as Shelly Johnson in the original Twin Peaks and in Showtime’s upcoming Twin Peaks; Ambassador for Bring Change 2 Mind - an advocacy group focused on eliminating stigmas about mental illness.

Danny Wedding, Psychologist and co-author of "Movies and Mental Illness: Using Films to Understand Psychopathology" in its fourth edition; and Chair of Behavioral Sciences at the American University of Antigua, a Caribbean medical school