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Mind Over Pop Culture: Prozac Nation
August 23, 2013
Prozac Nation is a movie that’s been on my Netflix Queue for a long time. It’s been one of those movies that keeps getting pushed down when something more interesting comes up, with the reasoning that I’ll get to it eventually. I wish I hadn’t gotten to it. It’s one of the more infuriating movies I’ve seen in a long time, and that’s not a good thing.
Prozac Nation is based on Elizabeth Wertzel’s book of the same name, about her mental health breakdown during her first year at Harvard. An award-winning columnist and journalist by the time she got to Harvard, she was expected to be a major star in the music journalism field. Instead, she was overwhelmed by the symptoms of her bipolar disorder, leading to alienating friends, suicide attempts and eventual hospitalization. She repeatedly made terrible decisions about her life before reaching rock bottom. She eventually became healthier and wrote Prozac Nation.
The movie stars Christine Ricci as Wertzel with great gusto, but boy is her character a terrible person. Because it’s in the first person narrative, it can be difficult to tell where her symptoms end and her just being a jerk comes into play, but Elizabeth is really a terrible person. She’s entitled, mean, rude and just generally insufferable. She tells her roommate, played by Michelle Williams, that only she understands true love, despite breaking up Williams’ relationship with her fiancé. When Williams’ tries to argue, Wertzel shuts her down by saying “you only understand sex, and you only ever will.” At another point, she surprises her boyfriend by showing up at his house in Arizona despite his telling directly not to come, and is angry when he’s not happy to see her. She learns that he’s helping take care of his disabled sister, and she accuses him of getting off sexually on it. It’s a hard scene to take since he’s been nothing but supportive of her, despite her being terrible to him.
The biggest problem with the movie is that it presents all of this behavior as part of her illness, and assumes that the audience will eventually be sympathetic to her. Instead of helping separate what behaviors are caused by the illness (her repeated scribblings that she insists are a column and her hard drug use), all of her heinous behavior is waved off like she had no control over any of it. She refuses treatment for much of the movie, and then complains that she has no control. She has fractured relationships with both parents, but at no time is the fact that having a bad relationship with her parents didn’t give her bipolar disorder. In fact, the movie basically says that it did.
The movie is hard to watch because Wertzel is such a hard character. Every person in the movie either enables her or leaves. The movie is presented as the lessons she learned as after the fact, but there’s no indication she learned anything except don’t get caught. In addition, the movie is sure it's saying something deep, especially when it gets into the fact that her doctor is her dealer and “we live in a Prozac nation,” but it isn’t. It doesn’t have anything else to add to the discussion of mental health in America. It's another story of an upper class white person dealing with their issues with their parents. The only interesting issue that comes up is the problems paying for her treatment.
I’m sorry if I sound a bit bitter about it, but I’ve seen a lot of movies like this. There are huge issues in the mental health field, and there aren’t a lot of movies addressing them. Instead, we get another horrible person complaining about taking pills, or teaching society what they learned about “being crazy.”
Stay away from this one, trust me. Next week, we’ll finally take a look at A Dangerous Method, and see if the beginnings of psychoanalysis has more to say about mental health. Have you seen Prozac Nation? Was I being too hard on it?