Olivia de Havilland gives a career-highlight performance as a housewife who descends to the depths of mental anguish in a 1940s “insane asylum.”
The Snake Pit is notable for its refusal to demonize the asylum’s staff and psychiatrists.
The Three Faces of Eve (1957)
Joanne Woodward, who 20 years later would co-star in Sybil, gives three performances in one as an unassuming wife who, under the care of a stern but compassionate psychiatrist, reveals two conflicting personalities.
Unlike Sybil, the real-life inspiration for The Three Faces of Eve has never been discredited.
Through a Glass Darkly (1961)
Director Ingmar Bergman was known for never shying away from the darker impulses and actions of humanity. His Through a Glass Darkly chronicles a young woman’s return to her family after a stay at a mental hospital.
True to form, Bergman’s take on psychological trauma is far more nuanced and complex than in most films before or since.
A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
Director John Cassavetes also wrote the script for this documentary-like depiction of the effects of a wife and mother’s psychological slide on her entire family.
Gena Rowlands brings to life a woman under the influence who is both frightening and heart-wrenching.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
McMurphy, played to cocky perfection by Oscar-winning Jack Nicholson, elects to enter a locked psychiactric ward as a sort of vacation from doing prison time. Once inside, the malingering convict locks in battle with Nurse Ratched. Spoiler: McMurphy never gets out.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest also won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director. If a Best Ensemble Cast award had been available, the picture would have snapped up that one as well.
Ordinary People (1980)
Actor Robert Redford proved himself an exemplary director with Ordinary People, an extraordinary realization of the impact of a young man’s accidental death on his brother and parents.
Timothy Hutton, as the suicide-plagued surviving brother, and Mary Tyler Moore, as his cold and shut-off mother, were both nominated for Oscars. Only Hutton won, exposing a grave flaw in the award system.
Girl, Interrupted (1999)
A coming-of-age story set in the confines of a swank rest home for young women, the events of Girl, Interrupted were culled from writer Susanna Kaysen’s 18 months’ of experience at a mental hospital in the 1960s.
The movie established Angelina Jolie as a major talent and featured a raw and precise performance by Brittany Murphy.
Prozac Nation (2001)
The movement to better health through medication (self-prescribed and doled out by professionals) is the basis of Prozac Nation, derived from Elizabeth Wurtzel's novel.
Christina Ricci's edgy embodiment of a Harvard freshman swamped by depression effectively put an end to her designation as "former child star."
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash’s brilliant brain was a blessing that almost cursed him to a life in four-point restraints.
Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind chronicles one man’s tenuous triumph over schizophrenia, and celebrates his struggle as a victory for us all.
The Soloist (2009)
Los Angeles journalist Steve Lopez (played by Robert Downey Jr.) discovers Juilliard-trained cellist Nathaniel Ayers living on the streets of downtown L.A., on his own and off his medications.
Initially seeing Ayers as a subject for a newspaper column, Lopez opens himself to a friendship with the gifted but troubled musician and undergoes a transformation that is every bit as profound as the homeless man’s.
TakePart’s parent company, Participant Media, produced The Soloist.
The Beaver (2011)
Toy company executive Walter Black (Mel Gibson) languishes in an amotivational funk until his life-coaching alter ego comes out in the form of The Beaver—a plush hand puppet that berates and consoles Gibson in a gruff inflection that could be mistaken for the voice of British actor Ray Winstone.
Black's wife, children, co-workers and the general public all take a whiplash emotional ride as The Beaver morphs from helpful mentor to maddening scold.
TakePart's parent company, Participant Media, produced The Beaver.
Sybil, a 1978 made-for-TV movie starring Joanne Woodward and Sally Field, based on the book by Flora Rheta Schreiber, brought home the harrowing inner world of a substitute teacher in New York suffering from extreme multiple personality disorder.
A new book, Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case, contends that the real-life Sybil was, in reality, little more than a borderline neurotic who faked multiple personalities to be more interesting to her therapist.
Presumed exaggerations of Sybil aside, the cinema has a long and estimable history of uncovering the truths of mankind’s most misunderstood maladies—mental illness.