Disappointed by The Boy and the Heron

Based upon [your] recognition and buoyed by a long-time love of Miyazaki’s work, I convinced my wife to join me the other night to see The Boy and the Heron in the theatre. I’m sorry to say it disappointed both of us. It was filled with a thousand lovely images, it had some astonishing sequences, but overall it was, to me, nowhere near the top tier of his previous films and overall an unsatisfying moviegoing experience.

I found [Mahito] to be a pitiable, but ultimately unloveable, bordering on unlikeable character. The less invested one is in a character, the less interested you are in their fate, and therefore the stakes of the outcome are significantly lowered.  

Additionally, searching for logic or even meaning in a Miyazaki seems besides the point, and not required in order to love his films. But so many sequences, plot points, and transitions between scenes were confusing, at times incoherent, that I had to conclude the writing was poorly executed. That has never happened to me before in a Miyazaki. Had this been a projected film, I would have enquired with the projectionist as to whether he had omitted a reel or placed some of them in the wrong sequence.

I do believe you can have fantastical dream logic and keep viewers oriented at the same time. Spirited Away is a perfect example of this. I have never felt a moment’s doubt as to what was going on or what Chihiro was trying to accomplish. In The Boy and the Heron the (I think) mission to save his mother (?), the role of the Heron, and just the simple order and significance of events drained too much mental energy from my feeble mind to enjoy the show on this viewing, but I’m already looking forward to a rewatch.

Bryce Moloney

Woman Under the Influence a Model of Dignity

I just recently watched [John] Cassavete’s A Woman Under the Influence, and went immediately to my critics on Letterboxd. I was surprised to find you rated it so low, so I went to your site to read the review, and I just have to say, we saw in it completely different things.

I think some background from me is essential. I work in mental health, and have for over a decade. I work on inpatient mental health units at a hospital in the Twin Cities, Minn., so I am in a unique position to say that [Gena] Rowland’s performance is one of a kind. Every tic, every conversation or look at stimuli that are not there, every risky decision she makes, every time she attempts to be the most amazing mother ever and then checks with others to see how she is doing, those are all symptoms I have seen in patients over the years. She is an excellent summary of many patients I know and have worked with personally. This is, in my opinion at least, the best reflection of mental illness I have ever seen in a film ever.

I don’t think you would argue with me over her performance. Your core issue with the film, if I am reading your review correctly (and please correct me if I am wrong), is that Mabel is only shown in her sickness, and she is denied understanding and dignity by the rest of her humanity being denied. I understand this argument, however, I do not agree with it.

I think there is more complexity and humanity than you cite in your review. As you say, there is the scene where she waits for her children to get home from school, and is visibly elated and joyful when the bus pulls up. Then the reunion with her children when she gets home from the hospital, which, as you mention, is short lived. But what about the very end scene where she puts her children to bed, cuddling with each of them, telling them she loves them and giving them closeness and kisses? Or right after that, when she and Nick go down to bed, and she makes a morbid joke about her illness (something pretty common in the community), and they set up their bed to go to bed together, after having been away from each other for six months?

I also wonder if you interpret every scene in the movie as her being ill? In one of the first scenes of the movie, Mabel is getting her kids ready for a night or two away at her parents house so that she and Nick can have time together, after he’s been away working for some time. She is running around frantically, making sure the kids have everything they need, grabbing one of their bicycles, etc. Did you perceive this scene as part of Mabel’s illness? Or could this have been a case of a mother being anxious for her kids to make sure they have everything they need for a few days away, combined with excited anticipation for her husband to be home soon? Perhaps the issue is that you interpret all of her actions through the lens of mental illness, thus creating the absolutism of illness you perceive in the movie?

This all leads to a core issue, which is that there is no clear line delineating mental illness. What some people may interpret as mental illness, others may interpret in other ways. Brains work differently, and most mental illnesses exist on a spectrum within the context of their social conditions they live within.

I definitely agree with you that a person’s illness does not define who they are. We are more than the sum of our parts. But the people I work with, those who are severely ill, as Mabel seems to be, have the terrible misfortune to have to deal with these issues as much as Mabel does in the film. It can sometimes feel for them that they are only their illness. This might be just a different way we see the movie. I did not see it as uncomplicated or not dignifying, I saw it as quite dignifying, in two ways.

The first is that the movie is quite sympathetic to her. You’re right that Nick is far from perfect. He’s abusive and acts in quite narcissistic ways at times. But his dedication and fealty to Mabel is quite clear. We should not underestimate the emotional toll that Nick undergoes in his life. This is one of the most dignifying things about the film. Nick sees the humanity and dignity inherent in Mabel.

The second was the fact that this movie was made at all. To make such a movie about a woman’s mental health issues is brave. To make the movie at all is a dignifying act, especially one that shows Mabel in all her humanity.

Stefan Swanson