During my twenties I had a long-term partner who was a big, athletic guy (an ex-Olympian even) but a real sensitive soul, and he struggled with life at times. A couple of years after we split I heard that he had married, moved overseas and begun “hearing voices”, eventually returning to New Zealand and plunging into what I now know is full blown schizophrenia. On the outside he apparently looks exactly the same, but the voices in his head have rendered him incapable of work and most relationships. At worst he imagines that his phone is bugged and there are cameras in his shower, at best he has a short fuse with his friends and family, many of who have struggled to watch his transformation over the years.
Tonight’s film DAN AND MARGOT follows a similar trajectory as it takes an intimate look at a seemingly together young woman called Margot, who spent years being stalked and tormented by a person who never really existed. Beginning like an art house horror movie you haven’t caught yet, it’s a sensitive but fascinating watch and a very sympathetic portrayal of mental illness by filmmakers Chloe Sosa-Sims and Jake Chirico.
The protagonist is a friend of Sosa-Sims, a smart, sassy woman who just happens to also be schizophrenic. The exact cause of schizophrenia isn't known, but a combination of genetics, environment and altered brain chemistry and structure may play a role. Schizophrenia is characterised by thoughts or experiences that seem out of touch with reality, disorganised speech or behaviour and decreased participation in daily activities, and it can affect someone for a few years, or the duration of their life. Treatment is usually life-long and often involves a combination of medications, psychotherapy and coordinated specialty care services, and it has been known to make its presence felt when sufferers are at a very vulnerable time in their lives. Unlike virtually every other mental illness, schizophrenia is fairly unique in that its first onset is nearly always in young adulthood - not childhood or as a teen, and rarely after one’s 30s. Most people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia have their first symptoms and episode in their 20s — early to mid-20s for men, a little later (late-20s) for women.
This is, in part, is what makes it such a devastating disorder. Just as a person is finding their way in the world, exploring their relationships with others and whatnot, schizophrenia strikes. This is definitely the case for Margot, as we watch her struggling to take back the three years of her life that she lost to schizophrenia. During those years she was stalked, sexually harassed and tormented by a person who never really existed, ending in a deep depression until finally, she was hospitalised and diagnosed.
In the film we see Margot trying to gain back the years she lost during her episodes. She wants four things: to move out of her parent's house, to meet others like herself, to find satisfying work and ultimately to fall in love. As she gets closer to achieving what she wants, she continues to grapple with her illness. Schizophrenia is a life-long condition and the chance of relapsing is ever-looming.
The fearlessly introspective protagonist at the heart of DAN AND MARGOT is a great subject, making for a compelling watch. Her supportive network of family and friends are also wonderful people, and their observations on the mystifying changes in her behaviour are heartbreaking. I think it’s important to say that Margot gives a voice to the many stories of mental illness as she struggles to live with past traumas but still has hope. Lastly, the film asks questions about the deep-seated stigmatisation of mental illness around the world and what ways we can better understand – and support - those in its grasp.
DAN AND MARGOT premieres Thursday 13 April at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel
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