5 Depressed Characters in Movies That Got the Illness Right
They inspired us to seek help when we felt all was loss.
I was diagnosed with depression when I was 20 years old.
It wasn't shocking, considering this came a week after I attempted to run away from my life in a cream-colored PT Cruiser my grandparents had passed down to me.
Still, that didn't make it any easier to process. Sure, it was nice knowing that I wasn't crazy for thinking something was wrong, but now knowing that I was depressed left me feeling hopeless.
During that time in my life, I watched a number of films all centered around various mental illnesses like depression. Some were fine others made me feel even less understood, then there were the few whose characters inspired me to do something about my diagnosis and not just let it consume me whole. Allow me to introduce them to you below:
1. Dwayne Hoover (Little Miss Sunshine)
Virtually every member of the Hoover family, other than the optimistic Olive, is suffering from some sort of depression. Sheryl is an overworked mother who does her best to provide for everyone. Richard, her husband, is attempting to build a career as a motivational speaker, but that's not going as well as he had hoped. Frank, Sheryl's brother, is currently living with them after a suicide attempt. Sheryl's father Edwin also resides with the rest of the Hoover clan after being kicked out of his retirement home for snorting heroin. And rounding out the bunch is Dwayne, Sheryl's child from a previous marriage who has taken a vow of silence.
Though I relate to every character in some way, it was always Dwayne's story that inspired me to speak out when I needed the most help. After his breakdown upon discovering he is colorblind and can't fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a pilot, I realized that if I wanted to get better, I had to seek treatment.
For so long, I always felt silenced by my depression. Though Dwayne opted to be silenced, watching him struggle with telling people his issues was how I felt every single day of my life. I was unheard and unseen, as far as I was concerned. But when his family, who each are dealing with issues of their own, come together to remind him of how worthy he truly is. It's a cinematic moment that, in a strange way, always made me feel seen.
2. Penny Lane (Almost Famous)
Penny Lane will always be one of my all-time favorite cinematic heroines for more reasons than you'd like to hear. She's sharp, funny, charismatic, loving, adventurous, but no one knows she's also struggling with feeling insecure and unworthy, mainly in terms of her romantic relationships.
On the surface, I don't look depressed. I'm cheery and bubbly, always willing to help others and be there for them in their times of need. But buried deep down, I have plenty of problems I'd rather not bring to light. I try to hide my negative emotions behind a false sense of security on a regular basis.
When Penny attempts to overdose on quaaludes, that's when we see a glimpse of the real Penny—not the most glamorous glimpse, but one that's undeniably real and honest. Hearing her mutter "Why doesn't he love me?" as she's doped out is still one of the most heartbreaking scenes I've ever witnessed.
For me, Penny is a reminder that what you see isn't always the truth.
3. Charlie Kelmeckis (The Perks of Being a Wallflower)
When I first read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I immediately related to Charlie Kelmeckis—the novel's protagonist who's been suffering from clinical depression since childhood and was recently discharged from a mental health care institution to join the real world, high school.
Reading the book was one thing, but watching the film was a whole different story. I still felt the same pain Charlie did, but it was almost more real seeing it unfold on screen.
The reason I always related to Charlie was because he had such a tough time adjusting to life outside of his mental illness. I never stayed at a mental health care institution, but it's tough to return to the real world after you've been diagnosed with depression. I personally felt like a commodity to be stared at, almost like a wild animal in a zoo. But seeing him able to finally be himself by the end of the film and embrace life is something truly inspiring to me.
4. Craig Gilner (It's Kind of a Funny Story)
Another book-turned-movie, It's Kind of a Funny Story will forever hold a special place in my heart, thanks in large part to the main character Craig Gilner.
After contemplating suicide, Craig is issued a one-week stay in a hospital's psychiatric floor. It's there he develops strong relationships with other patients and learns that in order to get better, he can't be afraid to rely on his family and friends.
Depression has often made me feel like a burden, which is why I'm not one to seek help from my loved ones. I don't want them to feel as though they need to be there for me. So watching Craig discover that he in fact has to be proactive in seeking help, reminded me that I need to do the very same.
5. Fran Kubelik (The Apartment)
The Apartment is undeniably a classic. Featuring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, this 1960s film received 10 Academy Award nominations—quite the impressive feat.
The first time I had seen this movie, I had just been diagnosed with depression. I watched it for a film class and immediately broke down during the iconic mirror scene in which Jack Lemmon's character Bud points out that the mirror Shirley MacLaine's character Fran uses is broken. She simply responds, "Yes, I know. I like it that way. Makes me look the way I feel."
Even typing that out now brings a tear to my eye.
Fran then attempts to overdose on sleeping pills, but Bud is there to rescue her and bring her out of the darkness.