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Uneven but disturbing artifact of the history of mental illness
Others have summarized this documentary well, so I would like to add my comments rather than go over ground covered by others.
It is hard to view this film and watch the dehumanization and brutalization of these patients. They are shown naked being provoked into angry outbursts by the guards, force-fed, locked in solitary confinement naked with a metal bucket for a toilet and hundreds of other indignities. Even the fact that the film-makers had such access is a shocking violation since patients committed involuntarily are unable to give informed consent.
But this was made in 1967 before modern anti-psychotic medications were developed. As a Clinical Social Worker who has worked extensively with the chronic mentally ill over the last decade, I was shocked to see how primitive the treatment methods were, even though I was prepared by my research in graduate school. Tranquilizers were being prescribed to mitigate the symptoms of paranoia, the psychiatric interviews with patients included lots of leading questions and they were treated rudely and dismissively even when the patients were making some good points about their commitments.
It was obvious that the staff and volunteers were just doing the best they could, but I have less sympathy for the Hungarian psychiatrist who at times seemed as disturbed as his patients. The volunteers running games and parties and shows reminded me of the Friendly Visitors to the Poor, those well-intentioned 19th C. socialites who volunteered to sing hymns and read the Christian bible to poor people in the tenements to "improve" their lives.
All in all, this is a very worthwhile film and highly recommended to professionals and interested others in the mental health field. Yes, there are some definite ethical problems in the way this was created, but as a historical record it is invaluable. I give this 9/10.
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