The personal approach is both a strength and weakness but it is an engaging and interesting documentary
After suffering for many years with extreme swings in mood and feeling, Stephen Fry was diagnosed at age 37 as being bi-polar or suffering from being a manic depressive. Perceiving there to be a low awareness of this mental health problem, Fry investigates what it means to suffer from manic depression, meeting others who suffer from it in all walks of life from the famous to the man in the street, from the old to the young children.
I have a vague memory of my mother suffering from depression at one point in her life, or at least I'm pretty sure I do. We never really talked about it but I do recall her struggling to get out of bed for months but I do remember my understanding of it all being limited. So with that in mind I though I would catch up with this two-part film when it was shown recently on BBC4 as part of a season of films to mark Stephen Fry's 50th birthday. With the personal hook of his own condition, Fry meets people who also suffer and explores what it means to them.
This exploration paints a picture of a crippling mental illness that takes people from moments of "normality" to the point where suicide is an option. This range of input does provide enough information to understand the scale of the condition and does go some way to helping even the cynic come around. Even watching the film I found myself occasionally thinking that it was just a bad mood that one could just shake oneself out of, but confronted with those suffering from it, it is hard to hold this view for long. The problem is that the personal hook that makes this film accessible via Fry is also a weakness as it does heavily rely on people talking as part of quite a personal investigation. This is lifted a bit in the second part of the film where Fry continues to talk to experts about the subject. That said, the personal approach is also a strength because it does keep the people in the fore rather than the disease. This approach does help increase understanding for those of us fortunate enough to have no frame of reference for it.
Overall it is not a perfect film because it does rather meander at times but it is still an interesting look at a mostly misunderstood or dismissed condition that takes a "matter-of-factly" approach and benefits from it.
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