This 287-minute documentary gives you a new perspective on ‘mental illness’

alopah Date:2021-08-06 14:13:09
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“Prisoner” is about male patients in the intensive care unit of a mental hospital in northeast China. The center has treated patients with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, numbness, and mania.


In the film, only a few small paragraphs were filmed with a distant lens of the patient’s state of onset. A doctor came in and tied the hands and feet of the patient with black bandages. There was no serious enemy, and the doctors occasionally had a relaxed chat. It’s similar to standing in line to see a child have their blood drawn. The patient will cry or scream, but you won’t feel too scared.


It is not difficult to see that the basic appeal of this film is to treat psychopaths rationally.


Speaking of documentaries on the subject of mental illness, quite a lot. Curiosity makes you open your eyes, incomprehension makes you drowsy, and soon after you get out of your seat you forget about the people in the picture, let alone appreciate the plight of this group, not in the same dimension, and sympathy is basically nonsense.


The camera of “Prisoner” has a very solid sense of substitution. The audience is sometimes the doctor, sometimes the patient’s family, sometimes the patient, and finally the trinity falls into an insoluble dilemma. Everyone has difficulties, but no one can help, in the patient’s casual words, can completely feel the desperate family members, and even the anxiety of the whole society for the mentally ill.


With a running time of 287 minutes, it was a daunting experience to watch, but The film surprisingly grabbed the audience, with half of the people in the screening room at the library of The Minhang campus of China Normal University standing up and watching without leaving. Perhaps the northeastern people themselves speak like jokes also contributed, from time to time the audience will burst into laughter and applause.


Director Mary on behalf of a group of independent female authors, their patience is extremely strong, dare to challenge difficult subjects, usually alone, also more easily into the inside of the subject, in the face of the same subject matter, they are much more than the male director more meticulous observation and further courage, Mary is more different, the control of the hand of the lens, a bit of a hermaphrodite.


According to Ma Li’s own opinion, why not take photos of female patients, mainly are two points: first, the male will not be aggressive to her, the so-called same-sex confrontation; Second, the outside world always give female directors to shoot female label, then I will not follow your advice. From “No Mirror” (2010) to “Jing Sheng” (2011) and “Prisoner” (2011), Mary has completed her “Human Dilemma” trilogy. And her new film, “People in trouble, too.”


Why the interest in “dilemmas”?


Mary’s answer was interesting. “Whenever I get into a group like this, I’m not so sure what’s out there. I would ask why that was, why it was so different from what I knew before. There must be something complex about this, a dilemma that inspires fear and courage. It’s both a special case and a general case. I think I’ve been peeping into the struggles and frustrations of life. I was photographing them, but I was also photographing my own fear and pain.”


For every 60 patients in this hospital, there are four doctors: one director, one old doctor and two young doctors. While taking the medicine, the nurse shouted in the hallway “take the medicine!” The patient walked to the nurse’s center, took the medicine and opened his mouth and stuck out his tongue to show the doctor that he had taken it. The doctor is very responsible, even more kind and patient than the patient’s family, but patients often say, not free, want to go out. The patient thinks he is not sick, the hospital is a prison, every day to find a way to get out; The doctor thinks you always say you’re not sick or you’re sick, and you can’t go out unless you cooperate. There is also a hint in the documentary that whether to take medicine or not is directly related to the condition of mental patients. The reason why patients come back is that they don’t take medicine after going out, and as a result, they fall ill again and return to the hospital.




An endless cycle, which means no one ever fully recovers.


A boy of about twenty, saying “there is no hope”, with his gaunt mother by his side. Probably will not sleep, he has been with your eyes open, mother has been teaching children close your eyes, but he soon open, closed for a while with my mother say sorry for a little while to his mother said, I love you for a moment to rely on the shoulders of mother mother again and again comfort does not appear, children finally lay asleep in the mother’s lap. We can see that this is a mother and son suffering from depression. I don’t know how many days and nights they have been suffering for this. Through their body language and simple dialogue, how terrible the disease is, how close the emotional bond between mother and son is.


Fu Minggang is a relatively complete character in Prisoner. He is about 40 years old, and his wife has worked in the same unit for more than ten years, because of dissatisfaction with the superior leadership, do not want to be “80 percent of the small staff”, he had the idea of quitting business. However, with only tens of thousands of yuan in savings, he thinks the most reliable way is to “contact 300 classmates, each lend him 10,000”. He wrote a feasibility analysis report, traveling by plane to raise funds for each city, want to change a life-style of a middle-aged man’s, but in others eyes of his behavior is “crazy”, as Fu Minggang about his own business plan, the wife did not discuss with him that the “accompanying their doctor” has put him in a mental hospital.


Fu Minggang’s appearance will make the audience misunderstanding, he is really not ill, really “wrong”. Are people who want to start a business mentally ill? ! Watching this episode, I did recall Ma carrying a broken cross-bag around handing out business cards.


A still from “Prisoner.


But after the doctor’s diagnosis, Fu Minggang did suffer from mild mania, symptoms are high mood, delusions of grandeur, behavior will increase. People with this disease are often unaware of the condition.


Fu Minggang at first thinks he has received the “design” and “persecution”, he thought his wife know he was having an affair so to set him up, he in the face of lens, clear logical thinking and language expression is fluent, but he still couldn’t go out, wife visit when weeping and a series of questions let him some hesitation, he fell into a no solution of the paradox – how to prove that he is not a mental illness.


Gradually, from denial to suspicion, he finally admitted that he might be sick. “They’re all going to watch TV,” he would say. “I have to go too. I can’t be too different.”


The audience laughed wildly, but soon fell into calm. What would they have done if they had been themselves? Sometimes the jokes from the audience also come from the mutual enlightenment between the patients and the patients, “If you want to go out, you have to let the doctor believe that you are sick, you cooperate with the treatment, and then you have to start a business. Can a man not have his own business? !” Fu Minggang got his idea and nodded.


Just like Mary said, you feel different. Why don’t I see psychopaths in movies like this? People in the audience are like, oh my god, I don’t think he’s right! Is he abnormal or am I abnormal?


“For about three months, I was in the containment area without turning on the camera. I didn’t want to start a predatory shoot. I lived with them for three months, and I kept explaining why I was in the ward, and I wanted them to understand that they had the right to refuse to be filmed. It’s a difficult and long process.” Mary knew exactly what she was getting into by choosing this subject.


Mary photographed them not as mental patients, but as unfortunate groups. They have more or less experienced the hardships of life, normal people may have survived the hardships, but they did not, unable to extricate themselves from the hardships.


The hospital has a high learning “master”, day and night always take a book to see, because of his “little thing to buy things and had an argument with my mother”, has been in more than four years, the nurse said his old mother and, every time is sent things quietly, dare not to see him, visible “the dispute is very terrible,” old mother has been picking up trash and don’t have enough money, But every delivery has been good. The old mother left last year, so far “master student” does not know this matter, he still feel that he is not ill, want to go out, he thought that his mother gave up him because of the dispute.


This is basically what life really looks like, knowing that there is no “silver in the wind”, no “the prince and princess have lived a happy life since then”, not so inspirational but not so decadent, everyone is very optimistic to live. There are many other stories like this between patients and their families, and also about love and mutual warmth between patients. This is not a cold dark documentary. The warm side and the cold side of human nature are less than each other.


Till the end, Ma Licai broke the seemingly harmonious peaceful, “often lost in thought,” the middle school students and another chat often explain and convince his patients, because of a casual a word in front of the cameras come on him in a black hole in their own logic, kept asking: “do you always tell me I didn’t know how to do ah, eat what is the definition of the eat what? How can I eat without knowing the definition of eating…”


It’s a stunning shot that goes from normal to abnormal in a matter of seconds, and the audience almost froze.


Watching this documentary, viewers will have obvious emotional swings. They will sometimes be amused by the patient’s words, sometimes amazed by the patient’s “genius” remarks, and sometimes wonder whether they are fake patients who have been imprisoned by mistake. By the end of the film, I felt like I was being hit on the head. My friend, who had just been smiling at the sunrise, had gone crazy!


Marlie writes kafka’s words at the end: “We don’t live in a ruined world, we live in a disturbed world.” We’re like abandoned children, lost in the woods.


The direction of this kind of film, of course, can be a purely psychological discussion, so foucault is mentioned every time you see the film; You can also comment on the observational lens one by one and make a mental effort. But I think “Prisoner” is probably more earthier, it’s a sketch of society, or a mirror image of society.


Each character stimulates your soul and reminds you that struggle is just a lesson in life.

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