Movie Review: “Benny and Joon”

For my movie review, I chose the 1993 movie “Benny & Joon”. This is a movie about a women who is mentally ill. It does not ever tell you what she has, but there are hints as to what types of mental handicap she has. Her brother has taken care of her ever since their parents passed away twelve years ago. Through a poker game mistake, a new friend named Sam comes to live with the siblings. In his time with the siblings, he shows Joon what it means to have her own freedom and fall in love. He also shows Benny what it is like to have his own freedom and give Joon her’s. Sam is the insight that is needed in this family, and he is able to bring it in the best way for them.

I chose this movie for a few reasons. One reason is because it is a very lighthearted movie that still has a deep insight on the stigma around mental illness. Another reason is that I love how subtle the message truly is. Being able to watch a popular movie and enjoy it, while getting a deeper message is wonderful. It is a truly masterful and captivating movie that I chose because, to me, it fit perfectly with the message of this class.

Throughout the movie, Benny mentions a few times about how Joon has her “outbreaks” when she is stressed out. As I began looking into our studies, I realized we talked about this. Joon’s brother, Benny, is very controlling throughout the whole movie. He does it out of love, but it begins to constrict Joon more and more as she gets older. He tries to micromanage everything in her life to make sure that she is not endangering herself or others, but it begins to backfire. His micromanaging is causing more stress for Joon and causes her to have a final outbreak that sends her to the psych ward where she refuses to see him. In our reading during week 2 about people with schizophrenia in Zanzibar, the author discussed how the people kept their emotions at a very mellow state when around their family member that was ill. They never got over excited or too upset about anything in worry about hurting the ill family member. The author wrote, “the concept of emotional over involvement in terms of the ill family member being interfered with and “pried into” too much, of having insufficient freedom, and of being a part of a dyad that is like ‘a whole world’ unto itself” (McGruder). I think this is a perfect reading to play alongside the movie “Benny & Joon”. Benny illustrates what “emotional over involvement” looks like. I think his transition away from that is what truly allowed Joon to be better and have a normal life. You are able to see, once Benny backs off, how Joon can live without her outbreaks. It allows her to have less stress and a better life.

Another thing that is odd, we see Benny interact with Joon’s doctor a lot through the beginning of the movie. Toward the middle, she mentions a psychiatric evaluation she does with Joon, but we never see that take place. In the end of the movie, we finally see the doctor interacting with Joon. I think that is something that also shows the change that Benny goes through on this journey with Joon. I think that being able to finally talk to Joon without an interference from Benny is what allows a final decision from the doctor. In another reading from week 2, the author wrote “‘listen to the patient, he is telling you the diagnosis’ is a famous clinical maxim taught to medical students,” (Kleinman, 1988). When the doctor gets to hear Joon for the first time without any influence from Benny, she knows what is true. She is able to listen to her patient, Joon, and figure out if she truly is ready for the next step of living on her own. This step is critical not only in Joon’s life, but also in Benny’s. It proves to him that she truly is ready; it was validated by Joon’s doctor and that helps him stay true in his decision.

I think this movie is perfect for this class. It shows, eventually, the patient-physician interaction. It also shows the social and cultural side of Joon’s illness. You get to see her day to day life as well as her brother’s day to day life. The way they live is a key factor in her illness. I mentioned the over involvement triggering emotional outbreaks for Joon. I also mentioned the patient-physician interaction that instills Benny’s faith in his decision. Even though I mentioned two very big points that connect this movie to our Anthropology class, I am sure that there are more points that connect it. This movie is a perfect balance of material and lighthearted nature to make it not boring. Sometimes documentaries can become stuffy, but this will give a real world example and illustrate what truly happens in life.

This movie shows that the stigma around mentally handicapped people being incompetent is false. Through this movie, you see Benny back off and realize that just because Joon is mentally ill, does not mean that she is incompetent or unable. She is an adult women and can take care of herself all the same. “Benny & Joon” is an enrapturing film that breaks through the stigma around mentally ill people and shows what can really happen; this is a film that should be added to our curriculum.

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Sources:

i. Benny & Joon. Dir. Jeremiah Chechik. By Barry Berman. Perf. Johnny Depp, Mary Stuart Masterson, and Aidan Quinn. MGM/UA Home Video, 1993. DVD.

ii. Kleinman, Arthur. The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing, and the Human Condition. New York: Basic, 1988. Anthropology 370. Anthropology 370. Web. 15 Aug. 2016.

ii. McGruder, Juli H. “Madness in Zanzibar: An Exploration of Lived Experience”. Accessed July 15, 2016. http://anthropology.msu.edu/anp370-us16.files.2015.05/2.1-McGruder.pdf

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