Movie Review: Charlie Bartlett

I chose the movie Charlie Bartlett because I find it to be an important story to deal with how mental health in middle class settings seems to be treated. Also, it is my favorite movie and I’ve seen it a few dozen times. The covers the path of its title character, Charlie, who is the son of a single mother who has a therapist on call and has multiple prescriptions for various medications to do with her mental state. Charlie gets kicked out of several private high schools after trying various ways to get popular, like making fake IDs. Charlie now goes to a public school, and he gets a prescription for Ritalin to help with his concentration problem. After discovering the thing about Ritalin that every college aged kid knows now-a-days, he decides to partner with the ‘bad’ kid to sell the drugs. Through the movie, he talks to most of the kids in his school, from popular football scholarship kid who wants to go to art school, to the outcast with severe anxiety and suicidal tendencies. Acting as the therapist for the students who are largely ignored by their working parents and overworked teachers, Charlie ‘prescribes’ them various medications after faking their symptoms to his numerous therapists. Through this, Charlie is launched to super popularity, and it crashes down when one kid attempts to OD on his medications. Charlie sees the damage he’s caused, and promises to stop dealing the medication, but will still hold ‘office hours’ for students. When he announces this, the student body is upset, but in the end people still go to him and talk their problems out with them. The movie ends with Charlie helping the kid who almost over dosed put on a play about the struggles of being a high school kid with the drama club. There is more to the movie, including a love interest (cause it involves high school kids), but that is about all one needs to know in the context of this class.

Parts of the movie cover things like abuse, and the start when Charlie gets his first Ritalin prescription, he is questionable about the usefulness of the medication. The therapist responds that they will know he has ADD if the drugs work for him. This reminds me of Lecture 2.2, the History of the DSM. Here, one thing that was covered was how much of the mental health medication was based in fixing chemical imbalances, and that no two brains are the same. There isn’t a good way to see the typical chemical levels of different neurotransmitters for many people, and it’s hard to know the effects it’ll always have on people. To me, this is shown well in the movie due to the skepticism of Charlie’s belief in how they were prescribed, but he utilized the effects of the drugs (initially) to get popular. Later, he started using them to help people, combining them with the closest thing to therapy session he as a high school kid could provide. He didn’t have the education or training to help the kids, but according to the DSM (a book shown many times in the film) he used their symptoms to diagnosis them, then would acquire the medication to treat the disorders.

Through his process, he did what was discusses in PDF 2.2, but without any attention to the biomedical side. In the PDF, we followed the story of a women (Mrs. Flowers) who was trying to tell her doctor about some of the problems in her life, as she saw them relate to her health. The doctor, essentially, separated her as a social human being from her symptoms, as is often done in the American biomedical system. In the movie, Charlie looked purely at their social issues and sought ways to treat them medically, with little to no knowledge of how the medications actually worked within the human body. While both Charlie and the doctor in the story did the best they could for those they talked to with what they knew, both had issues with their form of care. Not to equate illegally selling drugs to students for a profit to not listening to the emotional problems of your patients, but both could stand for improvement. Having a way to use them both, preferable with no laws broken and not having a 17 year old with no training doing the medication allotment, would be ideal.

Charlie did help a lot of those kids, and became a type of role model for the kids, being that he actually listened to them. While not perfect, he did his best. The movie ended with Charlie interviewing for a very competitive internship with a psychiatry clinic, and the interviewer saying he has a long day ahead of him and Charlie has an ‘unusual application,’ which Charlie follows up with, “Well, would you like to talk about it?” It’s a coming of age movie that discusses some of the complexities with mental health care, especially as it affects younger people. While I wouldn’t stand up and say it would be super great addition to this course, I do believe it does a service of examining these issues in a context that is very easily understood by younger people without glorifying the drugs, or trying to say that they are evil.
Charlie Bartlett. Directed by Jon Poll. By Gustin Nash. Performed by Robert Downie Jr, Anton Yelchin, Hope Davis. 2008. DVD. Accessed August 15, 2016.

History Of The DSM. Cynthia Gabriel, Ph.D. Accessed August 15, 2016.

“Conflicting Explanatory Models in the Care of the Chronically Ill” Kleinman, Arthur. Chapter 7 (excerpts) – In The Illness Narratives.

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