Mad to Be Normal
Mental illness is arguably the most misunderstood and misrepresented area of health care. We still don’t have perfect treatments or cures the same way we do for other illnesses. Often, we don’t even have perfect diagnoses. Flash back to the sixties, where patients were still receiving electric shock therapy and being treated more like prisoners than people in need of help. Mad to Be Normal is the story of psychiatrist Ronald David Laing and the controversial facility he ran at Kingsley Hall in London from 1965-1970.
Today, the thought of administering psychedelic drugs to a mentally ill patient seems outrageous, if not malpractice. Laing’s research centred around the belief that the current treatments available were not only ineffective but also ethically wrong. He consistently denounced the use of sedative drugs to numb the mind and body and instead used LSD to treat people in his unique facility, where he and his lover Angie lived together with his patients.
David Tennant gives a spectacular performance as the headstrong, opinionated Ronald Laing. We watch the ambitious doctor slowly deteriorate over the course of the film as he tries and ultimately fails to help his patients. His personal life suffers as a result of his inability to separate it from his work and a sad portrait of a failed ideal is what we’re left with. This movie is truly dependant on outstanding performances from the cast and, as a whole, they deliver. Particularly noteworthy is Gabriel Byrne as the poetic but disturbed Jim, whose final descent into a violent psychosis is the nail in the coffin for Laing’s project.
The provocative nature of this film comes not from the gritty, sometimes disturbing depictions of the patients, their illnesses, or of their mistreatment, but from the troubling ethical questions that arise from the circumstances. Be prepared for some serious moral conflicts; Mad to Be Normal is as much about a particular instance in the past as it is about how we understand and manage mental illness today. This unconventional and surprisingly touching feature succeeds in paying homage to the work and pain of the past while also reminding us that there is still much work to be done.
Mad to Be Normal is released nationwide on 6th April 2017.
Watch the trailer for Mad to Be Normal here: