Helen is an American woman who has the perfect life. Musical, a mother, married to a rich lawyer husband, she has no reason to quickly slip into a suicidal depression that tears her family apart, which is exactly what she does. She befriends a younger, yet equally troubled cellist and slowly finds her way towards some form of happiness through electro convulsive therapy.
It’s hard to comment on a film such as this, because you can see the good intentions seeping through the cracks of nonsense and white, upper middle class presumption that present themselves as part of the universal. Let’s put aside Helen’s plight descending from a privileged state which means that her subsequent medical treatment is swift and highly personalised. The thing that baffles me most about American movies is the presumption that the standing husband/wife unit have no friends or support structure outside of family whatsoever. Towards the beginning of the film we meet a bunch of people that the pair sit laughing around a dinner table with, but the only other time we see a ‘friend’ is when she is attempting to seduce the husband now that she’s found out Helen has debilitating depression.
The film commands us to see the big D as an entirely medical problem that comes out of nowhere. But you only have to see the figure of Helen, who is entirely obsessed with her husband and daughter to see where there may be a problem. Any time she focuses on anything outside of that family unit (her piano playing, her new friend Matilda) it is seen as a symptom of her depression. Her husband at one point is even violent towards Matilda, but is forgiven because he is ‘frustrated’ that Helen wont go home with him, to the isolation that probably contributed to her depression in the first place. But no, the only thing that can fix her is drugs, ECT, and going back to the family unit. No other options are explored. At one point, Helen talks about her depression as if she is an addict: I’m terrified I’mgoing to relapse. Take these two pills, and if it’s not working in the morning, then take two more pills.
Judd is very good in the role of Helen. Her portrayal of Helen’s uncommunicativeness, her inability to express her pain except through messy tears is commendable. My main problem with the film was what it was trying to say, as it lay somewhere in-between an in depth study of depression and a redemption story. If it was a study of depression, it was clinical and over-medicalised: of the two mentally ill characters, only the one without previous life problems could be saved. If it was a story of redemption, its quasi-scientific use of mental illness as its ‘trial’ was overly simplistic.
See the original article posted here: http://www.beat.com.au/arts/2011/04/8/helen/american-middle-class-depression-electro-colvulsive-therapyit-family-unit-helen-helen-helen-s-uncomm