3 Tips for Watching Films When Living with Depression by Sian Parker

When at my lowest point of living with depression, I found it near impossible to watch and focus on anything. There was so much going on in my mind that my concentration had disintegrated, and I found I had little to no interest in almost everything... Despite so desperately wanting to be invested.

This would be especially noticeable when it came to watching films. I would put one on, it would play and finish, but I would not be able to recall 90% of it. Although I was struggling with my memory too, I would usually end up scrolling through social media on my phone, or become so fixated on the time and it passing, that actually watching the film became my last priority. It was tiring.

At the time, I was in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. In those sessions I discussed my inability but wish to be able to watch films again. Below are the tips developed from the conversations I had with my then therapist, and what I have found to help me enjoy movies once more!

Watch Short Films

Requiring less of my attention span, I found it far easier to sit and watch a short film or two, rather than a two hour long epic. Short films have as much, if not more, artistic substance and care put into them than feature length movies; it is just all condensed down into a more manageable time.

I have also found their varying length to be great way to gradually increase time spent watching, depending on how long I felt able to sit for. With a host of genres and themes available, there are plenty to choose from too - so take note of how you're feeling and watch accordingly.

There are tons of short films to be found on YouTube, but Short of the Week is a great resource too.

Schedule Intervals

This idea was pinched from my then therapist. When I expressed my disappointment in being unable to sit through a film, they pointed out that I didn't have to watch it all in one go... Once they said this, it seemed so obvious! Why hadn't I thought of this before?!

Whether it be a five to ten minute break in the middle, a few sprinkled throughout, or even choosing to spread the film out over a day or so, it is about finding what works for you in that moment. There is no need to watch the whole thing at once.

I try to think about it like reading a book. Watching a film is not a race or competition, but instead something to be savoured and enjoyed.

Remove Distractions

This can be really difficult when enduring the lowest points of depression. They say a tidy space equals a tidy mind, but I know how hard I found it to keep my space tidy - and still do at particularly stressful times.

If you can move to a tidy space that is great, but if that is not available to you, just placing phones out of reach or ticking clocks in cupboards can be enough to alleviate feeling scattered - or as though there is too much going on at once. 

Other tips include grabbing drinks and snacks before the movie begins, and opting to watch a film on or through your TV rather than laptop. This can also help eliminate the temptation to see how much you have watched, how long is left, or to 'quickly' check Twitter/Facebook/YouTube, but then accidentally fall down a social media hole instead...

This piece was written by A Film Club Creator, Sian. If you have any tips for watching films when living with depression, tweet them to us at @afilmclub or share them via the #afilmclub hashtag!

"Don't Be What They Made You": Loneliness and Immortality in James Mangold's Logan by Millicent Thomas

Please note: This piece contains spoilers, and talk of depression.

 Original artwork composed for this piece by Andrew Bastow. Check out more of Andrew's work on their  Instagram .

Original artwork composed for this piece by Andrew Bastow. Check out more of Andrew's work on their Instagram.

"Nature made me a freak. Man made me a weapon. And God made it last too long."

James Mangold’s Logan (2017) at surface level is just another addition to the long-running X-Men film franchise. Further than that, it is a skilfully directed and brutally violent western homage. But if you keep digging under everything it appears to be, the beloved mutant’s final donning of his adamantium claws is a stunning character study. Exploring depression, addiction, and facing one’s own mortality.

It is common knowledge that Logan has long suffered with alcoholism. He is almost never pictured without a glass of whisky or a cigar, and his answer to most problems is to fight it out and then head to the bar. In X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), we see a montage of Logan’s life before he met Professor X and the rest of the gang. He has certainly been through a lot since he grew his claws; fighting in two wars, working as a gun-for-hire, and enduring the procedure which bonded adamantium to his entire skeleton. Due to his healing and regenerative abilities, he has also outlived most of his loved ones.

It is often touched upon in films and TV that immortality is an incredibly lonely life sentence. In Logan, James Mangold examines this idea with an intimate and violent portrayal of self-realisation. Logan learns what he needs to gain closure from his past experiences and find peace within himself.

"Immortality isn't living forever, that's not what it feels like. Immortality is everybody else dying."

– The Doctor, Doctor Who S09 E05.

The year is 2029, no new mutants have been born for over two decades and the X-Men are no more. Hugh Jackman’s Logan (known also by his birth name, James Howlett) now lives life off the grid, working as a limo driver for hire, and caring for Charles (Patrick Stewart) who is all but bedridden with old age.

At the start of the film we meet Logan passed out (likely from excessive alcohol consumption) in his leased limo, whilst it is being ransacked for parts. After a violent altercation with the men responsible, there is a montage of his life as it has been for some time. Driving for various types of people; hen parties, prom parties, and rich businessmen, and taking care of Charles in an overturned water tank somewhere along the Mexican border.

Charles and Logan have a beautifully realised relationship, and those who have been following since X-Men (2000), will have grown up watching it evolve. Myself being one of those people, it was particularly heartbreaking to see what Charles had become. He has the most powerful brain in the world but is now suffering from dementia; a combination that can do some real damage, and the responsibility falls to Logan to make sure he does not hurt himself or anyone else. 

The question of quality-of-life came to me when I first watched Logan attempt to make Charles take his medication. He cannot move without assistance and is essentially alone all day, every day. It was deeply saddening to see the Professor in that way, and in showing us this, Mangold tells us that these two heroes cannot fly around saving the world anymore. They must grow old like everybody else, and with that comes a vulnerability that cannot be withheld.

Now, although Logan has aged, and his abilities have begun to deteriorate, technically he still cannot be killed. At least, not without the purest form of the very metal that made him The Wolverine… This portrayal of immortality is unusual, and is commonly represented through the absence of ageing, but Mangold has chosen for Logan to physically change. 

The make-up department on the film should get some recognition for their effort in showing this so subtly. With nearly 30 hair and make-up artists credited I couldn’t possibly name them all, but their work is truly brilliant. Throughout the film his face appears older, he has more of a grey colour about him and, though he may heal every wound, they have begun to leave some hideous scars. What this shows is that he has to start being careful, as every altercation could leave the very last scar.

When Dafne Keen’s Laura comes into Logan’s life he is stubbornly against the idea. He does not want to help anyone in this film but Charles. Even when a family lose their grip in the road and their horses begin to walk amongst traffic, he says “someone will come along.” Charles’ rebuttal is a memorable exchange; “someone has come along.”

Laura, or X-23, is the product of an unauthorised experiment on children, in which they attempt to prompt artificial mutations by treating them with the DNA of known mutants. A brief shot of some papers show that some children are the biological sons and daughters of Cyclops, Storm and other recognisable names. The organisation behind it, Transigen, have somehow got hold of their DNA, and these children have been numbered and nurtured to be weaponised.

After a group of nurses help them to escape, they become separated and Nurse Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) attempts to track Logan down. She wants him to take care of Laura and protect her from Transigen. We learn all this through phone footage that ends with a heart wrenching: “She may not be my daughter, but I love her. You may not love her, but she’s your daughter.”

Logan is not a family man. In X-Men Origins: Wolverine he is depicted as having fled from home at a very young age after his mutation manifested in bone claws extending from his knuckles. Growing up, he had an older brother figure in Victor Creed, both were participants in the Cold War super soldier program ‘Weapon X’. This program is where he became The Wolverine we know; with adamantium bonded to his skeletal structure, resulting in unbreakable claws and an enhanced healing factor. However, Victor Creed went on to become Sabretooth, a formidable archenemy of The Wolverine. After this, other than the rest of the X-Men, Logan is not known to have connections or relationships with anybody, or want to for that matter.

Because of this disconnection from humanity he has built all his life, Logan is immediately dismissive of Laura. The tension-building, turmoil-filled road trip that follows her introduction is a journey that is constantly trying to wake him up to reality. She is just like him, adamantium and short temper included, and they need each other. 

In the stunning finale, we see the heartbreaking death of our hero, who we have been on this cinematic journey with for 17 years. He fights until his last breath to ensure Laura and her friends can escape Transigen. X-24, a genetically engineered clone of his younger self, is what ultimately kills him, and this feels entirely significant that he dies at the hands of his own image. 

As brutal and inhuman as X-24 is, his identical face suggests the idea that Logan is giving himself permission to die, permission to allow himself closure and cease suffering. By this point Charles is gone too, and Laura is all he has. She is the only thing left to sacrifice anything for and he makes the ultimate sacrifice - himself.

In James Mangold’s lovingly crafted piece, Logan comes to terms with his own mortality and what it means to find belonging outside the X-Men. In his final words, as Laura holds his hand and whispers “Daddy” through her tears, something clicks for him. He sighs “So this is what it feels like.” This can be interpreted many ways, but two stuck with me; he finally feels death and rest, but also the unconditional love having a daughter brings. In Logan, The Wolverine rediscovers his humanity and finds his peace.

This piece was written by A Film Club member and blogger, Millicent Thomas. You can find out more about Millicent via their Twitter and website!

The Romanticisation of Mental Illness in Cinema by Rachel Carney

Cinema has long been criticised for its poor portrayal of mental health and illness. Films are rife with characters like Norman Bates, Hannibal Lector and Annie Wilkes. All of whom are violent with homicidal tendencies. There is no doubt that film portrayals of those with mental illnesses aren’t realistic. But in recent years romanticisation of mental illness is becoming more and more prevalent in the film industry.

I'm an eternal critic when it comes to film portrayal of mental illness. Sure, it's a source of entertainment so perhaps accuracy isn't the biggest concern, but couldn't we be getting a bit closer to the truth rather than glamorising a topic society needs a better education on?

When I first watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), I loved it. A depressed, shy teenager without any friends? Yep, that spoke to me. In terms of mental health portrayal, the film is reasonably accurate, but the idea that Charlie is liked because he is mysteriously quiet and aloof takes mental health disorders into the realm of being seen like a ‘quirk.’ Of course the idea of being a ‘wallflower’ is really celebrated in this film, but in reality, social anxiety or depression aren’t qualities that people are generally liked for, and looking back, the film leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

To take a really good look at fetishisation of mental illness let’s go back in time to the 90s. The Lisbon sisters in The Virgin Suicides (1999) all experience depression, something the boys in their neighbourhood find mysterious and alluring. The hazy filters used over cuts of the boys watching the girls aren’t too far away from those found on many Instagram accounts today. So while the romanticisation of mental illness isn’t necessarily a new concern, it’s definitely a misrepresentation that makes mental illness look ‘sexy.’

Finally, we could hardly talk about romanticisation of mental illness without considering Girl, Interrupted (1999); a film that has been praised over the years for its realistic portrayal of mental illness. While its focus on a character who doesn’t look stereotypically ‘mentally ill’ is great for reducing stigma, and its graphic scenes of self injury aid the realities of dealing with borderline personality disorder, it can’t be ignored that the film glamorises mental illness.

Even though Girl, Interrupted steers clear of the trope of over-sexualising women with mental illnesses, it still portrays mental illness as something which adds to personality – a characteristic that makes a person more interesting, rather than an illness. Whilst this is arguably not as damaging as a character with a mental illness being portrayed as a villain, it’s still a worrying and stigmatising attitude towards mental health disorders.

Mental illness is not glamorous. Whether cinema should be portraying mental illness more accurately is a debate for another day. And maybe I’m a cynic who should be able to separate entertainment from reality, but for now Hollywood I’m waiting for some better representation.

This piece was written by A Film Club member and blogger, Rachel Carney. You can find out more about Rachel via their Twitter and blog!

The A Film Club Zine by Sian Parker

 The zine references older versions of, and projects by, the club - including our original logo on the cover by Mindi Wooley. 

The zine references older versions of, and projects by, the club - including our original logo on the cover by Mindi Wooley. 

... So now you know! We've been teasing our secret project for a little while now, but I am proud to finally announce that we are releasing a limited edition zine, and that all of the profits will be going to charity!

A bit of backstory...

All the way back in 2016, I proposed the idea of creating a zine to our members. At the time I was also struggling with depression, after years of living with the illness unknowingly, as well as embarking on treatment and recovery.

The unpredictable nature of depression, and the various ways it can affect the brain, meant I was unable to proceed with the zine's production for a long time. Wanting to make it the best it could be, both for all of the talented people involved and myself, I put it on hold until I felt able to do just that.

In early 2018, I knew the time had come to release the zine. Despite encountering some conflict from depression, and even a flare up of OCD (in this case, compulsive checking) during the finalisation and submitting-to-print process, I am the best mentally I have ever been... and so, here we are!

 The zine's stunning end papers by Akhran Girmay.

The zine's stunning end papers by Akhran Girmay.

The Zine

A4 in size, and presented beautifully in full colour on white 80gsm stock, the zine showcases 36 pages of heartfelt love-letters to film alongside gorgeous illustrations. The submissions are written by A Film Club members, and the illustrations are from both our talented members and professional artists.

Each submission centres around a common theme; the film, films or part of cinema that introduced the writer or artist to the art form, as well as why they love the medium as a whole. Each written submission is accompanied by a piece of original artwork.

There is even a space for you to get involved too...

 Lizzie Houldsworth was the zine's dedicated Art Coordinator, and also assisted with putting the zine together.

Lizzie Houldsworth was the zine's dedicated Art Coordinator, and also assisted with putting the zine together.

Where to get a copy, the profits and our goal

Something I kept thinking about during the production process, whether I was working on the zine or not, was how much I wanted for the zine to not only be good, but to do good too.

Considering the hard work, time and dedication from everyone involved, and the rough road travelled to get here, it didn't ever feel right to save the money raised for myself. And so, after Etsy and PayPal have taken deductions for selling and transaction fees, all of the profits will be donated to a mental health charity - which will be confirmed at a later date.

Only 100 copies of the zine will be up for grabs from our Etsy store, and they will go on sale on May 1st at £5 each (plus post and packaging).With the money going towards a great cause, my goal is to sell out of the zine in May; that means one month to sell them all! I understand this is quite a feat, but I think we can do it. There will be an announcement on our Twitter when the listing is live, so keep your eyes peeled...

Whether you can pick up a copy or not, please consider sharing this post or tweeting about the zine. Any and all support you are able to give will go a long, long way and will be so appreciated.

Thank you so much for your time!

Sending bigger boats and DeLoreans, 

Creator of A Film Club