This is a documentary about suicide, by a film maker who lost his mother to suicide when he was a young teenager. It seems to be his attempt to understand that tragic event in his life at the same time he is making film that he hopes will save some lives. Usually we don’t review films before they are ready to be released. In fact, the final edit on this movie has just been tweaked. It hasn’t hit the film festivals yet and a distribution deal has yet to be made. We hope in a small way, the availability of this review will help the process along as well as encouraging folks in the mental health community to consider using this film as a discussion tool at professional meetings and most of all to be used for educating the public. According to the National Institute of Mental Health suicide is 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the 3rd leading cause in the age group 15-24. There are 11.3 suicides deaths per 100,000 people in this country. An estimated 11 attempted suicides occur per every suicide.
While these and other statistics are important, this film is not about numbers and risk factors. It is about real people who tell little pieces of their stories. It is about people who came very close to killing themselves but for some circumstance or reason didn’t do so. It is about the film maker who comes across as a very likeable guy who is trying to figure out why is mother, who he believed loved him, would leave him by her own hand. He reads her letters, listens to tapes of her talking, looks at old film clips and ponders this issue with his older brother, aunt and step mother who married his father after his mom died. His brother never understood how she could have done this when she was in the music business and knew how important was his debut as an opera director that was happening the following week. His aunt, who was a psychiatrist, knew her sister had problems but didn’t see this coming. His stepmother only recently reveals her own special connection with suicide. While the film maker may not have ever completely understood why his mother ended her life, he did realize that more then how she ended her life, she should be remembered for how she lived her life which included much love and support to her children. This message alone gives the film great value.
The filmmaker, Michael Stutz is also the director, writer and producer. He does goes beyond just his own story and some close up vignettes of people who struggle with depression and have come close to doing this fatal deed. He follows a talented choreographer who is preparing a group of young dancers to perform a piece about autopsies. The result is as dramatic as is the meaning to young performers who had to come to grips with what their dance was about. We are introduced to a fairly successful comedian who has a team of writers help him prepare his material that daringly enough is going to be about suicide. It is always tricky business when humor is touching a potentially raw nerve. You have to understand, as a psychiatrist I usually don’t even like it when people use the word “crazy” in stories or in every day life but I appreciated the use of humor in this film. In fact the highlight was a piece by a comedian who did a monologue as a character who was leaving a video to his family prior to his suicide. He said just about everything a loved one would dread that their family member who was ending their life might say about them and how the suicidal person felt about them. It brought me to out loud laughter and will be for me one of the most unforgettable parts of this film about a very serious subject.
I said earlier that I hope professionals will view and use this film in their efforts to prevent suicide. It is not because this film will necessarily educate my profession about suicide. It didn’t really examine the difference between suicide attempts and suicide gestures nor did it attempt to show the different psychiatric diagnosis that people who attempt suicide might have. In fact there wasn’t much of a psychiatric presence in the film. However it has the potential to be very meaningful to anyone who has struggled with suicidal thoughts, had fleeting suicidal thoughts or has been close to anyone who has had these issues. Unfortunately there are a great number of people in at least one of these categories. This film can save lives so it deserves to be seen and will be a worthwhile experience for many people. I don’t know yet when and how it will be distributed but more information about it can be obtained on the following website: http://www.dontchangethesubject.org/ (2011)