Welcome to the final installment of our 4 part series on the portrayal of disabilities in entertainment. We reviewed Power Rangers, The Joker, Star Trek, and now in this blog Twelve Monkeys. This series is not meant to criticize but critique the content based on our personal experiences and research we have conducted. Hopefully, some of what we have shared inspired you to look at what you can learn from the film about the past and present conception of disability.
Trigger Warning: Discussion of mental health in a negative context related to the film. Use of words like “crazy” and stereotypes of persons with mental health diagnoses. For the purposes of this blog, we use the term “mentally ill” in reference to the film's content. Mention of mental health facilities and hospitalizations.
Spoiler Alert! Don’t read on if you have not seen the film. Instead check out our other blog The Art of Persuasion: Advocating for Invisible Disabilities on how our experiences with self-advocacy influenced the work we did and do now.
We took a somewhat different approach to this film's interpretation of mental health. It is a work of fiction and we wanted to take an objective view of “did they really do anything offensive?” Well, yes and no. Let’s break it down. The setting is post-apocalyptic in a world where the planet is uninhabitable on the surface and there is nothing left but the underground. This was caused by a virus that wiped out humanity. Below ground, you find the main character is a prisoner sent back in time to stop the virus from happening.
This is a science fiction storyline with so many time skips and infinity loops and it can make your head spin. However, this is important to how the main character ends up in a psychiatric hospital. There he meets a chaotic patient with ideas of creating a movement to overthrow the government and save the animals. There is a plethora of content around environmental terrorism and the assumption that the environmentalist group created the virus.
The “crazy” character that is met by the protagonist in the hospital is the perceived target. Throughout the film, they insult his mental state. He causes trouble in the hospital and attacks nurses and orderlies. His image is that of a mentally unstable person that blabbers on about conspiracy theories. No one thinks he is capable of a mastermind plan.
This is a great stopping point to explain a huge issue with the story. At the beginning, the mentally ill character is completely invalidated and not taken seriously. This is a pitfall of the media's portrayal of mental health. They tend to infantilize people, make them seem ignorant, or completely invalidate their ideas based on the notion that they are “crazy.”
Mental Health Struggles Do Not Make your Thoughts and Feelings invalid.
As we move through these scenes, the protagonist sent from the future discovers that this lunatic rich boy from the hospital with grand ideas is actually leading a small terrorist cell. This of course comes to the attention of the future organization trying to stop the virus and all efforts focus on stopping this one “crazy” man.
In the beginning, they discount him, but now because he seems like a threat, they shift the blame on him. They assume that his mental instability and negative mental health history make him the most logical option for being the person that kills the world. Keep in mind, his father is a rich bioengineer that is a virologist creating things as the film continues.
Now all efforts go to stopping this terrorist cell from unleashing the virus.
We were so thrilled at the ending. They spent all their time dissecting the seemingly “crazy” character to stop the end of the world and it wasn’t him! All of the assumptions and stereotypes in the film come to a full stop when it was revealed that they were wrong. In fact, their tunnel vision on the mentally ill patient prevented them from seeing the real culprit right in front of them.
All and all it was a perfect example of how stereotyping, assuming, and invalidating anyone with mental health diagnosis is faulty. The lesson is: Never let your implicit bias remove your objectivity. If you do, you are more likely to be wrong and miss the bigger picture.