This unassuming Netflix film is a must watch. I was not wrong to add it to My List for future watching when I saw it.
The film is about a high school kid – Adam Petrazelli – who dreams of going to culinary school after graduation and becoming a chef of his own restaurant. He’s a pretty talented cook also. Yet he has an illness.
Adam was diagnosed with schizophrenia after an episode at school that put his friend in danger. This led to him being bullied and eventually transferring school middle of Senior Year.
He was accepted to Catholic school on the condition that he continues with his treatments, maintains good grades and doesn’t pose a threat to the student body. In exchange, the school kept silent about his condition.
Adam eventually adapted to his school and met a lovely smart girl – Maya Arnez – who tutored him to get his grades up. Eventually they fell for each other but without Maya knowing the real deal with Adam.
Adam was getting better from his medications, however, it had side effects. He was losing his ability to cook due to muscle spasms and loss of taste. This made him skip his medications causing his hallucinations to return. Eventually, he had an episode at school causing the school to suspend – and eventually – expel him.
His last episode was so severe that his parents decided to admit him to a mental institution where he eventually lost hope of getting well. However, a conversation with the school’s priest and the revelation that his stepfather was actually looking out for him, made him decide to regain control of his life.
He eventually graduated, made up with Maya and got into culinary school.
The last scene of the movie showed him holding his baby brother, surrounded by his family and Maya and still hearing the dark whispers of his hallucination. But at this point, he had accepted the love of his family and was able to battle his inner demons.
I have been a fan of similar works exploring the theme of mental illnesses like schizophrenia. A Beautiful Mind has always been a personal favorite. It’s the 2001 movie starring Russel Crowe and based on the life of mathematician & Nobel Laureate John Nash. He has battled schizophrenia despite his brilliant mind and the movie showed his struggles to cope with the disease. Another favorite is Tell Me Your Dreams, a novel by Sydney Sheldon showing Dissociative Identity Disorder or commonly known as split personality.
I’ve always been fascinated by how our minds work – and how it can go off balance and lead to this mental illnesses. But in the past, I felt like the illnesses were objectified in this literary works. I like them and I think they were brilliant but I just didn’t see how it connects to the real issues our society faces with these mental patients.
Watching Words on Bathroom Walls showed me how real the struggle of mental patients are when it comes to acceptance by the society and provision for a cure for their ailment.
Adam’s rhetorical question during one part of his psychiatric treatments really resonated with me. He asked why people are so eager to help kids with terminal illnesses like cancer often granting them their death wishes. But when it comes to kids with mental illnesses, people are quick to look for someone else to make it their problem. As a result, too many are forced to go to the streets because they are plagued with the voices in their heads and find no acceptance in society.
The movie also showed me how important it is for schizophrenics to acknowledge the love of the people around them. Which means the people around them must never give up hope that they will eventually get better. No matter how difficult the situation becomes, the support system must always be there.
Mental patients may not complete get better. Medical cure may or may not be effective. But they can certainly learn how to cope with the disease.
The film got me thinking about all the mentally ill people I see on the streets. Or those who are in mental institutions that are too preoccupied to even provide real treatment. I felt sorry that majority of them may never really get better. As a society, we have not evolved in our understanding and empathy towards mentally ill patients.
We know how to sympathize with terminally ill patients or handicapped individuals but when it comes to mentally ill patients – those with depression, schizophrenia, bipolar, etc – we are often quick to judge and condemn. We forget that their mental challenges need a loving and caring environment to heal. Our judgment can often be the trigger for them to commit something worse (aka suicide).
We still have a long way to go. But seeing films like this, where the real struggles of ordinary mental patients are tackled gives me hope. The film is tagged as a romantic drama film – it’s the love angle they are emphasizing even in the posters. But beyond that, the producers, directors and screenwriters made a great film exposing the reality behind mentally ill patients – and the kind of environment they need to thrive in our society.
I hope that this will raise awareness about the kind of society mentally ill people need and will make us become a loving and more inclusive society.