Filmed on the Hawthorn Ward of St James’ Psychiatric Hospital, filmmaker and schizophrenic Juno Jakob explores his devastating diagnosis and what it means to be truly ‘mad’ in the documentary I’m Not Here.
Our culture is full of portrayals of mental illness, with a vast number of Hollywood films centering on a violent sociopath with a split personality who, in many cases, is labeled a schizophrenic. Mental illness in movie characters is found in some of the most high-profile pieces of cinema; The Batman films revel in the madness and split personalities of its litany of evil villains, with The Joker, The Riddler, Catwoman, Two-Face, and even Batman himself having two differing personalities, usually as a result of a traumatic event in their lives. Also, in The Lord of the Rings, Gollum bickers with his alter ego Sméagol, and in horror, Dr. Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde.
Outside of fantasy and horror films, Hollywood tends to use the schizophrenic tag directly, often in an inaccurate and stigmatizing way. Juno Jakob’s documentary gives us a raw, accurate, and real portrayal of what it is like to actually be a schizophrenic. Filmed by simply using his mobile phone, in close-ups, Jakob speaks directly to us. He gives us quotes and statistics and tells us about his life growing up, as well as his contesting thoughts and feelings. As he speaks he gets nervous, scatty, and paranoid, and he forgets his train of thought, repeating himself often. He becomes more disheveled, and then less disheveled, but he always speaks clearly and slowly with his delivery concise, managing to give us a huge insight into how he is able to live with this mental condition.
There are moments in the film he hallucinates and sees things that aren’t there. He tells us that the Nazis are looking for him, so he checks the windows and doors. The mention of Nazis is interesting, considering the Third Reich’s history of killing thousands of people with schizophrenia, and even today with the constant threat that people living with schizophrenia face from the followers of the Nazi-based ideology of eugenics. Jakub spends a lot of his time telling us about the people who live inside his head; a Fox named Atticus seems to be his calmer personality, while his more negative and aggressive side comes out in a character he sees quite often called Norman Bates. Yes, that Norman Bates.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was arguably the first film based on schizophrenia and also one of the major reasons for the stigma that has since surrounded it. Psycho gave us a dangerous character with a dual personality, the seemingly harmless and geeky Norman Bates giving way to the more aggressive and murderous persona of his mother. Bate’s propensity for violence is supposedly triggered by the stress of her death. “When the mind houses two personalities, there is always a conflict, a battle.” Thankfully we don’t see this battle erupt into violence in Jakub’s film, but we do see it raging within him and can well imagine that he spends most of his time fighting the feelings he knows he should not be having.
There is not a great deal of cinematography used, as all the filming is done with Jakub either holding his phone or talking to it while it’s on a tripod, but we do get the occasional wide shot and a circular tour of his room. The black and white photography gives I’m Not Here a classic Hollywood sheen that is very reminiscent of Hitchcock’s classic, but where Hitchcock went for shock value, Jakub aims for the truth and it is this truth that makes I’m Not Here well worth seeing.