Monday, August 17, 2009

Boy Interrupted

In 2005, Dana and Hart Perry's 15 year old son, Evan, committed suicide after a 10 year struggle with bipolar disorder. As the Perry's are both filmmakers, Evan's entire life (literally from before birth to his funeral) had already been recorded. They added interviews with family, friends, teachers and clinicians and made the documentary Boy Interrupted. It was an official selection of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and premiered on HBO August 3rd. (It can now be seen at HBO On Demand for those interested.)

At age 5, Evan began talking about death. He was described as having an obsession with death and often talked about killing himself and others. He was first diagnosed with depression and started on Prozac. In the documentary, his teachers describe his behaviors. They describe him as an intelligent and creative boy. He wrote plays about death and journaled about his feelings. Below are two of the poems found in Evan's journal, written around age 8.

Sometimes I feel like
an owl in the day.
Just let me say
I want to end my life
with this knife.
But this is only sometimes
But this is only sometimes

Sometimes I feel alone
And no one cares for me
Sometimes I feel that
I'm in the darkness
And nobody can see me

At age 10, Evan nearly jumped off the roof of his elementary school, in an attempt to commit suicide. At that time he was admitted to a psychiatric facility and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. After being started on lithium and living away from home at Wellspring, a school/group home, Evan improved and for several years did very well.

Meanwhile, the documentary tells the story of Scott Perry (Hart Perry's brother) who also had issues with depression and committed suicide at age 21. They interview his fiance and mother (who discovered his body but does not at all recall what happened that day). Added in are interviews that Hart Perry did in 1971 (when he made a documentary on the making of the sculpture that was placed on Scott's grave). The documentary makes a point to show the parallels between the two suicides through showing similar comments made then and now. The interviews (those in the 1970s and the current ones) actually take place in front of the same painting.

After his lithium was tapered down in an attempt to come off of it, Evan jumped from his bedroom window, killing himself. His funeral is included in the documentary.

Some reviews have called this film heartbreaking. It's definitely very emotional and quite disturbing. It's an excellent film but wasn't an easy watch. (Childhood mental illness, suicide, grief stricken family and friends. Need I say more?)

At the beginning of the film, you see Evan's family cutting down a tree and turning it into beams of wood. You don't find out until the end that these beams go into making a barn at Wellspring (the facility that his parents credit for keeping Evan alive for years). I think it is interesting how the tree is used the documentary. It's cut down and cut apart at the beginning of the film and we don't really understand why. At the end, the destruction is turned into something. Like a heart breaking experience turned into a documentary. It ties the film together.

Below is a scene from the beginning of Boy Interrupted.

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