Even in laughter the heart is sad,
and the end of joy is grief.
As told by 16-year-old, Craig (Keir Gilchrist) it is kind of a funny story. Feeling under great pressure to keep up with the other high achievers at his elite Brooklyn prep school, and faced with the filling out of a formidable admissions application to the college of his father’s choice, Craig has been plagued with nightmares of his jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. Thus before daylight on a Sunday morning he walks into the local hospital and pleads with the E.R. physician to be admitted to the mental ward. The juvenile ward is not available, so the doctor resists, but finally, giving in to the troubled boy’s plea for help, admits him to the adult ward. Thus begins a week of self-discovery in what superficially might be regarded as a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for teens. However, there are some major differences.
Craig does not know that there is a policy of a minimum stay of five days. When he goes up to the ward and discovers that it is filled with people, many of whom are really crazy, he asks to leave, but is refused. When his anxious parents rush over to the hospital, they agree that he should stay for the week. Craig’s therapist Dr. Eden Minerva (Viola Davis) is sympathetic, doing more listening than talking, and prompting the boy at various points. As we might expect from this kind of film, Craig will receive more help from some of the patients than from therapists or medicine.
Craig’s Egyptian roommate Muqtada (Bernard White) does not communicate, venturing forth no farther from his bed than the bathroom. Another man stands still wherever he is placed, even at the end of the ping-pong table with another patient batting the ball at him. A drug-damaged Hasidic Jew (Daniel London) rushes up whenever Craig is on the telephone, ordering him, “Keep it down!” Noelle (Emma Roberts), nearing the end of her stay, takes an interest in Craig, though he almost botches their relationship when Nia (Zoë Kravitz), his best friend’s girl friend who has just broken up the relationship, visits him in the ward and he blurts out, “I love you.” Most poignant and helpful of all is Bobby (Zach Galifinakis), a middle-aged depressive much closer to suicide than Craig. Pretending to be a doctor wheeling a patient, he is able to leave the ward with Craig for brief periods, during which they talk about themselves.
Each day unfolds with a series of humorous and revealing events that contribute to the recovery of Craig and that (at least partially) of his new friends—a little too quickly, some have observed, but given that this is a movie, something that we can accept and appreciate. Co-writers and co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have given us a sweet parable of friendship and self-discovery.
1. What kind of a person is Craig? Some have thought that his problems are not sufficiently great enough to cause such suicidal responses: what do you think? What kinds of pressures are teenagers under today?
2. What seems to be the problems of the other patients? What do you think of Craig’s reaching out to his bed-ridden roommate?
3. What moments of grace do you see in the film? How is Craig an agent of grace? Bobby? (Do you wonder about Bobby’s future?)
4. What do you think of the way in which the health care providers are depicted? Not like in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, is it? How was Ken Kesey in his story taking on the whole status quo? Not the intent here, is it?
5. What do you think of the statement, “If you are not busy being born, then you’re busy dying…” ? See any connection with Jesus’ words about being born again in John 3? Or his call to become “like a child” ?