Memoirs of My Nervous Illness

"Very Good"

Memoirs of My Nervous Illness Review


Memoirs of My Nervous Illness is a biopic that is inherently risky -- it centers on a figure that, for all intents and purposes, no one has ever heard of. What it lacks in familiarity, though, it makes up for with the voyeuristic thrill from a very lucid depiction of madness.

In 1903 Germany, the erudite and well-spoken Daniel Paul Schreber (Jefferson Mays), a former judge, pleads his came to be released from an insane asylum. His calm and detailed account of his own mental illness, offering the film both its structure and its voice over narration, is taken from Schreber's real-life diaries. The diaries began as an effort by a dedicated doctor, Flechsig (Robert Cucuzza) to quell Schreber's descent into insanity, but Schreber proves an adversary every bit as intelligent and stubborn as Flechsig's best efforts in treatment.

Though Schreber was committed initially for erratic behavior and "nerves," despite the finest in psychiatric care of the era -- including sedatives, fresh air, and the curative powers of deep knee bends -- Schreber's mental state spirals out of Flechsig's most rigid control. He's got madness of the literally howling-at-the-moon variety, along with hallucinations, paranoia, and grandiose opinions of himself, and he busies himself with endless sketches and ravings in the pages of his journal. He has a philosophical sort of madness, full of thoughts on the nature of God's communication with his body and his role in the universe. Eventually, even Schreber's gender identity comes into question, as he begins to feel himself transform into a woman.

On the one hand, this is preposterous, and little more than the ravings of a man with come clear, and serious, mental issues. On the other, though Memoirs of My Nervous Illness is so very eloquent and matter of fact that it is difficult to dismiss Schreber out of hand. His nearly incoherent ramblings can get indulgent and lengthy, especially as they all are heading to the same place, but they are also often illuminating as to the warped perceptions and twisted logic that can comprise an intelligent, ill brain.

Told using visuals as fuzzy and color-saturates as a ye olde tyme photograph, the whole of Memoirs is dream-like and otherworldly. It not only puts a context to the treatment and understanding of Schreber's mental illness, but it makes his hallucinations seem almost interchangeable fairly tale of his reality. It does not, however, entirely justify the rather theatrical staging and performances of the film, but it does a lot to absorb them in the sumptuous surroundings.

Mays does a lot towards making Schreber a complete character, full of conviction and belief in the new world order he concocts during his time in the asylum, and his constant war with Cucuzza's obsessive doctor lend the film its heft. It is fortunate that both performances are strong, because there are really only two other actors of note in the entire feature -- Lara Milian as Schreber's wife, who is stilted and mannered, and Joe Coleman, who appears in hallucinations as Schreber's father, whose entire role is to pontificate in long, overblown monologues behind a gauzy filter -- and neither do the film much credit.

Memoirs is indulgent and erudite in a way that only an art film can be, and it manages to simultaneously be overly long and end too soon, before we get to know what becomes of Schreber after he concludes his writing. But much of its fanciful missteps fall away when it is placed in the context of a true memoir, and one that chronicles the workings of a madman from the inside out.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 80 mins

In Theaters: Friday 15th December 2006

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 64%
Fresh: 7 Rotten: 4

IMDB: 6.6 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Julian Hobbs

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