Magic or Mental Illness? The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of my favourite films, and for good reason: it’s a dark, beautiful film on love, lust, heartbreak, justice and faith. But the use of Quasimodo’s gargoyle friends Victor, Hugo, and Laverne have drawn some criticisms for being contrived and out of place.

To an extent, I agree. There are a few instances where they just appear out of nowhere for no reason. When Esmeralda tells Quasimodo that he isn’t a monster we suddenly and jarringly cut to the gargoyles trying to listen in on them and crack a joke. But while some of their comedic scenes don’t work, they do serve a purpose. They represent the happy family Quasimodo never had. While I’m sure the archdeacon helped take care of Quasimodo at times, Frollo raised him under his controlling thumb. Ultimately, Laverne would represent motherly affection, Victor would represent fatherly advice and morals, and Hugo would be the supportive big brother. And they do play an active role in the third act in motivating Quasimodo and helping him fight.

The question I have, though, is this: are they meant to be real, or just a figment of Quasimodo’s imagination?

Under the trivia section of Victor, Hugo, and Laverne’s page on the Disney Wiki, it says:

  • In the DVD audio commentary Kirk Wise, Gary Trousdale and Don Hahn suggest that it’s possible that the three gargoyles exist purely in Quasimodo’s mind and are in fact split off portions of his own personality created to deal with his loneliness. While this is only a possibility, it should be noted that the only other character in the first film to actually see a statue come to life is Frollo in the midst of his insanity. However, the true nature of these statues is open to interpretation, given Hugo’s endless flirtations with Djali. (X)

That brings up another point: Frollo seems to see things that aren’t there, either, at the end when he’s about to die (the aforementioned gargoyle coming to life) and during the “Hellfire” sequence.

Could Notre Dame be a living soul in this story? Or are Quasimodo and Frollo both suffering from mental illness?

On one hand, the gargoyles being magical creatures that only reveal themselves to Quasimodo seems the most likely. (It is a Disney film, after all). They are able to witness and react to things from a distance, always manage to show up wherever Quasimodo is, and are able to partake in the final battle. Perhaps they are the reason Quasimodo didn’t become as cruel as Frollo; they actually raised him with their love. But on the other hand, why only Quasimodo? Why not turn to life in front of Frollo and chase him out of the bell tower? Why not reveal themselves to Esmeralda, Quasimodo’s trusted friend?

And there’s also this crucial moment at the end of the “A Guy Like You” sequence. This is Quasimodo’s worldview right at the end of the song:

And this is what happens once he’s snapped back to reality:

So are the decorations also magical? Do the gargoyles have awesome powers (that they never seem to use outside this scene)? Or…was the whole scene in Quasimodo’s head? Does he, with his immense strength, carry the gargoyles around with him as his comfort objects? Is he actually doing all these things by himself but doesn’t realize it?

If the gargoyles are indeed all in Quasimodo’s head, it lends a very tragic, dark part of the story. Poor Quasimodo has been kept isolated for so long under the control of his domineering master, constantly reinforced with the message that he is hideous…and these gargoyles appear to tell him to follow his forbidden urges, that he will be loved.  Ultimately, this is how his mind would create a way to cope.

And then there’s Frollo, who also seems to have powerful visions. But he’s also a God-fearing man who spends at least twenty years thinking Romani people are evil, that he is righteous, that he has a ‘duty’, and his worldview is shattered when he becomes attracted to Esmeralda. It is common for people under strict Christian doctrine with mental health problems to suffer from blasphemous religious thoughts or inappropriate sexual thoughts, both of which Frollo have.

Let’s also remember that this movie is set in medieval times, rife with disease and danger and where many people suffered from ‘madness’, ‘insanity’, and ‘lunacy’. Without modern medicine, it is easy for these visions to go untreated and blame it on the work of the Devil.

Ultimately, both the “the gargoyles are real and Notre Dame is alive” and “the gargoyles are just very vivid figments of Quasimodo’s immersive imagination” both offer compelling cases. What do you think is the most likely?

I’m just glad that Quasimodo now has a proper support system in place and that his friends will slowly fill the gap left by his loneliness. You can read more about mental health in the middle ages HERE.

Did Tadashi Kill Himself?

Trigger warning: discussions of suicide

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For a lot of people, the saddest scene in Big Hero 6 is the death of Tadashi. After Callaghan sets the showcase building on fire to cover his tracks, Tadashi, with the knowledge that he’s still inside, goes to save him, saying “someone has to help”. Callaghan escapes with his life, but Tadashi does not, to the horror and dismay of Hiro.

The scene is undoubtedly sad and very well put together, but I have to admit, I’m bugged by the fact that Tadashi didn’t wait for the firefighters to arrive. Since Tadashi wasn’t a firefighter or a superhero with special powers or training, he should not have gone inside a burning building like that. Every time I watch this scene I go “you fool, you wait for the fire department to arrive!”

But lately I’ve been thinking: what if Tadashi had ulterior motives for going into that building? What if he was fully ready and prepared to die?

We all  know that Hiro and Callaghan are both going through grieving and depression, and what happens when you get help/let people in versus not getting help/using it as an excuse to hurt others. But what if Tadashi was also grieving and depressed?

Let’s take a look at Tadashi’s situation. He lost his parents at a young age, but unlike Hiro, who was only three, he would’ve been able to miss his parents. He would ultimately have to become both a brother AND a father to his little brother, who’s very smart but also very vulnerable. Imagine your own little brother constantly going out at night to partake in illegal activities with dangerous older men, and having to be there in time to save him (in the supplementary material it is confirmed it got so bad that Tadashi had to sew GPS tracking devices into Hiro’s clothes). That would absolutely take a toll on you. Knowing that you stressed out and disappointed your aunt and only caretaker doesn’t help at all. He is shown as being altruistic to a fault, and works so hard on Baymax (who he intends to help a lot of people, rather than help a lot of people on his own) that he neglects his own health.

Like, this is a lot of pressure and stress for a college student. He may appear happy through most of the movie, but it’s possible he was hiding a private pain. There are people with depression and other mental illnesses who sometimes hide it through helping others or making people laugh.

So now we get to the infamous scene.

Look how distressed he is. In the fire is his beloved teacher, Callaghan, who was probably the closest thing he had to a father in such a long time. And now he’s in danger. Losing him would’ve been too much to bear. Tadashi takes a minute, looking to the building and back, before ultimately deciding to go in. He knew what he was doing. He was fully aware that he was going to die. But at that moment, he didn’t care. To him, Callaghan’s life mattered more than his own life, not thinking of leaving behind Hiro and Cass. If he would die if it meant Callaghan could live, so be it.

This may make Tadashi seem less sympathetic, but if you’re depressed, you don’t make rational decisions. If you see the opportunity to die, you’re probably going to take it without realizing it or against your better judgement. I think for Tadashi, after everything he’s been through, after losing his parents and constantly living in fear over losing Hiro and Cass, the fact that Callaghan was going to die in a fire pushed him over the edge.

I think it’s also important to remember Baymax’s role. Considering how committed he was to building that robot, it’s possible he may have (consciously or not) built him to be his ‘back up’. Like he thought, “If I die, Baymax can take care of Hiro and Cass and fulfill our intended purposes”. And ultimately, he would have been correct.

I think if Tadashi was depressed, he would have presented another side of mental illness: the hidden one. The one that is repressed and kept secret until it boils over to the surface and results in the worst outcome. That would add a very tragic, dark layer to the story, but it would make Hiro’s journey and recovery all that more poignant.

This is all just my theory/interpretation, so if this idea seriously upsets you, please do not take it to heart. And if you ever feel like you’re worthless or you’re better off dead/it wouldn’t matter if you died, please seek help. There’s always someone out there who cares and will help you.

‘Wreck-It Ralph’, ‘Big Hero 6’, and the Importance of Self Care

Mental illness is pretty prevalent among users of social media, so self care posts are often made and passed around in an effort to help people. They tend to be cutesy reminders to eat, wash, that they’re worthwhile, that strangers love them, etc.

At first, I thought these were wonderful. But when I found myself in my deepest, darkest depression, I didn’t find these helpful at all. And now that I’m in a better place mentally, I (and other members of my family, who also have their mental health problems) kind of find these self care posts a little patronizing and condescending.

And what bothers me the most is that there’s this major cognitive dissonance because for all the people who keep passing around saccharine self care posts, they don’t seem to do anything about it afterwards. They often make posts on how they’re so depressed all the time, that they want to die, that they’re awake all night and sleep all day, and such. There seems to be this pervasive attitude that once you’re on your own, you’re REALLY on your own. No meds or therapy unless you REALLY need it (because apparently all doctors are untrustworthy), not even support. There even seems to be a negative attitude towards seeking help and comfort from parents, which would make sense when parents are genuinely abusive, but social media tends to make all parents out to be The Worst. Basically, young people feel the need to be on their own and only seek help from their peers, who, while they can certainly offer some support, can’t entirely help you in the long run. Or they don’t seek help at all, and just wallow in their depression and share self-care posts in an attempt to feel better.

When I was in my darkest hour, things were pretty bad. I did feel better with talk therapy, but I could not for the life of my partake in cognitive behavioral therapy. I was too scared to take meds, and didn’t really want to do anything while I waited for different doctors appointments.

And then the intrusive thoughts came.

If you don’t know what exactly intrusive thoughts are, it’s like having nightmares during the day. Basically, whenever I tried to think about something I like, something gross or disturbing would barge itself into the thought and wouldn’t go away. That was when I knew I HAD to get help. I HAD to take action. And I did. Now, I’m medicated, I see a social worker every few weeks, I make efforts to drive and get out of the house, and I go to school, and I’m searching for work. None of that wouldn’t have happened if I had just accepted my lot in life.

And that’s what I feel is wrong. I feel like all these depressed people feel like they HAVE to be depressed or anxious or such. And that’s not true. If your mental illness prevents you from living life, you cannot just accept it. You NEED to go out and do something about it, even if it means getting help from your parents and doctors. There’s nothing wrong with that.

For those of you who have trouble finding an epiphany as a motivator, I suggest re-watching Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6 and really pay attention to them.

Ralph is lonely, depressed, is stuck in a shitty job with bosses and co-workers who don’t appreciate him, has a crummy living situation, and has trouble with food and hygiene. You know what he did? He sought to change it. He knew he couldn’t accept this anymore. So he went out to change his life. And while he couldn’t fully change it, he now has a support system in place, he reaches out to people, and has made amends with his job and has a better living situation. He’s taking things ‘one game at a time’.

Hiro is depressed after the death of his brother and doesn’t eat, is tired a lot, and doesn’t want to leave his room or go to school. A healthcare robot and four wonderful (older) friends reach out to him and give him all the love and support he needs. By letting them in and realizing his own mistakes and the importance of actively doing things to help others, Hiro makes a wonderful recovery, even if he still misses his brother.

The important thing about both movies is that both characters are valid and loved and are getting the help they need. But they got that help by either seeking it out or accepting it when it was offered, both of which are things people in real life can learn from.

Mental illness is a lifelong battle, but it doesn’t have to define you or hold you down. And when you watch these movies again, take in how the characters get better and see how you can apply that. Because things will get better, but they won’t get better unless you TRY.

Junkrat and Roadhog are Mentally Ill

One of my fave things about Overwatch is that it shows how, no matter who you are, you are capable of being powerful and awesome and worthy of being a playable character. It’s one of the many reasons why this game is such a huge hit.

Two of the game’s most popular characters are Junkrat and Roadhog (especially Junkrat). As you can see, Junkrat is an amputee and Roadhog is very heavyset, yet that doesn’t stop them from being fun to play as. While they were originally created as grimy, dangerous criminals, they often come across more as lovable rascals.

While fandom debates which character interpretation is more accurate, I think people forget something very crucial about both characters: they’re both mentally ill.

We all know that Junkrat is a little, well, mad, and very obsessed with explosives (and can forget rather important things and not be totally alarmed when he remembers it), but why is he like it? From his official character bio:

The attack on the Australian omnium’s fusion core forever altered the landscape of the Outback. After the detonation, the area was transformed into a harsh, irradiated wasteland, littered with debris and the twisted fragments of the ruined facility, and unlivable to most.

But there were some who survived. Calling themselves the Junkers, they scavenged the husk of the omnium and formed a lawless, cutthroat society in its shadow. Junkrat was one of them, eking out a living reclaiming metal and components from the ruins. Like many others, he was affected by the lingering radiation. This touch of madness made him ideal for handling dangerous explosives, a love which he turned into an obsession.

I feel like people forget this important detail. Junkrat is suffering from brain damage because of radiation.

As for Roadhog, he was at least partially responsible for this happening. He literally “watched as his home became an apocalyptic wasteland, and he was forever changed”. Now he barely speaks, always wears a mask, and has essentially abandoned his old self to become his new identity. The implication here is that he is suffering from immense guilt and trauma, which suffered a devastating blow to his mental health and sanity.

So when we discuss whether these characters, it isn’t a matter of “they’re evil, dangerous criminals who just happen to be charming” or “they’re lovable goons who just happen to be able to kick your ass”, they’re literally sick, can’t make the best decisions, and need help.

I find it a little odd how fandom goes on and on about the need for mentally ill characters, when we have two characters who are blatantly mentally ill, no one talks about it. They appreciate them, sure, but they don’t acknowledge the fact that they’re not mentally well. Maybe they needed to have anxiety and depression?

Now I’m not saying they’re the ONLY characters who are mentally ill. I mean Reinhardt suffers from delusions (he’s described as being a Don Quixote type and quite literally imagined dragons in the form of his opponents), possibly from old age and from having fought in the war for so long, Widowmaker is literally brainwashed, Genji suffered (and possibly still does) from body image issues, Ana has PTSD, and it’s possible that the reason why Tracer is so hyper all the time is because she’s suppressing her own depression after having nearly died. (Symmetra is autistic, but that is not a mental illness, and I think most fans are aware of that and remember that when talking about her.) They all deserve to have their mental problems acknowledged, and I’m kind of shocked that’s not the case.

I’m very happy these characters are popular at any rate. I’m especially happy that Junkrat and Roadhog are mentally ill/disabled characters who are allowed to be likable and fun (and not just dangerous and evil). At the same time, when we discuss these characters, we need to remember that their brains are not wired the same way as most people, which explains why they are what they are, and how that can or should be resolved.

Finding Dory Review (or, how Talking Fish Made Me Cry)

MAJOR SPOILER WARNING FOR THE ENTIRE THING! Also, harsh criticisms against Pixar’s 2015 offerings.

I made it no secret that I hated Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur. So, that’s why I didn’t buy into the hype for Finding Dory. I was sure it was going to be disappointing. Still, I got a chance to go to a private screening for it, so I did. And man, I am so glad that I did. Finding Dory–as well as its short, Piper–achieved what Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur could not.

The Good Dinosaur is supposed to be about facing your fears. It tries to convey that message,  but mostly comes across as “how many times can we hurt and traumatize this poor little dinosaur?” and made the film unpleasant as a result. Piper, on the other hand, has a good message on facing your fears and finding something beautiful and new out of it, and executes it in a way that is charming and gets its point across without being overly sadistic. There’s also the fact that the character design and the set pieces actually work together (rather than making the backgrounds hyper realistic and making the characters look like plastic toys), which results in making the short much more enjoyable. So I was pretty blown away with that. Plus the short was absolutely adorable too. Then it was time for the full length movie to play.

And oh god, was I in for a ride.

While it’s not QUITE as thrilling or awe-inspiring as the first movie (and I don’t think the animation has anything necessarily NEW to offer, with the exception of Hank the amputee octopus) Finding Dory is still a really intense adventure, with lots of emotion. You really get invested in Dory’s quest to find her parents, and the characters she meets resonate with you pretty strongly as well. What I loved most was just how loving and caring Dory’s parents are, how much they support her and do everything they can to make sure Dory can succeed (take note, parents of neurodivergent and disabled children: THIS is how you raise them). Therefore, when Dory gets reunited with them, it is very rewarding. And it made me cry.

I also loved the climax so much. It was filled with all the spontaneity and creativity and randomness and sheer “screw the rules let’s have an octopus hijack a truck and drive it into the ocean and people will love it” found in classic Pixar and managed to really draw you in.

The whole world is just so vivid and full of life. It actually makes you want to go to the Marine Life Institute. This was so relieving because I find the set pieces of Inside Out so bland and dispassionate (Imagination Land is just a bunch of fries and clouds and cards and imaginary boyfriends. Really?) so to see them put more effort into making the set piece here stand out was refreshing.

But the main reason why Finding Dory is so much better than Inside Out is because of how it handles mental illness.

In Inside Out, Riley is barely in the movie and doesn’t demonstrate a whole lot of autonomy or even personality (besides “I want to go back to Minnesota”) and most of the movie focuses on Joy (who can burn in Hell for all I care) and Sadness (who is genuinely sweet) going on an adventure to get back to Headquarters. Throughout the whole thing, Sadness (who can be seen as a metaphor for a depressed person) is given the short end of the stick (at one point Joy is willing to leave Sadness to die) but never once stands up for herself or says “I don’t need to take this. I am important”. And Joy only becomes nicer to Sadness when she realizes she serves a purpose (not because, you know, all people, especially those who are sad all the time, deserve respect), and doesn’t apologize to her at all. Yikes. And at the end, after Riley vents to her parents, we skip over a year to see her all happy and adjusted, no lingering problems. THIS is the film we’re praising as a beacon of mental health representation? Gross. I don’t accept that.

Finding Dory, on the other hand, actually empowers our mentally ill protagonist and makes her a three-dimensional character. You see her actually struggle with her disability but on her own (without TOO much help) she realizes that while she can’t do EVERYTHING, that doesn’t mean she can’t do ANYTHING. She is able to find her parents, to use her resources to help her, and help save other fish. And when other characters are mean to her, she doesn’t just sit there and take it. She actually calls them out on it! We get to see her be happy, confused, despaired, and overjoyed. I’m so glad that they were able to expand Dory’s character.

Now does the film have problems? Well, yeah. The characters are a little snippy at each other (though they do get sweeter as the film progresses), Bailey the beluga’s echolocation problem gets solved almost immediately for the sake of the plot (and it doesn’t make sense for him to end up in the coral reef, since belugas live in the arctic) and Gerald (the sea lion that is clearly coded to be intellectually disabled) is treated very meanly. I’m not sure why they felt the need to make this character a punchline. I’m just glad he (sort of) gets revenge on his bullies later on, but still. I want a short where Gerald is shown in a better light.

Overall, though? Finding Dory is fantastic, and it certainly deserves the hype it gets.

Elsa is Suffering From PTSD

 

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Oh, Elsa.

I’m not going to beat around the bush here: whether the writers, directors, and story artists intended to or not, they gave Elsa a lot of symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. And to be fair, it absolutely fits. When Elsa was eight she almost accidentally killed her sister, was told that her powers could put her in danger, and spent her childhood and adolescent years shut away and told she HAD to control her powers and couldn’t let anyone know and basically have the message “you are dangerous” drilled into her head. That’s not good for anyone’s mental health, but Elsa took it too hard because when she became queen, she started showing all the classic symptoms of PTSD.

Let’s refer to The Mayo Clinic:

INTRUSIVE MEMORIES

While we don’t go into Elsa’s mind all the time, there is a key moment when Anna approaches Elsa in the Ice Palace and says they can be together, but Elsa vividly remembers the incident, which results in her getting agitated. Check.

AVOIDANCE

Elsa never faces her problems or her fears. She is always avoiding Anna (the main source of her trauma) and running away whenever things get difficult. Check.

NEGATIVE CHANGES IN THINKING AND MOOD

It’s pretty obvious she thinks negatively about herself. She can feel positive emotions but they don’t last long. She tends to feel pretty hopeless about her situation. She almost certainly has difficulty maintaining her relationship with Anna until the end. Check.

CHANGES IN EMOTIONAL REACTIONS

While I don’t think she’s aggressive she is pretty irritable. She is almost always on guard and feels like the worst is going to happen. She has overwhelming guilt and shame over the incident. She doesn’t drink or drive too fast (this is a Disney film) but she doesn’t exactly make the right choices. And oh lord, she is absolutely easily startled and frightened. Check.

So wow. You got a character displaying a lot of PTSD symptoms. That definitely explains her behaviour throughout the film, and why she’s so quick to accept love as the solution in the hopes that it will make everything all better.

Now I’m not saying Elsa is special because she displays PTSD symptoms because she is definitely not the first (Sgt. Calhoun from Wreck-It Ralph is the first blatant example of a character with PTSD, and I wouldn’t be surprised if other Disney characters might have it given all the peril they go through). What makes Elsa stand out to ME is that she’s clearly not getting the help she needs. What’s especially egregious is Frozen Fever: instead of showing Elsa taking things slow, talking to Anna about what happened and how they can work together to overcome it, or even getting a doctor or nurse’s help, Elsa is shown frantically doing everything she can to give Anna a perfect birthday, even when she’s sick, once again avoiding the problem in an attempt to make up for her guilt and try to repress the trauma. It does end on a hopeful note with Anna saying that she’ll take care of Elsa, but I wish there was something that resolved the first movie (ie Elsa apologizing and learning better solutions to when she gets scared).

Since Disney is planning on milking this franchise until its udders turn black, I REALLY hope they address Elsa’s mental health problems and resolve them in a way other than just “oh yeah love will thaw!”. It’s honestly the least Disney can do.

Finding Nemo is an Ocean of Disability Representation

Since Finding Dory is coming out next week, I decided to rewatch Finding Nemo to prepare myself for the hype.

It still holds up remarkably well as a movie. It’s totally engrossing and you get invested in the world and the emotion. But the thing that really strikes me about this film is that it’s one of the few animated films (and, well, films in general) almost abundant in disability  representation.

You have Nemo with his malformed arm, Dory’s short term memory loss (and possible other issues), Marlin’s anxiety/paranoia, and the fish in Nemo’s tank have a lot of their own problems (one fish is scarred, another has an extreme fear of germs, one is super attached to bubbles and is implied to have gone nuts from all those years of captivity, and another is convinced her reflection is her sister).

Now, whether or not any of this is GOOD representation depends on the viewer. With the exception of Gil (the scarred fish), the fish with their own issues are played more for humour, so that can be offensive. Nemo isn’t an entirely well developed character, so some people may either see him as empowering or generic inspiration porn.

I do think the individual representation of Marlin and Dory is pretty good. As someone who does have anxiety, Marlin is pretty accurate and relatable, and it makes sense given his traumatic event. And of course Dory is a great character in her own right, and I’m glad she’s getting her own movie.

That said, I wasn’t entirely invested in their relationship. A lot of the time Marlin was rather rude and condescending to Dory, and at some points treated her like a child (you know, a common form of ableism). He wasn’t gentle or patient with her for most of the movie, and that kind of took me out of their relationship. Also Marlin’s casual ableism towards his son at the beginning (the typical ‘oh he can’t do it because he’s disabled’) made me cringe. I’m glad he learned better, but still, it makes me wish that the movie focused more on Nemo and Dory and less on Marlin learning “oh wait, maybe I SHOULDN’T be so ableist!”

Still, this is one of the few movies where disabled characters (both in the physical and mental departments) actually exist and aren’t totally demonized, and that’s pretty major. It’s still kind of sad that people are more sympathetic towards disabled fish characters than they are to disabled human characters. The use of animals instead of humans makes me worry that while some parents of disabled children will look at the movie and realize that their children are capable, others will go “wow, that was a great movie” and continue to treat their children like crap.

Well, I’m certainly interested in how Finding Dory will continue this at any rate. But I really wish we can start seeing more disability representation in more Pixar films (and film in general, but especially Pixar, since they’re capable of telling great stories but seem to limit who they tell them with).