Benny and Joon is a movie about a young woman, Joon, who suffers from schizophrenia. She lives with her brother, Benny, and later in the movie, Sam, an eccentric young man that Joon “won” in a lost game of cards. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and thought it was a great way to introduce mental disorders without the character seeming “crazy”. There are a lot of arguments, however, that criticize the lack of seriousness.
The movie displays various aspects of schizophrenia through Joon’s character. The first facet of severe mental illness that is displayed is her dependency on her brother, Benny, and their need for a “housekeeper”, or babysitter, to watch over her. This aspect implies that Joon has some degree of impaired functioning. When Sam first arrives to their house, Benny explains to him that Joon has a very distinct routine that she must follow and that she may talk to herself because sometimes she hears voices. This is a clear indicator that Joon likely has schizophrenia. At the beginning of the movie, Joon is shown to be an artist, and although her way of creating art is very unusual, it can be connected with a possible manic episode because of the extremely abnormal way that the goes about. She seems to have an episode of delusions, possibly hallucinations, in which she wears a scuba diving mask and attempts to stop and direct traffic with a ping-pong paddle. Near the end, Sam tries to escape with Joon so they can have their happily ever after, but Joon has an anxiety attack and starts responding to voices in her head and goes into extreme distress, which results in her hospitalization. Those instances compile the main episodes throughout the movie that distinguish her schizophrenia, but there are many tidbits of information throughout that truly solidify her diagnosis.
There has been some serious controversy over whether this movie is a mockery of mental illness. It has been accused of romanticizing mental illness, having serious inconsistencies, and some even go the extent of saying it is enforcing the stereotype of the “crazy woman”. Some arguments about romanticizing mental illness include the movie implying that love can solve all issues, the unrealistic idea that Sam can take care of Joon while he only has a mediocre job, and the downplaying of the severity of schizophrenia. I do not believe that the movie was implying that love solves everything, but that compassion can make a world of a difference. It is very unlikely that Sam can fully take care of Joon, but there is no indication in that movie that Benny would not be continuing to help Joon financially. He even moved Joon and Sam into the apartment complex owned by his girlfriend, which implies to me that he fully intends to be around, but recognizes that Joon may need separation from his constant watch. The one aspect that definitely wasn’t mentioned that I agree probably should have been, is that Joon needs therapy along with the medications that she is given. Schizophrenia is definitely downplayed in the severity, but I think that it was a wise decision. I enjoyed that there were definitely distinct moments where struggle was shown, but also that Joon was a human being with some aspects of her life being normal and her still having feelings. I think that if they had chosen to make the movie more serious and the schizophrenia more severe, then she would have come off as “crazy” to the normal movie-watcher. I think it is very important to show that people with mental disorders are still people and still have an opportunity with life. Overall, I think this movie was a very nice introduction to mental illness. It is not completely accurate and realistic, but it’s also not a documentary or educational film. It captures an audience that may not be watching anything related to psychology, and gives them some valuable information of what schizophrenia is like, but also humanizing people with mental disabilities, something that isn’t done nearly enough in media today.