What is it like to have a mental illness? The 1993 drama Clean, Shaven (DSM III Films) tells the story of a schizophrenic named Peter Winter who searches for his adopted-away daughter after leaving a mental institution. Heralded by psychiatrists as the best ever on-screen portrayal of schizophrenia—better even than Universal’s A Beautiful Mind (2001)—the film uses special effects to mimic Winter’s hallucinations, showing the audience how he experiences the world. Another day-in-the-life must-see is 1945’s Oscar-winning The Lost Weekend (Paramount), one of the first films to explore the dark side of substance abuse; previous movies had typically made fun of it.
On the more upbeat side, 2004’s Napoleon Dynamite (Access Films) is a comedy about a geeky teenager who becomes immensely popular despite his social awkwardness. Though never mentioned outright, experts say that Napoleon probably has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism. Finally, few movies portray therapy accurately, but the 1980 film Ordinary People (Paramount) is a gem—some psychologists say it should be used as a teaching tool. Judd Hirsch plays a psychotherapist who helps a suicidal boy deal with the death of his brother and his dysfunctional family.