Digital Post by Zai


(As in Frank’s borrowed narratives and Something Borrowed, a tradition in weddings that is said to symbolize borrowed happiness)


Daniel Tysdal’s essay, TIFF is more to me than a film festivalexplores how film can be an immersive experience for those who experience mental illnesses. In Tysdal’s own experience, movies were what he relied on when experiencing severe bouts of depression and severe suicidal ideation. He found movies to be an “immersion in existing realities and real fantasies we otherwise would never have access to”. And movies offered him a human connection. A connection that was not patronizing or laced with an urgency of dutiful care. Instead, movies connect us to the characters on screen. Their lives and losses, triumphs, failures, heart breaks, and happiness. In sum, they connect us to the characters very short narrative and lessons. And they connect us to the (film) maker too.


I find that Tysdal’s consumption of movies as a coping mechanism and later on, as he states, his “cinematic ritual that supports and sustains” resonates with Frank’s discussion of “borrowed narratives.” In The Wounded Storyteller, Frank characterizes borrowed narratives as stories that are co-constructed by and for the teller. For example, a child may resonate deeply with a Marvel superhero who like him is experiencing some form of illness—think, Iron Man in Iron Man 2 (with his rapidly deteriorating [due to poison] heart). Spoiler alert: he makes it. That child might identify if not with Iron Man’s deep pockets, but rather with his illness narrative. Usually this kind of resonance is encouraged by health care providers, especially with children. The borrowed illness narrative then becomes a bridge between the care provider and the child to communicate the illness experience. Frank characterizes the narrator in a borrowed story as lacking the means of communicating their illness experience and therefore borrowing a story that will be reshaped to fit their narrative.


Although not in the conventional sense that Frank describes, I argue that Tysdal’s immersion in film as a coping mechanism is his something borrowed (borrowed happiness). Movies for Tysdal become a space for connection. There is the subtle connection to the only other person attending an early morning screening of a movie (he raises his coffee cup to them in cheers). Or he connects with other fans on the things you generally talk about after a screening such as what you “loved, loathed, and can’t wait to see” in a movie. Frank also describes this connection in his explanation of a broken narrative “as a common space in which people can relate to one another when relating is hard to do”. When it is hard to motivate yourself to get out of bed in the morning, and a film screening is the only thing you can muster the motivation for, then a simple cheers to another early morning movie-goer is a big thing. Additionally, there are the more independent moments of connection in watching movies too. Tysdal finds resonance in the many possibilities of stories. We might resonate with the same.


Many times, we have watched a movie and somewhere in the process found that a particular idea or dialogue or theme struck a chord within. And you begin to construct or connect with that idea. You ponder about what it would be like if you were in Magnolia Bakery, or you consider taking up something profoundly difficult but life changing like backpacking for a year. And like Tysdal you may ultimately discover that movies are your (mostly) healthy coping mechanism. For Tysdal movies are his prescription. And he has carved the space for it to be so. Through his essay, we visualize how he picks up his prescription by entering the Video Vision in Moose Jaw and picking up six video tapes. And he finds that this is the kind of borrowing (or coping) that works for him.


The movies interrupt the cinema in his mind, and thus he borrows or adapts the movie-going, movie-getting experience to function literally and figuratively as that interruption. When thinking of Frank, it is quite interesting then how indulging in movies are not encouraged as potentially lifesaving. We are encouraged to see ourselves in the character (their heroism in particular) when it is relative to our illness story as framed by restitution. But very seldom is watching movies (continuously) as a method to interrupt our sometimes destructive minds encouraged.


“You should be more physically active, buy vitamin D supplements, and keep a journal” is what I hear when I talk to my physician about my mental illnesses.


And these are sound ideas. But my prescription is riddled with a callousness that does not care to see what I like, or may enjoy. Like Tysdal, I love movies. But there is something so shameful in this form of escapism in our health care systems. It is okay to borrow character narratives when the aspect of heroism is what is being lauded. However, when it is just the movie going experience, it is not. I choose to furiously pursue this form of indulgence anyway because it is my something borrowed. I am constructing a coping mechanism, a prescription that works for me. In encompassing episodes of depression and anxiety, movies and television is where I borrow my happiness from.