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A Study of Postpartum Depression in ‘A Mouthful of Air'


Some movies are watched for entertainment purposes, while others are watched for understanding ourselves and the people around us. ‘A Mouthful of Air’ falls under the second category. It’s a beautiful movie in a melancholic way, aptly capturing the poignant human feelings.

Directed by Amy Koppelman, the movie is an adaptation of her 2003 novel of the same name. It is a heartfelt and painful study of a young woman’s postnatal depression. It opens with the warning: ‘The following film may be disturbing to people with a history of depression and anxiety.’

The story revolves around the character of Julie, played by Amanda Seyfried, a children’s author who underwent a self-harming incident after Teddy’s (her infant) birth and finds herself reluctant to consume anti-depressants after the birth of her second child.

From the first look we get of her house, it looks a normal one considering the occupancy of a baby- if anything, it is more colorful and creatively stimulating, the bright colors providing a stark contrast to the inner state of Julie.

The candy-colored world of Pinky Tinkerbink (a fictional character she creates for her stories) seems to have been deliberately added to lessen the graveness of an intensely felt theme. Pinky Tinkerbell is Julie’s escape from darkness and provides a dramatic relief in the narration and becomes the viewer’s escape.

Postpartum depression (PPD) is like a storm amidst a calm sea, creating a meld of the joy of motherhood and the haunting weight of sorrow. The struggle is real and universal- the most pervasive problem new mothers face. Amanda does a fantastic job at portraying the myriad of emotions a person suffering from PPD may feel.

PPD, however, should not be confused with baby blues faced by a new mother, just as depression should not be confused with sadness. Baby blues are far more normal and tend to recover quickly, whereas PPD lasts longer, severely affecting the mother’s ability to function normally. It can alter maternal brain responses and behaviors, compromising the relationship with the infant.

There is so much stigma surrounding it that some new mothers do not share it with their family for fear of being abandoned and rendered supportless, apart from being judged negatively.

Such a scenario where so many women with PPD go undiagnosed makes it crucial for films like these to garner people’s attention, spread awareness about depression, and create a safe space for new mothers to come out of their haunted shells.

This makes it an important movie, not just from a mother’s perspective, given that motherhood opens a whole myriad of worries and unwarranted fears, but also to understand depression in general and to be able to see those struggling with it in a new light.

However, the cause of her depression is never explicitly stated. It is only in the recurrent though fuzzy flashbacks of her childhood that one can find the foundation of her budding torment.

She’s still on her meds when she realizes she’s with another child. In a short but poignant scene, her husband reveals it’s a girl. She is overwhelmed by the idea of a ‘little girl’ but is ultimately seized with fear. “I can’t have a daughter, she tells her husband in a crestfallen voice. “What if she doesn’t like me?”

Scenes like these make it indirectly clear that it’s not just postpartum depression she’s suffering from; there’s a lot more going on inside her.

As for her husband (Ethan), he comes out as a highly supportive and ideal husband who treats Julie with kindness, which should be bestowed upon every mental illness-ridden person. It isn't easy to imagine what he must be going through since the film's focus rarely shifts from the protagonist.

Never at once does he rant about the struggles he had to deal with because of her. Rather, he comforts her every time she starts feeling low and serves as a patient ear when she narrates stories about Pinki Tinkerbell, all the while trying to understand his wife more and more through the imaginary tales she weaves.

In one of the opening scenes, he stares deeply and lovingly into her eyes, trying to find her, but is unable to reach her.

He is a prisoner the entire time she’s pregnant. Although his sister, Lucy, talks in a hostile manner to Julie, her point is genuinely felt- that everything revolves around Julie and that she did not even once consider what her actions would do for her near and dear ones, especially her husband- who, apart from visiting the hospital every day, working tirelessly and taking care of the baby himself, spent the rest of the time cleaning the blood-soaked carpet. I don’t think Lucy’s feelings are any less important than Julie’s- in fact, both women cannot fully grasp the severity of the emotions each of them feels.

Koppelman’s directional prowess shines through in every frame, making it not just an amazingly presented movie but also a profound exploration of the human condition- a cinematic ode to resilience, love, and relationships.



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Tags: #children #depression #movie #baby #postpartum #amanda


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