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The Mirror Of Madness In Gothika

When I first read the synopsis of Susannah Cahalan’s second book The Great Pretender, only one thing came to mind that this book reminded me of and that’s the 2003 horror/mystery movie Gothika. The movie is about a criminal psychologist named Dr. Miranda Grey, who is transported to the opposite side of sanity, thanks to her encounter with a mysterious young girl. This movie mirrors many issues from The Great Pretender. One issue would be the three types of stigmas or in this case two.

One stigma according to this source would be a public stigma which would be discriminatory attitudes that people have towards mental illness, and the other stigma would be self-stigma, which would be negative attitudes that someone has toward themselves about mental illness. In Gothika, a woman named Chloe talks to the main character Miranda after Miranda is institutionalized. “You’re not a doctor here, and even if you tell the truth no one will believe you. Do you know why? Because you’re crazy.” Chloe stated to Miranda, as she explains how people with mental illness are treated in institutions, “The more you try to prove them wrong, the crazier you’ll appear.”

This is a mirror reflection of Nellie Bly’s story in Susannah’s book when she went undercover as a mentally ill patient on Blackwell Island. Once she was there, it was almost impossible for her to escape. “A human rat trap,” as she called it. “It is easy to get it, but once there it is impossible to get out.” As Nellie tried to prove her sanity, doctors wouldn’t listen. “…more I endeavored to assure them of my sanity the more they doubted it.” In these cases, Chloe publicly stigmatized Miranda by saying no one would believe her sanity due to her craziness, but she also self-stigmatized herself in the same way. Nellie Bly was publicly stigmatized by the doctors and nurses on Blackwell Island, by trying to prove to them that she was not crazy, but they didn’t believe her. She also self-stigmatized herself, because her mistreatment from medical professionals made her feel like she was a mentally ill patient.

Another issue would be seeing a reflected image of yourself. In Gothika, the movie begins with Chloe talking to Miranda (who is a psychologist in the first scene of the movie) about her experience of being raped in her cell, in which she refers to her rapist as ‘the devil’. Miranda appears to not be taking her seriously and Chloe notices this saying, “You’re not listening with your heart, just your brain.” Afterwards, Chloe that medical professionals can be unreliable saying, “You can’t trust someone who thinks you’re crazy.” After walking a mile in her shoes and living the experience of what people with mental illness experience in a mental institution, Miranda begins to realize and understand things from Chloe’s perspective. When she’s being questioned, her colleague Pete says he’s trying to help her and asks why she doesn’t trust him. Miranda then replies, “You can’t trust somebody when they think you’re crazy.”

Miranda meets with Chloe outside, where she apologizes for not believing her story of being raped saying, “Hi Chloe…I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m sorry I didn’t believe you. I need you to tell me who did this to you. Tell me his name Chloe.” Afterward, Chloe replies by saying that her rapist can have her body, but he’ll never have her soul. Finally, at the end of the movie Miranda and Chloe are released from the institution and Chloe thanks Miranda for how she helped her to which Miranda replies saying, “You helped me, you taught me how to listen.”

In Susannah’s life, she learned the hard way that people don’t listen with their hearts, but rather their brains during her experiences of misdiagnosis that she wrote about in her memoir Brain on Fire. In her second book The Great Pretender she learned that doctors didn’t listen with their hearts, but rather their brains when she met a woman who had the same medical condition and symptoms as her. When she met her at a hospital unit, she realized how similar they are saying, “What happened to this young woman almost happened to me. It was like seeing my reflection through the looking glass. She was my could-have-been, my mirror image.”

Then Susanna expressed in a dinner conversation how this woman should’ve had the same miracle ending as her saying, “There shouldn’t have been any difference between us; she should have received the same treatment, she should have had the same quick and urgent interventions, and she should have had the opportunity to recover as I had. But she had been derailed because of one crucial difference: Her mental diagnosis had stuck. Mine hadn’t.”

In both cases, Miranda saw a mirror image of herself in Chloe and Susannah saw a mirror image of herself in an unknown woman. Chloe once told Miranda, “You have no idea how hard it feels not to be trusted.” Through her own experience, Miranda not only realized that she was right but was able to give a parallel statement that mirrors Chloe’s statement cementing both sides of the same coin. After her interaction with the unknown woman, Susannah was reminded of how difficult it was for doctors not to trust her, and the woman’s mirrored story cemented both sides of the same coin as well. Miranda learned from Chloe how important it is to listen, and Susannah was reminded by the unknown woman how important it is to listen.

So, the movie Gothika starring Halle Berry was able to mirror these important issues from Susannah Cahalan’s the Great Pretender in ways that make me appreciate the book more. The moral lesson in The Great Pretender is that people don’t know the difference between sanity and insanity, but Gothika also mirrors an important lesson of how important it is for people to listen to each other.

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