RD Laing is the focus in Robert Mullan‘s ‘Mad to be Normal‘. The film follows Laing (David Tennant) in his Kingsley Hall residence where he has created a community for psychiatric patients. As you may already know, Laing’s methods (including the use of hallucinogenic drug LSD) were very much opposed by medical professionals. All of the other mental health facilities relied heavily on the use electro-shock treatment. These two opposing remedies, and the arguments surrounding them drive the narrative forward.
David Tennant’s representation of RD Laing is great. He gives a performance that really displays the cocksure attitude of the protagonist when talking to journalists in the film. Yet, he reveals another side to Laing behind the doors of Kingsley Hall. It’s a real intelligent, polished performance. The same might be said in shades of Gabriel Byrne, as Kingsley patient Jim. His long form dialogue and reading of poetry is chilling at times.
The narrative peddles much the same message throughout. The first scene in the film is Laing discussing how bad mainstream psychiatric practice is. He then tells Angie, his lover, how bad mainstream psychiatric practice is. He then goes to New York to discuss how bad mainstream psychiatric practice is. He then goes on a radio station to discuss how bad mainstream psychiatric practice is. You get the picture.
A lot of visuals play out like a television film. The scenes in which there are the LSD trips are unimaginative. The hallucinated scenes are dimly lit, in dark shades of blue with a stereotypical eerie score behind them. The scenes in which the drug is administered on another occasion, we stay in the room with the characters rather than following their hallucination immediately. These shots are in contrast quite bright, and blurred in focus. On one hand, at least there are some variations here. However, for me it was all too obvious.
Perhaps one of the most vital things in cinema and storytelling, in general, is the golden rule “show, don’t tell”. In the case of ‘Mad to be Normal,’ there are several places where we are simply told what is happening, or what is going to happen. The first frame brings up a caption – “the sixties” and a song by The Kinks plays. In at least two other scenes there are similar captions showing time or place. “New York” is coupled with some archive footage of the city. “Glasgow” is captioned as we are in an interior made to resemble tenement type buildings.
The costumes and interiors are equally as obvious. Kingsley Hall is full-on hippy beat poet aesthetic. Whereas the head of the mainstream mental health practice Dr Meredith is in a suit. David Bamber is again archetypal in this role, he’s very proper and stern. There’s really very little surprising in this feature. The odd swear from Tennant keeps things ticking over.
Despite the performances, I was underwhelmed by ‘Mad to be Normal‘, it’s flaws outweighing it’s strengths.
Drama, Biography | UK, 2017 | 15 | Glasgow Film Festival | 6th April 2017 (UK) | Dir.Robert Mullan | David Tennant, Elisabeth Moss, Michael Gambon, Gabriel ByrnePowered by Sidelines