Movie review: Helen (2009)

“Two and a half years ago, hell came to pay me a surprise visit.” This paraphrase of a Andrew Solomon quote set the stage at the beginning of the movie.

Helen offers a chance to watch someone suddenly and inexplicably fall into a depression. A deep depression. A depression not caused by circumstances. Not caused by a life situation.

Sometimes depression just happens. For no reason at all.

The depression that Helen battles is deep and violent. We learn, at the same time as her second husband, that she battled it before. Twelve years earlier. It destroyed her first marriage…and almost her but then left her in peace and able to put her life back together.

At the start of the movie we see her leading a successful, happy life. Married to a wonderful man. Mother of a teenager (with all of the wonders and horrors that go with that). Blessed with a successful career.

But that all came crashing down. Wave after violent wave of depression washed over her. She is in and out of treatments. Her daughter goes to live with her ex-husband. Her current husband fights to help her but she slips away. Staying with a fellow traveler on the road called depression.

Somehow, for some reason, she finally gets the strength to accept the medical help she needs and agrees to subject herself to electric shock therapy.

She emerges out the other end. The foil in the story, a student of hers battling depression too—the fellow traveler—, is not so fortunate. We see both paths. Two types of depression. One sporadic. One lifelong.

Depression is hard to understand. Even Helen does not understand what Mathilda is going through. Each is on their own inexplicable journey.

Depression sucks life away. It can be an odd contradiction of lethargy punctuated by violent outbursts. The common thread is destruction. We see that with Helen and Mathilda. Destruction turned toward themselves. Destruction of items around them. Destruction of their relationships.

Depression leaves one floating in a sea of despair. A sea of pain. Anything, anything to stop the pain. The emptiness. It is not that death is wanted necessarily. But death is a release. “Death comes so close and with such promise,” we hear Helen’s voice recount. For some it is not just close but pays its final visit.

Where does depression come from if not from a situation that acts as a catalyst? It is inexplicable. Why do some improve and some not? It is inexplicable. Why do medications work for some and not others? It is inexplicable.

Helen offers a glimpse into the lives of two different people living through the hell that is depression. Both escape. But take different paths to reach that escape. Why? It is inexplicable.


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