Set in the 1960s, Mad To Be Normal follows the life and work of famous Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing (David Tennant), exploring his controversial methods of treatment of psychotic patients and creation of his “medication-free sanctuary” Kingsley Hall in East London. Unnerving and heavy, it questions the nature of madness and society’s view of “mad” people and left me stuck in a moral and social dilemma infused with sadness.
Classified as a biopic, this film pushes the boundaries of the genre; Tennant’s extraordinary acting and the scary reality of the 1960s mental health scene putting Mad To Be Normal more amongst horrors and psychological thrillers than historical biographies.
“Tennant and Moss kept it grounded with their phenomenal emotional performances.”
Far from the lovable, quirky Doctor of the blue tardis I know all too well, Tennant fully embodies the role of Dr. Laing, with not only dishevelled hair to prove it. It’s the best acting I’ve seen of Tennant, who creates an aura of power, nonchalance and wit around his character, portraying Dr. Laing as a commanding yet likeable man. But it is the combination of Tennant, director Robert Mullan’s skills and the support of award-winning actors Elisabeth Moss, Michael Gambon and Gabriel Byrne that makes this film so successfully harrowing.
Trying to avoid the unthinkable was futile. I found myself covering my eyes at certain points and staring transfixed at the screen at others, unable to fully comprehend that what I was seeing was based on a real person’s life. It reminded me of American Horror Story and had disturbing Black Swan-esque moments, but Tennant and Moss kept it grounded with their phenomenal emotional performances.
The struggles of love and “ordinary” life are pitted against the demons faced by those in Laing’s care, creating a suffocating atmosphere enhanced by the lack of scene changes and eerily wonderful soundtrack. Most of the film is spent in Kingsley Hall and there are only brief moments of comic relief, meaning that watching is an intense experience and the film a very dark drama. This undeniably suits the dark topic of madness.
“The movie is not for the faint-hearted”
My only criticisms would be that the film gets off to a fairly slow start and has a few scenes of weird proportions that offer no movement to the plot. However, these scenes could be seen as adding to the already hallucinogenic qualities of the subject matter. Despite this, they did not have a massive effect on my view of the overall film and are only minor weaknesses.
Although it is rated as a 15, the movie is not for the faint-hearted due to its graphic and psychological nature. But it is definitely a film for those who don’t mind being thrown into the deep end of madness and questions about who can qualify as human and who should be kept away from society for the safety of others. At the end of the film I found myself asking if anywhere is really safe when the human mind can be so fragile. So, if you step up to watch Mad To Be Normal, then be prepared to join me in the hard-hitting aftermath of such a powerful, distressing and thought-provoking film.
Mad To Be Normal will be available to watch on Digital Download from 13th August.
Featured image courtesy of Gizmo Films via IMDb.