The movie It’s Kind of a Funny Story has a message that Christian Clifton needed to hear.
This week I’ve been a little down, in a slump of sorts that I couldn’t quite shake. The whole experience made me think back to a movie I had seen many times before that I really related with then, and could see myself relating with again. So with some free time I popped in and rewatched It’s Kind of a Funny Story, and connected with the screen once more.
Based on the book of the same name by Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story tells of young Craig Gilner, played by Keir Gilchrist, and his struggle to overcome the stresses of life. Craig might be young but the stresses that he is facing are ones that even adults well on their way in life may still encounter; worries about the future, logistics for careers and finances, applications, paperwork, and disappointing those around him. It has been a few years since I entered “adulthood” but I still find myself limping along under the same chains that Craig is desperate to rid himself of.
The film opens with Craig narrating a recurring dream, a dream that leads to him being perched upon the Brooklyn Bridge preparing to jump. This particular instance of the dream leads him to seek help for his suicidal thoughts at a local hospital. He hesitant is at first, wanting to go home as soon as possible, but reluctantly stays with the promise that he may find healing.
His intake session with the psychiatrist gives us our first glimpse at the destructive thought cycle that causes Craig to feel so hopeless. Craig admits that a major source of his current stress is an impending application to a summer school program and all the future implications is can have, the doctor pushes a little deeper and asks “What would happen if you didn’t get in?”
Craig’s mind races in a swirl of connected thoughts:
“Then I wouldn’t be able to put it on my college application. Which means I wouldn’t get into a good college. If I didn’t get into a good college, I wouldn’t have a good job. Which means I wouldn’t be able to afford a good lifestyle. So I wouldn’t be able to find a girlfriend. Which means I’d probably get depressed. So I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed. And I’d end up in a place like this for the rest of my life. “
Craig vocally responds with “I dunno, it’s hard to explain.” wanting to conceal his own confused state at the whole ordeal. The rest of the session goes as expected but it gives a good look into how his mind processes life, and where he gets his stress from.
I relate to Craig, with his broken thought process that leads far beyond the answers that should be simple but to the considerations that are sometimes years away. Forward thinking can be a good thing, but when my responses to questions such as “What’s your dream job?” are so riddled with worries about how answering that could affect me until the day I die that they become impossible to relay in normal conversation it gets a little cumbersome. I, like Craig, am always looking to the goal and never able to appreciate the beauty of conquering the first step. It makes starting things more daunting than they should be and finishing them nearly impossible.
As Craig goes about his stay at 3 North, the name and location of the psych ward at the hospital, he shows more of himself in the way of self consciousness. A craft time exercise makes him recall and early memory as he was attempting to trace a map of Manhattan and how he only could compare himself to more accomplished children, comparing his 5 year old self with 5 year old Mozart who was already composing music. This follows a trend of comparing himself to others, notably Craig also does this with his close friend who seems to succeed regardless of effort.
Again I find myself awkwardly displayed on screen through this character; I tend to look upon my own accomplishments with near disdain at their inadequacy, especially when compared to that of prodigies the world over. It’s a dangerous path to be on, focusing on my deficiencies and by extension using the phrase “Should be “with myself. Saying “should” to often can make even the smallest of achievements worthless and reduce my confidence the ashes.
Craig befriends Bobby, played by Zach Galifinakis, a middle aged man who has been in treatment for an undisclosed amount of time. Bobby is quiet about his own reasons for being in the hospital but is open to sharing his thoughts and unconventional wisdom with Craig. Some of his insights, and humor, are what really pull Craig out of his hopelessness. Mostly Bobby plays a foil to Craig’s inner voice of self defeat and ends up helping him see the beauty of life outside his mind.
Craig quickly realizes that with a little help it is possible to overcome depression and start to live life in a healthier way. With medication, something he had stopped taking before the events of the film, therapy and a little friendship he finds his own way to take on life. Not doing it the way everyone else has done it or expects him to do it, not doing the things he “should be” to achieve a future he doesn’t even really want, but rather Craig discovers that life is meant to be enjoyed moment by moment.
Craig is able to decide for himself what he wants from life, he is able to admit he wants more to do with art than with some professional business school. He wants to be himself and not some forced persona for the rest of the world. He wants to do the things he enjoys and not all the things he “should”.
The films ends with another exposition from Craig about his new look on life;
“I know something’s changing in me. It might not be dramatic, but it’s real. And for the first time in a while, I can look forward to things I want to do in my life… Bike. Eat. Drink. Talk. Ride the subway. Read. Read maps. Make maps. Make art. Have a party. Hug my mom. Kiss my dad. Kiss my little sister. Tell people my story. Volunteer at Three North. Help people like Bobby. Like Muqtada. Like me. Draw more. Draw a person. Draw a naked person.. Run. Travel. Swim. Skip. I know it’s lame, but, whatever, skip anyway… Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Live.”
It might seem simple advice to “Breathe” and “Live” but it is so easy to forget and let the stress of life get in the way of those simple commands. I do it all the time, and I doubt I’m the only one who finds himself lost in the sea of worries and saying “I Should”, so I need the reminder. If I don’t get it enough I might just lose my mind and forget about all the beauty that the world and being alive can hold.
I should be right where I am, living at exactly this moment in this exact place. I should have dreams for the future, but putting a self imposed time table on them takes away the freedom to explore them for what they really are. There is plenty of time to get to the end goal, but I don’t need to be there just yet because there is plenty to see and experience along the way. All the steps between there and here may seem infinite but who knows the wonders that each one will hold, and that is something I don’t want to miss.