Sundance Report #4 – Boy Interrupted Review

Boy-interrupted-review.jpgPROSPECTOR THEATRE, PARK CITY

“Oh my God, we’re at the Sundance Film Festival because my son killed himself.”

These are the words spoken by Dana Perry, director of “Boy Interrupted,” when asked what was going through her head while watching the world premiere of her documentary film. Since leaving Temple Theater about 30 minutes ago, I’ve been searching for the right way to talk about this film – a film directed by the mother of a boy who committed suicide at age 15 after 10 years of battling with diagnosed bipolar disorder. He goes through periods of happiness, then periods of extreme depression. Suicide is a subject all-too-common since the age of 5. All seems to be going well for the first time in years as he moves into his teenage years, but then he’s slowly taken off meds and, without warning, he jumps from his New York apartment bedroom window. It’s a heavy experience, so here’s what I’m going to do – split this two ways:

Emotional: Hard to argue with such a personal story. With both parents of Evan Perry, the subject of the film, intimately involved with the project as director and cinematographer, respectively, it’s nearly impossible to imagine how it must have been to distance themselves enough from the material. Hart, the father, made it clear to the audience during the Q&A that this film was really about sharing the experience of their journey toward trying to make Evan well and not about the extreme grief of losing a child to suicide. However, it’s tough to escape that framing since it underscores so much of the film. Both Dana and Hart entered into the project also hoping it might allow them some closure, but found that not the case in the slightest. Though Evan’s death is now three years in the past, the wounds are clearly still fresh. As Dana said following the film, “that’s the first and last time I’ll have seen this film with an audience.”

Technical: This is not a film that prides itself on production quality. Told mostly through somewhat blurry home video clips and talking-head interviews, it’s not a film that will win awards for cinematography or for editing. At first I was struck by the lower perceived level of quality, but at the end of it all, the quality of the imagery on screen doesn’t really matter. The story is communicated effectively and with a lot of emotion. What more is needed?

Should you see this film? Not if you’re disturbed by teen suicide or the thought of your children killing themselves. But if you’re up for an emotional story about loss and a family’s journey to try and save their son from his own mind, then it’s definitely worth a look.

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23 thoughts on “Sundance Report #4 – Boy Interrupted Review

  1. Fantastic movie! Very well made. From someone who suffers from Major Depression Disorder I was pulled into Evan’s story knowing how he felt at times. I wish everyone could see this and understand that we can have ups and downs but it is always there just under the smile on our face.

  2. I live in Australia and last night saw the film Boy Interrupted. It was the most honest and moving experiene I have seen on screen for a long time, beautifully narrated and filmed by his loving family. Evan was a beautiful boy, and was born to beautiful parents, who clearly loved him from day one. One thing they have forever is a picture of Evan, not only in their hearts and soul but there in visual form from the day he was born. One could cearly see he was born into such a loving family, the pride taken in the filming of his young life even before anyone had an inclination he was sick was testimony itself to the joy he brought to those around him. He was a very engaging little boy and it was heart wrenching to see the symptoms of his illness developing, despite all the love, intervention and professional help he was getting it seemed unstoppable. If Evan had to go through this then it was a blessing for him to have the parents he did have, they loved and supported him every minute of every day of of his short life; lot of parents disown their offspring once they are diagnosed with BPD and more particularly in the teens and later years because it all gets too hard; there are many young people living on our streets here in Australia and if you delved enough a high percentage of them would more than likely be sufferes of some form of mental illness. I have a daughter now 32 who has been sick since she was 17, and only diagnosed at 27, she lives at home with me, and I am constantly been told by friends, and indeed by one of her siblings to kick her out. The one person that stood out in that Video to me was Evan’s older step brother. What a beautiful person with a beautiful soul. His love for his brother was supportive, unselfish and unconditional. What was so sad that despite all the love and support given to Evan in the end there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent him taking his own life at such a tender age. Despite Evan’s beliefs, he was never alone and this documentary can only help us to learn more and understand this incidious illness and serve as a tool to help others who find themselves trying to deal with Bi Polar be they sufferers, carers or professionals, what a legacy you have left us Evan.

  3. I watched this documentry with interset. I feel for the family as well as for Evan. I seen the highs and lows that Evan had during the film. I wonder however if BPD is what he had. there are so many mental disorders out there, some , I think, they have not put a name to yet. I understand that a many childern go through the same thing that Evan did, but still I watched this film and could not help but think wow he is so young to be having these thoughts and feelings. It was almost like he was born with these feelings, that as he grew, so did the thoughts, about death. about killing himself. at first he did not seem depressed when talking about killing himself, he almost seemed interested in how it would feel to die, about how others would feel when he died. I am not a expert on BPD I do know a few people who have BPD and I have read up on it along with other mental disorders. I in no way am calling the doctors lyers who tried to help him. all I am saying is that to me, this child seemed to have all of these things going on in his head since he was born. also, he talked to others about this untill he trid to jump off of ps 11 and got put in the hospital, as told in the film, he was angry and mad that he was put there, to me it seemed he felt he was being punished for saying and doing what he wanted to do and he couldnt understand why. showing his mother how he would hang himself while his mother took pictures, again I dont think he thought this was adnormal. this film provides a lot of insight into this childs mind. so many mistakes are made everyday in doctors trying to find out what is wrong, he may of very well had BPD or not, we will never no.

  4. I had no idea when I started watching this program how gut-wrenching, emotionally draining yet cathartic it would be for me. Although, I did not give birth to any children, I was part to raising to wonderful nephews. Unfortunately, the came to us via the courts because of their mothers mental illness and their fathers incarceration. When we took these 9 and 10 year old boys, we had no idea what we were in store for and were in many ways ill equipped. It took very little time to notice the older one had some serious issues, after a threat to blow up his middle school we began a journey through mental illness. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress syndrome and schizoaffective disorder at the tender age of 11. A regime of medication was prescribed and we had so many ups and downs. Finally, on a combination of Zoloft, Lithium and Zyprexa, he was finally stable. Unfortunately, he would begin to feel better and begin not taking his medication and we would begin a tailspin that would throw the entire household for a loop. This movie is the first time that I truly feel like someone else understood. Someone saw the facade, the mask that came down over the child’s face and the flat tone of voice heard when we began depression. The cycle of super highs and super lows. The all consuming way that mental illness takes over not only the child going through it but the entire family. Although, my nephew/son (he began calling my mom 3 months into living with us), did not talk often about being suicidal, I knew it was a risk. There were times that I was absolutely terrified to knock on his door in the morning. I know all to well that terror and that emotional drain.

    I will report he is 24 years old and currently living with his biological mother. Although circumstances and distancing has led to us not being as close, I still worry about him and I still love him. Hart & Dana, I am so sorry for your loss and thank you for such a profound, honest look at something that so few understand. God bless you and your family.

  5. I have watched the movie twice and my heart goes out to the whole family, I am so sorry for your loss.

    Now, finally, I understand what my brother went through all his life. He committed suicide when he was 24. I always knew that he mustn’t had BPD (my mom has it) but as a family we never discussed it. Jacques was the most beautiful, creative and lovely person, as Evan was.

    When he was about 10 he was diagnosed with depression, but my parents decided not to put him on medication. I think they silently thought/hoped that it would go away or that he would outgrow the depression.

    My brother often threw temper tantrums and went through his ups and downs, but when he had that horrible unreachable “down look” it broke my heart. I couldn’t understand it and felt so helpless. Jacques committed suicide 12 years ago and for the first time since then, I understand what he must have gone through. Thank you for making this movie available to us all – I can relate to every moment and emotion and has helped me understand more about the world my precious brother he lived in.

    I am sure most children go through periods of depression and I believe it is very important to pay attention to these feelings. My biggest wish would be that our children/parents will have more access to information / discussions / education in our schools around depression and how to use certain tools/methods/professional advice to assist them (and ourselves).

    Evan was a loved child and you’ve done more than most people could’ve done, I wish you all the best for the future.

    Kind Regards,

  6. This movie really hit me hard. As a parent of a child that has been through difficult times with behavior I know what it is like to want to help your child but yet feel helpless. My son has told me “I wish I were dead” and it deeply hurts and scares you. We have sought help for him and found no apparent psychological issues just to clarify. I cried so much during this movie. With it being the story told through photo and movie memories you can see the happy kid as well as the depressed kid. I have been through this in a different way – with the temper tantrums and then with the little angel. For my son it was more about growing up and understanding who is in control – and it isn’t always him. I did, however, feel very connected with Evan throughout the whole movie, feeling so much pain for him and what he must have gone through.

    I did feel that, although it may not have been the intent, the movie captured a family struggling to help each other and help Evan. Although the ending is Even losing his life I think his struggle and his families struggle is definitely something worth seeing for every parent.

    My deepest sympathy to his family for their loss but I thank them for sharing their story. It will help others.

  7. I have been truly touched by this story. I am a mother of two beautiful children (a 12 year old girl and a 6 year old boy) thankfully not afflicted with any mental illness, but it is still easy to put myself in Dana’s shoes. I try to imagine my 6 year old son saying to me “mommy, I want to kill myself” or my 12 year old daughter on medication for BPD…just the thought is horrifying. Evan Scott Perry was a beautiful but tormented boy and I can’t even begin to understand the pain he was in. This film showed me a different side of life, love and loss. It was told so compellingly through the eyes of the people who loved him. I wouldn’t have changed one second of the film. Thank you to the Perry family for sharing this story as I am forever touched by your beautiful Boy Interrupted, Evan Scott Perry.

  8. This docoumentry probably saved my life.I too have suffered to the extend of Evan with bipoar but lately things have been alot better and going really well, so I too started thinking hmmm maybe I was just being silly maybe I dont need medication anymore, it made me realise that things were better because of the medicaztion and hard work, and not to take being stable for granted.

  9. It took me a couple of days to work up the courage to watch the film. I didn’t know until it began that Evan had the serious mental health problems he had and seeing only that it was about a 15 year old that committed suicide I was anxious about it perhaps being about an otherwise “normal” kid. It was still a gut-wrenching experience. The bravery of his parents in making the film is amazing. The most poignant moment for me was when one of Evan’s friends recounted how it couldn’t be true that Evan didn’t have any friends, it obviously called into question the worth of the friend in his own mind. It is so easy for those of us that are adults to forget the angst of being a teenager, Evan’s half brother recounts it so clearly. I’m hoping my 16 year old son, who is struggling himself right now, but not to the extent of Evan, will want to watch the film with me to help him gain some perspective. If the measure of a film is how it moves us and makes us want to take some action in our lives, then this is surely a masterpiece.

  10. I just saw this documentary, I’m so sorry for your loss. Evan was a beautiful little boy. That ,I’m sure was a very hard thing to share your story. I know this will help alot of people going through the same things. God Bless.

  11. Dear Dana and Hart,
    I just watched your movie about Evan. Now that I’ve dried my eye’s,I just want you to know how powerful and yes tragic your story is. My husband and I have been having a difficult time with our now 17 year old son and can so relate to what you have gone through. While are story is different, many aspects are the same. Our son is still with us and we’re hoping that we can help him get through the ups and downs that life brings. Thanks for your sharing your story.

  12. Dear Dana and Hart:

    I think that your film is very touching, brave, and truly inspirational. You were able to take your pain and suffering, along with Evan’s, and turn it into a piece that is so honest and real. I think that the honestly and reality from the both of you made the film what it is…..a true success. I am a teacher in a psychiatric hospital and I work with children, suffering from an array of mental and emotional illnesses, as young as the age of four. I see the children in the hospital for treatment, and it’s heartbreaking at times. On a positive note, I have witnessed changes in children during threir stay and it is so great to see them feeling good. As a mother, I cannot imagine what the two of you went through. Evan seemed as though he was such a wonderful boy. Thank you for sharing! I will be sharing this film with my students at the hospital. This is a story I don’t want them to miss!

  13. To: Evans mom,dad,and brothers. I send you my love.I believe Evan was a bright wonderful boy. His story touched my heart, because I could relate personally and I am sure it will to everyone who watches it. He was blessed to have a wonderful family who stood by him through it all. Take some comfort in knowing that his story will help other people like him and thier families.

  14. This documentry moved me because i as a nurse deal with these issues but have also had the battle with depression. It is nice to know that there are parents out there that accept the issues and are not ashamed of there children for them. My parents still do not believe that there is a issue that I cannt just change. thank you for sharing Evan and your own stories to open the worlds eyes.

  15. This documentary really touched me. Evan’s story is one that is far too familiar, yet still misunderstood. I myself have suffered from anxiety and depression for many years. I even stayed In Four Winds hospital as well. Being a teenager is difficult enough. Having to deal with a mental illness on top of that, is practically unbearable. No one wants to die, its just that life has become too painful. I really appreciate the Perry’s for sharing their story and being so honest and open. Evan would be very pleased. His suffering was not for nothing. His story will help others.

  16. I can certainly understand what drove the Perrys to give voice to the joys and frustrations of their life with Evan and the indescribable pain of his loss. However I found the film overlong and self-indulgent; it could have been edited down by 10 or 15 minutes (e.g., by cutting part of the staging of Evan’s plays, some of the details of the funeral, repetitive comments by the parents). Displays of self-pity tend to distance rather than engage viewers. Some of the most touching and relevant moments involved Evan’s friends and peers. If the film had been made as a private family document, of course, the editing and tone would not be an issue — but clearly it was made with an audience in mind.

    I wish Evan’s family and friends peace, and hope they take comfort in their memories of the boy they loved so much.

    1. I agree with Sofia’s comment; while I sympathize with the parents, and feel sorrow for the tragic loss of their son, I too found it self-indulgent AS A FILM. I really can’t explain it better than Sofia, except to say I wish I had heard more honesty and open-ness from the parents (also in this case the filmmakers) about what they wished they would’ve, or thought they could’ve, done differently, even in retrospect.

      Instead it was an idealized portrait of their family, punctuated by one huge, tragic loss. I totally agree about Evan’s friends and peers . . . their honest commentary during the film affected me more than anything else . . .

  17. Maybe the saddest thing of all was Evan’s last words to his mom: I hate you.

    Thankfully this was not addressed in the film.

  18. I just Watched this story on HBO last night and thuoght it was great. I was diagnosed with ADHD at A very young age and faced almost all the same things Evan did. I was poked and prodded buy doctors and psychiatrists through most of my school years. I was pulled out of classes in front of my schoolmates to go to special ed and other appiontments. My family with six brothers and sisters didn’t know what to make of me. I distroyed my bedroom in fits of rage and started to hate my parents for what they were doing to me. I am now 47 years old and have my own kids,but the pain of those years has never left me and I don’t think it ever will. To me this film showed that the pain of youth is far greater than any adult can ever fathum.I give these people alot of credit to show the how heart breaking and painful mental illness can be on everyone involved with it. I think this film should be shown in every school around the world so students,teachers and parents can see first hand the desperate and deadly problems involved with mental illness. Thank you for opening Evans door so we could look inside and try to understand.
    Andy Armstrong

  19. I was so touched by this portrayal of your beautiful son. My brother has battled this illness for his whole life. I have watched my parents lives consumed by him. the fear of sending him over the edge has woven itself into our daily lives. almost every conversation, every action is surrounding him. The pain of watching someone you love so despertly be in so much pain is unbarable. Thank you for your story. It has touched me so much to know we are not alone. Thank you

  20. Dear Dana and Hart,
    Thank you for sharing your intimate family story – you both are very brave – and I walk away from your story with more strength and courage to face our family issues. My son Matthew Scott is 18 years old and was first diagnosed with ADHD as a small, small child, we always knew there was the chance he had BPD. (Also in my husbands side of family) Matt didn’t start off walking he ran, Matt didn’t start off with words he spoke sentences and enjoyed mostly hanging with adults. He had a difficult time with kids his own age. My husband and I went to many groups/learning situations and a life time of psychiatrists/therapists with our son. Knowing we could not “fix” his problems, but always open to learning how to better handle him on a daily basis without constantly “yelling,hitting,scolding him”, Reinforce the positive – ignore the negative – and find the teaching moments.
    I’m so sad to hear about Evan Scott ( my younger son’s middle name is Evan, and Matt’s middle name is Scott). My heart aches for you and your family – Mental illness is so misunderstood even by many of the psychiatrists & medical doctors – your film should be watched by all health professionals and studied so that doctors can help other kids with Evan’s severity of illness.
    Thank you – and continue to walk forward.
    Sue Heller

  21. I just watched the film tonight on HBO..with my 16 and a half year old son who suffers from severe depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety. I have lived in fear for the past four years that I will wake up and find him dead one day because of his affliction, which doesn’t seem to improve, despite uncountable trips to numerous psychiatrists, boatloads of pills and my being there for him at all times. I was sad and have such grief over the loss of Evan, especially for his mother. A mother knows the pain her child feels, and is frustrated when she cannot do anything to help. After watching the details of Evan’s suicide letter, I realized my son has the same issues and I hope he perhaps learned something from watching it with me. I hope he learned there is hope for him and your life can turn on a dime, like Evans would have if he had lived. Thank you for such a moving film.

  22. This painful experience is like none other. As a parent, we provide and protect. Failing this, the hurt becomes difficult to overcome. On 8/8/08, our son took his life as well. He could not endure his bipolar suffering any longer. He stayed alive for as long as he could so we could prove to ourselves that there was no tolerable medication available to aleviate his affliction. Endless treatment proved fruitless. He was a brave young man and we will forever hurt.

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