Thoughts on Greenberg, a Mental Patient, a Movie

Today, I watched the movie Greenberg, which was released back in 2010, but I had never seen it until now. It is about a 40-year-old man named Roger Greenberg (played by Ben Stiller) who recently suffered a “nervous breakdown”, and takes some time away from his New York life to house-sit for his brother in L.A.

movie, Greenberg, mental patient, mental illness

My educated guess is that Greenberg is bipolar, although a brief “stay in a mental hospital” is all that is mentioned. His erratic behavior, self-obsession, hypercriticism, mania, impulsivity, and anger issues cause many problems in his relationships with others and with his own peace of mind. Sound familiar?

He hooks up with his brother’s assistant, Florence, a passive somewhat flighty 25-year-old, who offered the most memorable line in the movie for me as she was talking to her friend about Greenberg:

“You can tell that a lot of normal stuff is really hard for him.”

…like maintaining friendships, hosting a get-together, shopping, driving, and taking care of the family dog when it becomes ill, to name a few.

As big of an A-hole as this Greenberg could be, I felt bad for him because a lot of normal stuff is really hard for me, too, and I often get frustrated with myself…the same way Greenberg’s brother and friends get with him for “not trying harder” or “not being able to control his emotional outbursts” or “obsessing over things.”

Florence seems to see beyond Greenberg’s neurotic behaviors. She sees him not as the jerk he is on the outside, but as a person who is victim to a disease he can’t completely control.

It was a weird movie that left me feeling unsettled because it wasn’t one of those feel-good endings like he conquered all of his demons and was cured. He was still the same…just a bit more grounded with her in his life.

This post isn’t meant to be a movie review. It is meant to process the take away message I gathered, which is that Greenberg’s an ass because he has a mental illness and he’s lucky he found someone who understands that.

Seems rather depressing to me, but is this reality for some of us…if we are lucky?

What are your thoughts? How many rude, obnoxious, mean people do you know? Have you ever considered the fact that they may have a mental illness whose symptoms are flaring up? And that if they didn’t have a mental illness, they might be fairly tolerable and decent to people the majority of the time? Is mental illness an excuse for bad behavior or merely an explanation, or both?

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5 thoughts on “Thoughts on Greenberg, a Mental Patient, a Movie

  1. Interesting observations. I haven’t seen the movie, but I know exactly the type of Hollywood image of mental illness and happy ending you’re talking about. It’s pretty offensive to anyone who’s actually had to deal with mental illness. Regarding rude, obnoxious, mean people and the possibility they might be mentally ill – two things: 1)my friend/co-author wrote a great post on that very subject this week, and 2) my husband is a generous, kind, fun, loving person…when he’s feeling good. When his depression and anxiety are at their worst, he’s extremely oversensitive, grouchy, obsessive, and he picks arguments over nothing. Mental illness is cruel, and it’s important we keep that in mind when we’re dealing with others who might be in its grip. Thanks for your thoughts!

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  2. It’s so true. We don’t know what goes through a person’s mind. Someone who seems “off” or not as personable as we may like could be going through something very difficult. If it is a mental illness left untreated, it is something that they go through daily (as opposed to just a stressful, temporary period in one’s life, which would be hard enough to deal with). And if the person does not speak about this condition, no one may ever understand what is going on with this person. All the more reason to give a voice to mental illness and take away the social stigmas that come with it.
    –JW

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