In the 1950s, paranoid schizophrenics and others with mental afflictions were treated much more harshly by today’s standards, often being locked away in institutions and subjected to electroshock and other debilitating treatments.
In the film “Three Christs,” Richard Gere plays Dr. Alan Stone, a character based on real life social psychologist Milton Rokeach who during that time championed a more humane and empathetic approach to treatment.
“The thing that interests me is not the mental illness, it’s actually ‘How does one create community? How do we trust each other?’ That seems to be the crux of [Rokeach’s] approach which was ‘I’m not gonna warehouse these guys,’” Gere said on Thursday at the “Three Christs” premiere in New York, adding that the doctor refused to let patients undergo dangerous practices. Instead, he listened to and observed and approached the patients with a compassionate eye.
“For me, it was finding this thing of being professional and vulnerable at the same time.”
Adapted from Rokeach’s 1964 book “The Three Christs of Ypsilanti” co-writer and director Jon Avnet’s (“Fried Green Tomatoes,” “Justified”) “Three Christs” follows Dr. Stone’s study of three paranoid schizophrenics who all share the same delusion that they’re Jesus Christ. Stone removes the three men (played by Peter Dinklage, Walton Goggins and Bradley Whitford) from their psych ward rooms and into a space together in hopes that the sense of community and common empathy will cure their afflictions.
Avnet told Variety that he wants his film to shed light on the humanity of those grappling with mental illnesses instead of treating them like outsiders.
“What I want to do is basically say that people who have schizophrenia are people. They should be treated kindly, they should be treated with love, they should be treated with professional care and they should not be treated as objects. They shouldn’t be warehoused,” said Avnet.
He continued in saying that as a country, we should look at mental health care as a “priority,” providing training, more social workers, psychologists and supervised housing to those in need.
“Wouldn’t that be a better world? You stop dreaming about having a better world, then we’re doomed to just get worse,” he said.
Julianna Margulies, who plays Dr. Stone’s wife in the film, said that she was inspired by Rokeach’s book and that taking the part was a “no-brainer.”
“I was moved by the fact that this man took the time in an era where any kind of mental disorder and schizophrenia was not treated with human compassion, but treated with drugs and a lock.”
Decades after Rokeach’s book, Margulies said that the prevalence of untreated mentally ill people on the streets and without proper healthcare remains an issue that needs resolution.
“You can see it around New York City all the time. You see crazy schizophrenic people out on the street with no one helping them. A woman today was beat up on Varick Street coming out of the subway just out of the blue. She was beat up by a schizophrenic. Why? Because he has no health care, he has nowhere to go, he’s not on the right meds, and no one’s treating him well and he’s freezing cold. What are we doing to our own?”
Hosted by The Cinema Society and Monkey 47, the evening also included an after party at Omar’s La Boite restaurant.
The film is in theaters Jan 10.