Losing Chase

***Trigger warning: This post discusses mental health issues and mentions suicide.***

Released in 1996, Losing Chase stars Helen Mirren and Kyra Sedgwick and is directed by Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick’s husband.  Mirren plays Chase, a woman who is recovering from a nervous breakdown, and Sedgwick plays Elizabeth, the woman employed as a “Mother’s Helper” to take care of the house and the children for a summer while Chase recovers.  Although Chase is initially hostile towards Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s patient-without-being-condescending demeanor eventually draws Chase to her.  Chase’s husband Richard, played by Beau Bridges, spends weeks at a time away on business, and with his absence, Chase and Elizabeth’s friendship grows as they discover that they actually have a lot in common.

Losing Chase handles two current social issues with delicacy, understanding, and respect.  Themes of mental illness and lesbianism are subtly interlaced in this story as the plot develops and provides a commentary on both the lack of comprehensive mental health care and education as well as the dangers of repressing the fluid nature of sexuality.  The writer of Losing Chase, Anne Meredith, does not promote a causal relationship between mental illness and lesbianism, but rather writes a character whose disposition for mental illness is exacerbated by her repressed sexuality.

Immediately after her nervous breakdown, Chase spends some time in a hospital but is released without medication, plans to see a therapist regularly, or a conversation with her husband on how to live with and support someone who is recovering from a nervous breakdown.  Chase returns to her home in Martha’s Vineyard to be shunned by her friends as if mental illness is contagious and to be treated with kid gloves by her husband.  Without support, Chase becomes more withdrawn and prone to abrupt mood switches.

Chain smoking in her usual position as she reclines on the front porch under a blanket, Chase is initially openly hostile and rude to Elizabeth when she first arrives, having no expectation nor past experience to indicate that Elizabeth will be compassionate and understanding rather than condescending and isolating.  When Elizabeth’s actions indicate both understanding and compassion, Chase begins to participate in life away from the comfort and crutches of her cigarettes and blanket on the front porch.

As the only adults in the house, and miles from neighbors, Elizabeth and Chase spend a good deal of time together once Elizabeth has convinced Chase that she is sincere in her desire to help.  Chase shares details of her breakdown after Elizabeth asks and reveals that her loveless marriage and the artificial nature of life in Martha’s Vineyard made her feel trapped.  Elizabeth shares that her sister lives in a hospital where she is treated for a mental illness that was most likely inherited on their mother’s side.  Elizabeth’s mother committed suicide when Elizabeth and her sister were very young, and Elizabeth worries that she’ll battle with mental illness as she gets older.

With all the late-night conversations while the children are sound asleep, there’s no physical contact between the two until a trip to the beach.  Meredith gives us one beautiful, passionate kiss on the beach, and then the movie ends quickly with Elizabeth leaving the island and Chase and Richard getting a divorce.

While, in allowing herself to love Elizabeth, Chase gains a renewed sense of self, this alone will not alleviate mental illness.  Surely love and support are a great aid, but struggles with mental health should be dealt with in the same manner that any chronic physical ailment is dealt with–with a long-term, consistent treatment plan.  Elizabeth’s fear that she will one day exhibit symptoms of mental illness in the way that her mother did and her sister does should not exist.  Knowledge of mental illness in the family should not be pushed down into fear but examined and treated.  There’s no need to live in fear when there’s help available.

Overall, Losing Chase is a good movie with a soft and delicate soundtrack and beautiful panoramic shots of the landscape of Martha’s Vineyard.  The characters are sincere, and the acting is wonderful.


~ by thornfieldrose on December 22, 2012.

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