How Joe And Christian Massa Are Using Film To Fight Mental Illness
It is a silent film without any dialogue, only music. It starts with statistics about suicide. A man goes through a seemingly insurmountable amount of challenges that lead him to see a dark-cloaked figure who reminds him of death and suicide.
The film starts with the man waking up to his alarm, eating breakfast in the fridge. The man closes his fridge and sees a dark figure, handing him a lethal amount of pills. He is later frustrated about a bill that needs to be paid. He sees the figure again. On a run through the suburbs and close to the train tracks, he sees the figure on the train tracks.
The figure is meant to be temptation towards death, and the protagonist sees the person over and over again. In one hallucination, the character is holding a noose. The protagonist receives notice that he is laid off from work. He goes to the store, grabs a bottle of water, and in the pits of despair, hands the bottle to the cashier, only to see the hooded figure of death again. The man is handing him his change, and still, he sees the pills.
With his whole life falling apart, the protagonist then goes through a breakup. He sits on the couch and the hooded figure is behind him, tempting him to die, handing him a pistol. The protagonist is then talking to his father, and the father is comforting him. Both men are crying. It’s unstated what the conversation is about, but we can assume it’s about the protagonist’s emotional state and series of tragic life events.
He starts to see a therapist. In a checklist of things that he can do to improve his mental health, like exercise and hang out with friends, she has nothing to check off. While he’s talking, she offers him some tissues. She shows him a video of boxing, to which he smiles and the two proceed optimistically. He goes to interview for a job. The manager looks through his resume and is impressed.
He starts to box again. The hooded figure appears less and recedes. He works out more and more, working off his rage and pain. The figure recedes more. The manager calls him back — by the expression on his face, he has a new job. The figure recedes more. We see him sitting with a girl under a tree, on a date. The two laugh and hold hands, and on a walk, the protagonist finally sees the hooded figure again.
This time, instead of avoiding him, he confronts him. In a staredown, he holds his girlfriend’s hand and rips the hood off the symbol of death, revealing that there was no one there the whole time. On a run to the train tracks, the hooded figure is no longer there. He can navigate life without fear for death’s imminence. He has persisted.
The above summary is my description of events to the independent film of two brothers, Christian Massa and Joe Massa, a film called Pressure. I talked with Christian for a while about giving more of a spotlight and publicity to his efforts and platform to raise more awareness to the battle against mental illness. Joe and Christian Massa seek to add to the fight and destigmatize people struggling with mental health issues through film.
Both brothers are actors, entrepreneurs, and filmmakers from West Haven, Connecticut who are not only trying to make short films, but also trying to give platforms to survivors of suicide attempts. The brothers’ YouTube project titled My Suicide Story gives a platform and mic to five people who have survived Kenny, Phillip, Alexander, Christopher, and John. People in My Suicide Story range from a homeless person to a New York Times bestselling author.
The Massa brothers are committed to not only giving resources to people who need support, but reminding people suffering from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and everything in between that “they are not alone and should never give up, even in their darkest hour.”
The two brothers are currently pitching to various networks to see who would be interested in hosting the series, hoping that a network can offer them a platform just as they gave a platform to survivors of suicide.
They may not be the biggest names yet, but when I took a look at Christian and Joe’s projects, I found myself very impressed by his work and his advocacy. The brothers send clear messages and statistics so the audience knows what message they’re trying to send, but in their filmmaking, they follow the rule of “show, not tell.” The hooded figure in Pressure reminds me of apparitions of the dead father in “Six Feet Under” that help the family members grow.
The two brothers are versatile, and their talents add to raise awareness and de-stigmatize mental illness.