MUFFApproved: Dan and Margot
“The purpose of this doc is to kick the schizophrenia stereotype right in the junk and remind us that there is always a person behind the diagnosis.”
Dan & Margot (2015)
Directors: Chloe Sosa-Sims, Jake Chirico
Like with most mental health issues, we’re often conditioned to associate schizophrenia with words like “crazy,” or “disturbed.” An image of padded rooms and straightjackets usually follows soon after, with incoherent mumbling and a bit of drool as the cherry on top of the stereotype cake. The purpose of the documentary Dan and Margot is to kick that stereotype right in the junk and remind us that there is always a person behind the diagnosis.
In this case, the person is Margot. Directors Chloe Sosa-Sims and Jake Chirico paint an intimate and candid portrait of a person you immediately want to be friends with. For me, it was even more intimate because it turned out I worked with Margot years ago. One, that insufferable Disney ride rings more true all the time because it really is a small world. Two, I mention this only because what I remember of working with her is that she was funny, super rad, and always made our shifts more enjoyable. More specifically: there was nothing “crazy” or “disturbed” about her.
And that reflection brought two things to mind, which I mulled over whilst watching the documentary. One: we never know what people are going through, particularly with issues that are so ferociously stigmatized by society. And two: a schizophrenia diagnosis doesn’t mean a person can’t also make you laugh or have a job or generally be super rad.
Regardless of whether or not you used to scoop popcorn at a local cinema with Margot, watching Dan and Margot should make you come to realize the same two things. This is part due to incredible storytelling from Sosa-Sims and Chirico. The focus is on Margot and getting to know her rather than her diagnosis and the sorts of clinical updates that generally go along with more medical-based documentary. In fact, the documentary takes places years after Margot’s initial diagnosis and hospitalization. (But just so we don’t get too comfortable, Margot’s flashbacks to the most intense periods of her illness are framed not unlike a horror film, with eerie camera shots and haunting music.) Now, she is focusing on moving out of her parent’s home, finding a job, meeting other people like herself, and hopefully falling in love.
All of those things are undeniably normal, sure. But when you’ve lost years of your life to schizophrenia and are struggling with building a life and identity both with and beyond that diagnosis, even getting a part-time job can be challenging. Add to that the social stigma surrounding mental health and schizophrenia and it’s safe to say that this is a life we wouldn’t wish on anyone. In fact, Margot echoes that same sentiment at one point in the documentary.
Adding another layer of intimacy is how director Chloe Sosa-Sims and Margot have known each other since they were in the second grade. She’s not only invested as a filmmaker wanting to tell a story but also as a person wanting to help her childhood friend tell her story. To watch someone you love struggle and not know what is going on or how you can help is a feeling we can all relate to. And whilst not all of us are blessed with the means or talent to turn our support into a documentary, we can channel it other ways. And we should. Support from friends and family in any shape or form is vital for people living with mental health issues—another lesson Dan and Margot teaches us.
The documentary ends on a positive, which is super awesome, but it’s also a sobering reminder that not everybody with schizophrenia is as supported or lucky as Margot. So more than encouraging you to watch this incredibly powerful documentary for the MUFFApproved reasons, I really hope you watch (and share!) it for the sake of being more open and understanding toward mental health issues. And for the sake of simply talking about mental health.