What is the movie tully supposed to be about

What is the movie tully supposed to be about

Video What is the movie tully supposed to be about

“i think screenwriter diablo cody, director jason reitman and lead actress charlize theron owe every survivor of maternal mental illness an apology,” blogger graeme seabrook writes in a post titled “why i wont see tully and why you should think twice before doing it,” on a website focused on motherhood called all the moms.

this is just one of many heated reactions coming from the mommy blogger to the new movie tully, which shows a mother struggling with the responsibilities of parenthood after the birth of her third child. Most of the controversy revolves around the fact that the film implies that the main character, Marlo, beautifully played by Charlize Theron, may have postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis; however, the film does not explicitly acknowledge this or show the character seeking treatment.

“I’m not sure if this was intentional or if the filmmakers didn’t realize the character they created had [postpartum psychosis],” Diana Spalding wrote on Motherly. “I’m surprised they didn’t see a therapist to make sure the issue was handled appropriately, whatever their intention.”

I am a psychiatrist who focuses on pregnancy and mental health. As an expert on this subject, I was eager to see the movie, and having seen it, I have to ask: does it deserve all this heat? should we refuse to see tully because a struggling mother’s illness is not recognized or treated properly? Or should we celebrate him for sparking this heated discussion and raising awareness of maternal mental illness? I am inclined to think the latter.

at the center of the controversy surrounding tully is his twist. To fully engage in the discussion of the film’s portrayal of postpartum depression, we’ll have to reveal that twist at the end, so beware: spoilers follow.

The film opens with Marlo, the mother, at the end of her rope. She’s frazzled by her “quirky” kindergartner, a child with implied special needs who regularly throws tantrums, and the pressure intensifies with the birth of her third child. Her husband plays video games instead of helping with the baby.

There are hints, even early on, that Marlo is more than just “stressed”: his brother mentions that his behavior in recent years has been radically different, saying, “I just want my sister back”, but in general, the beginning of the film seems to represent the universal stress of motherhood. we see spilled breast milk, dirty diapers, frozen pizza for dinner, and rage—all things any tired mom can relate to. Marlo’s brother suggests that he hire a night babysitter.

Things take a turn with the arrival of a young woman named Tully, who we assume is the babysitter for that night. Tully is a charming, helpful, and attractive young woman who seems to exist solely to help Marlo. She cleans the house, lets Marlo sleep between meals, bakes cupcakes. But when Tully dons a waitress outfit and has sex with Marlo’s husband the first time she meets her, and the husband doesn’t seem surprised by this, we realize something is wrong with Tully.

One night, Tully encourages Marlo to drive them both while drunk, which ends with Marlo crashing her car. And then comes the twist: when the movie shows Marlo alone in the hospital, we realize that Tully isn’t real. She is an extension of Marlo, meant to represent a younger, less cynical version of herself. it’s that plot twist that has people up in arms.

does tully’s plot twist suggest that marlo has postpartum psychosis?

So, what illness does Marlo likely have, and what’s wrong with the way he’s portrayed in the movie? Postpartum depression, which affects up to one in five women and is seriously underdiagnosed and undertreated, is a devastating illness with long-term consequences for mothers and children.

A depressive episode in the first weeks or months after childbirth is usually characterized by changes in sleep and appetite, moodiness, loss of interest or pleasure, irritability, feelings of low self-esteem, and sometimes suicide. anxiety in the period just before or after birth is also extremely common and can be part of postpartum depression or exist without depressive symptoms.

Postpartum psychosis, which seems to fit better with marlo symptoms than postpartum depression, is a much less common disorder affecting 0.1% of the population. Women with postpartum psychosis are sometimes depressed but more often have mania, characterized by a decreased need for sleep, grandiosity, and risk-taking behavior, along with psychotic symptoms such as disorganization, confusion, and sometimes hallucinations and delusions.

Postpartum psychosis is usually a manifestation of bipolar disorder and is much more common in women with pre-existing bipolar disorder than in the general population. it is considered one of the few true psychiatric emergencies, largely due to high rates of suicide (5 percent) and infanticide (4 percent), and almost always requires psychiatric hospitalization.

Both disorders, if recognized, respond well to treatment, but in many cases go unrecognized. this happens because we don’t talk enough about mental illness in this country. What’s more, the media and the general public tend to describe and represent motherhood as a bright and happy time. women who get sick are often ashamed that they don’t fit this model, and family members often attribute severe symptoms to new “normal” motherhood and lack of sleep.

Once we know Tully isn’t real, some of the earlier plot points in the movie take on a distinctly different tone. The clean house and the exquisitely decorated cupcakes weren’t the work of an employee while Marlo slept, but were things Marlo did herself, staying up all night and frantically cleaning and decorating. That, coupled with the drunk driving incident, makes me think that Marlo is probably manic. The idea that Tully is a hallucination, which is likely given that Marlo speaks of her as if she were a real person, is consistent with a diagnosis of postpartum psychosis.

by starting a conversation about postpartum mental health, tully is doing a service

So the movie uses serious health issues as a cheap plot twist? I do not think. describes a woman’s experience, and those of us who treat maternal mental illness know that no two mothers are alike and no two illnesses are alike. Postpartum psychosis hallucinations don’t usually take the form of benign, cheery helpers, but that’s not to say they can’t.

The big question seems to be whether the film has a responsibility to acknowledge and name what this disease is and, as some have suggested, show Marlo receiving treatment. “as a certified nurse midwife, this is what i wanted to see next,” wrote ann smith in a statement for postpartum support international, a wonderful organization that has done more than any other to improve postpartum mental health. She “wanted to be examined, to get the treatment and support that she needed so that she could recover.”

I couldn’t agree more when it comes to women in real life, but I’m loath to hold a film to the same standard.

i believe that the fact that marlo does not seek treatment is precisely the intention of devil cody, the screenwriter of the film. most people have never heard of postpartum psychosis, and some estimates suggest that more than 70 percent of mothers with any maternal mental illness go undiagnosed and untreated, so any description of maternal mental illness that fuels controversy could be good for treatment. By creating a provocative film, Cody is generating discussion and awareness on this topic.

but tully could have gone even further in this direction if it showed the lasting results of our society’s determination to ignore such symptoms. Maternal mental illness is real and terrifying, and it’s not just caused by clueless husbands and too little sleep. (Although neither helps, as sleep deprivation is especially considered a major risk factor for both postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis.)

At the end of the movie, we see the husband helping with baby care and sharing Marlo’s headphones as he helps her cook dinner. the final shot of the two, intimately touching each other’s shoulders, implies a closeness and a peace that puts a balm on her illness and implies that everything is fine. An ending more consistent with what I take to be Cody’s intentions would have shown the husband’s greatest efforts and commitment, but Marlo, undiagnosed and untreated, is still sick. that would have been a truly brave and accurate film about society’s treatment of mentally ill mothers.

however, given how few depictions of postpartum mental illness exist, the benefits of tully outweigh the negatives. May 2 was World Maternal Mental Health Day. I don’t think it’s an accident that tully opened this week. Let’s take this film as a way to raise awareness and keep talking about the importance of recognizing and treating maternal mental illness, for all mothers who suffer and for their children.

correction: devil cody is the writer, not the director, of tully.

dr. Lauren M. Osborne is an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and of obstetrics and gynecology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. she is an expert in the diagnosis and treatment of mood and anxiety disorders during pregnancy, postpartum, premenstrual, and perimenopause. She conducts research on the biological mechanisms of perinatal mental illness, focusing on the immune system, and her work is supported by the Brain and Behavior Foundation and NIMH.

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