Out of Mind, Out of Sight Jon Kastner

Out of Mind, Out of Sight Jon Kastner
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This follow-up to last year's NCR: Not Criminally Responsible is as hard to watch as it is important to watch — hence the title. Outside of the lurid true crime genre, most people don't spend much time considering the criminally insane.

Emmy-award winning director John Kastner spent 18 months following four patients at the Brockville Psychiatric Hospital. Each of them is dangerous to themselves and others — that's what got them there — but as Jon Kastner's Out of Mind, Out of Sight suggests, they are also human beings deserving of empathy. Kastner admits he had some reservations going in: "Despite decades of filming killers and other violent prisoners in penitentiaries, I was spooked. But that changed for me… I came to see these patients as they really are: mostly gentle, good people who are not evil, just ill."

Particularly sad is central figure Michael, a young man who was a popular and funny high school student before his mental health declined and he murdered a woman during a schizophrenic episode. His brothers observe that he is not the same person. While his medication seems effective, he's haunted by fears that people are judging him based on what he did.

Doctors note that he doesn't socialize with fellow patients, but since Michael remains sharp and sensitive, and many of the people he's in with are hard-edged, or have cognitive impairments, there's a pervasive sense that he's living a nightmare. He's a fundamentally decent person betrayed by his brain into committing an atrocious act, and he's confined as a result.

Other patients are visibly worse off. One lady is severely disabled from jumping off her apartment balcony after a visit from a social worker; she will bash her head with maximum intensity against the concrete walls of the institution without provocation or warning. She struggles to keep her behaviour in line for 14 days in a row to earn a reward the institution offers: a chance to order take-out from a local restaurant.

On a lighter note, two patients develop a romantic relationship, prompting one nurse to quip about the "open secret" of the occasional romance that, "Behind the hedge is considered discreet." Another nurse replies, "We've had patients doing it on the ward that we didn't know about until the bed broke."

Nurses and doctors deservedly get a lot of credit in society, but the staff at this facility deserves all that much more. Their jobs are alternately depressing and dangerous, and recovery often isn't often in the cards for their patients. Still, the workers remain professional, good natured, and protective of their charges.

Due to its dismal nature, the film is unlikely to be sought out by anyone looking for an evening out, or a night in front of the TV with the family. It will suffer the ghettoization of most advocacy films. It will preach to the converted — those interested in mental health and the surrounding policies.

(NFB)