Talking Heads reporter Emma Lawson reviewed Dan and Margot, ahead of screenings on Mon 10 Oct in Edinburgh and Sat 15 Oct in Glasgow. Both screenings will be followed by a Q&A with director Chloe Sosa-Sims.
The opening scene of Dan and Margot is set in a swimming pool on a sunny day. Margot walks away from the camera, while hostile whispering – at odds with the scene – fills the speakers. Then the scene shifts, and Margot explains what she heard: a voice, sometimes multiple voices, mocking and harassing her. She knew the main voice as a man named Dan, and it was only after being diagnosed with and treated for schizophrenia that she understood that his presence was a hallucination.
Dan and Margot deals with Margot’s everyday life seven years after her diagnosis: her relationship to her illness, her relationships with other people, her ambitions and her frustrations. It is an intimate portrait of a person living with schizophrenia, and very focussed on Margot herself, rather than generalising about her diagnosis.
Part of this focus is due to Margot’s bold character: she is funny, adventurous and – while sometimes guarded – often painfully honest about the impact schizophrenia has had on her life. The film follows her as she takes part in the common pastimes of a twenty-something – gigs, road trips, drinking sessions – but it also doesn’t shy away from letting her talk repeatedly about the sense that her life has been diverted. In one of the most poignant moments, she explains that she feels she has lost her sense of self: mentally because of her illness, and physically as a result of the effects of medication on her body.
One reason for the film’s intimate nature may be the friendship between Margot and co-director Chloe Sosa-Sims; during one discussion, Sosa-Sims explains to the camera why she wanted to make a film about Margot’s life, and why she wouldn’t trust anyone else to do it. The balance between portraying events honestly and respecting Margot’s privacy is managed well, with Sosa-Sims acknowledging the difficulty of making a film while being close to the subject, especially when some of Margot’s symptoms reappear.
The film’s effects help express aspects of Margot’s story: during one sequence, an anecdote she tells is illustrated by drawings. Vivid and beautiful, they emphasise the strangeness of what she experienced, helping the viewer to engage with her story. The effect of whispering recurs, enabling the viewer to experience Margot’s audio hallucinations. This is particularly effective at the start of the film, when it isn’t clear what the viewer is supposed to believe, and overall the film excels at conveying the fear and confusion Margot feels.
The film doesn’t attempt to define schizophrenia, engaging only briefly with ideas about Mad Pride and the pros and cons of medication. While the film’s focus on Margot is one of its greatest strengths, it may have been helpful if the film had spent more time exploring these issues. One of the most interesting sections occurs when co-director Jake Chirico introduces Margot to another woman who has schizophrenia, an artist called Sarafin. Margot and Sarafin’s discussion, where they relate their experiences and look at the different ways their illness presents, is fascinating and seems a genuinely positive moment for Margot.
Avoiding coming to any simplistic conclusions, the tone of the film varies when showing how Margot deals with her illness, mirroring how her attitude fluctuates throughout. At times she is very optimistic, but during bleaker moments she acknowledges that she will never be able to completely move past her illness. The film acutely emphasises how simple things – job searching, dating – are made harder for her because of schizophrenia and the associated stigma. However, acknowledging her struggles doesn’t make Dan and Margot pessimistic; Margot’s energy and determination to live the life she wants ensures that the film ends on an uplifting note.
A compassionate and realistic portrayal of the difficulties of living with schizophrenia, Dan and Margot is an intriguing film and an important one. Although there is an increasing awareness of some of the most common mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, other conditions including schizophrenia remain highly stigmatised, with people who have these conditions often facing ignorance and discrimination. By presenting viewers with a real and non-sensationalised account of schizophrenia, Dan and Margot is valuable in combatting prejudice. Margot may be unique, but – as she rightly says at one point – her illness isn’t that uncommon.
by Emma Lawson
Monday 10 October, 7-8.45pm
Saturday 15 October, 4-6pm
£5 | £3