A new film begins with a young man cleaning up his apartment, putting on a good shirt, and killing himself in the bathroom.
And it’s all downhill from there.
As its title suggests, the film Wristcutters: A Love Story presents an utterly bleak view of life—and a not very inspiring view of the afterlife, either.
The story continues in a sort of dingy purgatory, where those who have committed suicide work at menial jobs, compare stories of how they “offed” themselves, and, incredibly, even contemplate killing themselves a second time. When the protagonist, Zia, finds out that his girlfriend committed suicide shortly after he did, he and two friends go on a bizarre road trip to find her.
Scheduled for release in August, the film is already facing controversy over its ad campaign, which is targeted toward 17- to 30-year-olds. Marketers plan to use images from the film showing people killing themselves in various ways, an idea so alarming that fourteen mental health organizations came together to challenge it.
And well they should.
As psychiatry professor Lawson Wulsin noted in the Cincinnati Enquirer, the U.S. Surgeon General’s office recently issued guidelines called “Reporting on Suicide: Recommendations for the Media.” The guidelines note that there is significant evidence that misleading publicity about suicide “contributes to the contagion of suicidal behaviors.”
Courtney Solomon of After Dark Films, the film’s distribution company, claimed that the images of suicide will have slashes over them, in the manner of a traffic sign, and are supposed to serve as warnings against suicide, not to encourage it. “[The film’s] message is that love is better than suicide,” he said. “God forbid someone was considering committing suicide. This film may change their opinion.”
This is appalling. It’s like calling evil good. What passes for hope in this movie is nothing but insubstantial, fleeting at best. In this movie, human relations seem to be the only things that matter—and even these can’t be relied on. And there’s no hope or connection to the transcendent. Any figures meant to represent divinity or transcendence turn out to be phonies or arbitrary-minded bureaucrats, and most things they do end in disaster.
A note of hope at the end is supposed to represent the triumph of human love but really comes off as not much more than a fluke, and doesn’t do a lot to dispel the darkness that came before it.
To top things off, a lot of the suicides that are vividly depicted in the movie are what you might call “revenge suicides,” the kind where someone kills himself just to make everybody else sorry. (One girl’s suicide note even reads, “Are you sorry now?”) I probably don’t have to tell you how much that kind of attitude can appeal to 17- to 30-year-olds, especially those dealing with depression or other difficult circumstances.
The film company finally agreed to delay the ad campaign for a while to consider recommendations from mental health organizations. But I can’t think of much they could do to make the nihilism of this film any more palatable.
However they try to sanitize the public image, you need to warn young people against even watching ads for this film. Even a cursory glance can be devastating. The mainstreaming—even glamorizing—of suicide is the ultimate proof that many in our culture have embraced, and now even romanticized, the culture of death. Lord, help us.
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