‘That Way Madness Lies’ showcases America’s broken mental health system

Filmmaker Sandra Luckow must navigate America’s mental health system in order to help her brother, who has been hospitalized for schizophrenia. Duanne’s initial hospitalization leads to Sandra acting as his primary conservator for years afterward, while his symptoms become more aggressive and antisocial and her patience wears increasingly thin (GPG: 3/5).

Review by FF2 Contributor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

It’s hard to believe that the gangly kid in the grainy home videos at the beginning of That Way Madness Lies is also the man who writes Facebook statuses hundreds of words long accusing his sister of conspiring to imprison him and calling her the whole gamut of four-letter words. Our first introduction to Duanne Luckow in That Way Madness Lies is his affable narration on a series of iPhone videos from inside the hospital that give a similar unassuming impression to that of the nerdy home videos. As he narrates to us the features of his hospital room, he sounds like he’s documenting a routine hospital stay, rather than trying to prove his sanity to a viewer who might not be convinced.

Sandra returns to her hometown of Portland, Oregon from New York when she finds out Duanne has been hospitalized, and she is forced to stay when she learns that Duanne has wired thousands of dollars to a Nigerian prince scammer. It turns out that Duanne’s schizophrenia goes deeper than anyone in the family thought—Duanne and Sandra’s parents are both drawn into the issue as well, since it was their money Duanne lost. As they take the legal measures necessary to keep Duanne from becoming a danger to himself and others, Duanne grows hostile and seems to retreat farther into his delusions, tampering with the meter from the electric company at his home and living in a tent in his backyard due to “toxins” inside.

As the film and the decade wears on, Duanne continues to make iPhone video diaries, but in an increasingly unbalanced tenor. In particular, as part of his delusive beliefs he calls out his family, turning against them as a response to their attempts to save him from himself. It was disorienting to see that most of Duanne’s videos from the movie are actually available on his personal YouTube channel, though he appears to have been inactive  for about seven years. A casual click-through of his channel reveals other videos on such topics as the Constitution (it was drafted by angels) and Duanne’s birthday (he has two of them). His Facebook, which has no privacy settings, consists of shared news articles with captions that appear to be a jumble of Bible citations and Fox News buzzwords—they often don’t form coherent sentences.

That Way Madness Lies paints an excellent picture of how Duanne’s symptoms worsened, but one thing that gave me pause about the movie was Duanne’s agency. After all, while Duanne was having his episodes, he wasn’t himself—that’s why Sandra was appointed as his conservator. With that in mind, is it ethical for Sandra to release videos and screenshots of how he acted during these delusive states, especially in such a public forum? While it seems that Duanne must have signed a release for these materials to be put in the movie, one cannot help but wonder how much respect Luckow has for her brother to showcase his worst moments in such a gratuitous way. If she wants to help Duanne, is she really doing that by showing him talking about his plans to marry Jessica Mystic, a YouTube personality who makes videos about healing crystals and who Duanne has never met?

While some moments can rub the viewer the wrong way for those reasons, one unquestionable success of That Way Madness Lies was its showcasing of the broken mental health system in America. That Way Madness Lies touches on horrifically high bills (from an involuntary hospitalization, no less) and the epidemic of mass shootings to make the point that America does not approach mental healthcare in anything close to an effective way. Considering both its problematic and its prescient elements, this film is sure to be a conversation starter!

© Giorgi Plys-Garzotto FF2 Media (12/19/18)

Top Photo: Young Sandra and Duanne at home.

Bottom Photo: Young Sandra and Duanne at an amusement park.

Middle Photo: Duanne in the present day.

Photo Credit: Ojeda Films.

Q: Does That Way Madness Lies pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

It does not, because while the protagonist (Sandra) is female, she and the other female characters are always talking about Duanne.

Tags: FF2 Media

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Giorgi Plys-Garzotto is a journalist and copywriter living in Brooklyn. She especially loves writing about queer issues, period pieces, and the technical aspects of films. Some of her favorite FF2 pieces she's written are her review of The Game Changers, her feature on Black Christmas, and her interview with the founders of the Athena Film Festival! You can also find more of her work on her website!
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