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Enter the headspace of a schizophrenic

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: While Ryan Reynolds wrestles with insanity (and talking pets) in The Voices, we recommend other films about mental illness.

Clean, Shaven (1993)

Highly attuned to its lonely protagonist’s schizophrenia, Lodge Kerrigan’s 1993 debut Clean, Shaven charts the wayward course of Peter Winter, a troubled young man inhabited by Peter Greene with gripping volatility. Peter is introduced cowering in a dank four-walled room, and then out on the street in his messy car, where buzzing radio broadcasts incessantly blare at him and the sight of a young girl causes him to exit the vehicle and, offscreen, to do something that’s accompanied by the sound of a child’s screams. Peter stuffing a body-bag-shaped mass into his trunk, and the subsequent investigation by a detective (Robert Albert) into a girl’s murder, further suggests that Peter has done a bad thing. Repeatedly returning to that subplot, Kerrigan also includes fragmented snapshots of Peter visiting his cold, distant mother (Megan Owen), driving about in an automobile whose windows he’s smashed and then replaced with newspaper, and visiting a library, where he pores through old school yearbooks which—in one of his many delusions—are composed of photos of miserable, wailing children.

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Kerrigan’s film is often a wordless collection of moments involving (among other deranged sights) Peter grimacing thanks to the unwanted radio-broadcast voices in his head, cutting himself with a razor, and partially leaning out of his driver’s side door as his car races down a backcountry road. Clean, Shaven hews so closely to its main character’s state of mind that its central mystery—what is Peter actually up to?—stems naturally from his own inherent psychological disorder. After almost an hour, it becomes clear that Peter is searching for a young girl named Nicole (Jennifer MacDonald) who happens to be his daughter, but who now lives with her adopted mother. For Peter, that quest is about attaining some small semblance of normalcy and wholeness (a notion made plain by the baby photo of Nicole, torn down the middle, that he carries around). Kerrigan, however, offers little hope for transcendence from schizophrenia in the finale, contending ultimately that mental illness not only can’t be conquered, but also can’t be alleviated.

Availability: Clean, Shaven is available on Criterion DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix or your local video store/library, and to rent or purchase through the major digital services. It’s also currently streaming on Hulu Plus.

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