Warning: Spoilers within.
There have been quite a few movies about mental illness, but most of them are dramatized and exaggerated for the sake of entertainment. Revolution #9 is arguably the most realistic and most analytic-yet-entertaining portrayal of schizophrenia of them all. It accurately documents many different aspects of the deterioration of James Jackson, brilliantly played by Michael Risley and the people around him who are affected by his gradual shift into psychosis.
James Jackson is engaged to Kim Kelly (played by Adrienne Shelly) who are supposed to get married in 6 months. It starts out with small episodes. He accuses a co-worker of moving things around on his desk behind his back to toy with him, and he ends up getting fired for writing reviews of websites he feels are out to send subliminal messages to him. His fiance’s brother has a son, 12 year old Tommy, who tells James about some hacker websites he visits and how they hack servers, and this triggers paranoia in James who consequently accuses Tommy and his boss at work of sending subliminal messages in emails and through websites.
The confrontation between James and Tommy scares Tommy, and this is the first example of how schizophrenia doesn’t just affect the sufferer, but also the people around him. Building on the subliminal messages delusion, James sees a perfume commercial for a company called Revolution #9, and believes there are messages in the video, and eventually hunts down the director of the commercial, by talking to the perfume company and finding the production studio they hired. Upon uncovering the identity of the commercial’s director, a Scooter McRay (played by Spalding Gray), he calls Scooter and says he is a production company that loved the commercial and wants to use him for their own project. Now of course, this is just an ad commercial, and probably not the most creative or personal work from Scooter, who also makes a point to James that he is most known for his still photography. Scooter is a creative guy who never quite made it big-time, and in turn did a couple commercials to make a living, so when he gets a call from James he gets big hopes and thinks James represents a big company and big opportunities for him to take it to the level he always wanted but never did. So in another example of an innocent bystander being affected negatively by James’ delusions, he meets Scooter and ends up confronting him in a very irrational way, leading up to him attacking Scooter and putting him down on the floor.
After James tells his fiance about the subliminal messages in the commercial, she instantly knows something is wrong with him, and contacts a psychiatrist, who after a confrontational meeting prescribes James to antipsychotic medication. His girlfriends family increasingly urges Kim to stay out and cut contact with James, but she loves him and wants to help him get better. After awhile he is consequently put under a court order to stay hospitalized for 2 weeks and to take antipsychotic medication. When 2 weeks have passed, James’ doctor gets a phone call from what looks like an insurance company manager who finances the institution, who asks how their patients are doing. The doctor tells the manager James has taken medication and calmed down, but that he has no insight into his illness and needs to stay longer. The manager, who is operating under financial regulations, asks the doctor if James has been violent to other patients or staff, because patients who are not violent cannot be forcefully hospitalized. Since James has not, he is released, and this shows how difficult it is to get treatment even if you are very sick and how this affects thousands of patents around the country every year.
Now the acting is top notch across the board, which is impressive, especially since it is a very low budget film. Michael as James really shines in how he portrays his inner torment and confusion with just a mere look on his face, and his girlfriend Kim is also great as the confused but loving fiance. Every character in this movie shows depth and each one is their own facet of how such an illness can develop for the victim and the people around the victim. The director also shows some scenes where the light is exaggerated and the cutting is fast and disorienting to show how it could look for a schizophrenic patient.
All in all a very interesting and well executed movie.