People Say I'm Crazy

on September 12, 2003 by Sheri Linden
As a first-person chronicle of schizophrenia, "People Say I'm Crazy" is one-of-a-kind. Its subject and director, neophyte filmmaker John Cadigan, depicts his struggles with bracing honesty, and the power of this documentary is that it offers no romantic Hollywood-style bromides to ease the pain. But it also shows a man fortunate to have the love and support of family and friends as he tries to face down the demons--paranoia in particular--that torment him.

Cadigan is a visual artist of considerable talent, and he makes the most of his productive periods, creating intricate woodcuts and prints--which, by film's end, he's exhibiting and selling. In his senior year of art school, in 1991, he experienced his first break with reality. (As Cadigan points out, that separation is the defining quality of schizophrenia--not the popular misconception of split personality.) He was paralyzed by depression and delusions, sometimes literally; clinical footage from that time shows him immobilized. After a number of diagnoses and experiments with countless anti-psychotics, mood stabilizers and antidepressants, a new drug, Clozaril, proved beneficial. But it also caused a weight gain of 150 pounds, and Cadigan's blood must be monitored weekly for signs of a potentially fatal side effect.

After a few video lessons from his older sister, Katie Cadigan, a documentary producer, John began taping himself, alone and in interaction with those close to him, as a way of understanding and coming to terms with his situation. A portrait emerges of a non-condescending, good-humored circle of practical and emotional sustainment--the kind of support system anyone would be lucky to have. Besides Cadigan's divorced parents and three siblings, he has a strong bond with an older woman named Anne, a friend from his earliest group-home experience. It's deeply moving to witness the affection and respect with which they watch out for each other.

When not overwhelmed by feelings of persecution--an inadvertent slight can metastasize into conspiracy theories--Cadigan is clear-eyed enough to understand that his illness has brought together a family fractured by divorce. And, like all artists, at his most lucid he's preoccupied with the mystery of his muse: "To figure out when you're finished is to figure out what you're doing." Cadigan finishes this film on a note of quiet triumph. Directed by John Cadigan with Katie Cadigan. Produced by Ira Wohl and Katie Cadigan. A Palo Alto release. Documentary. Unrated. Running time: 84 min.

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