At a time when it seems like mental health awareness is at an all-time high, but our healthcare system is still grossly inadequate in covering mental health services, we need more thoughtful, accurate representation of mental illness in cinema to help decrease the stigma attached to it. Inspired by a true story, LOST TRANSMISSIONS is exactly the type of film I’m referring to and, hopefully, it will encourage constructive conversation about what it’s like to live with mental illness and how to help those who are affected.
Written and directed by Katherine O’Brien, known for the short films Doppelganger and Breaking News, the film stars Simon Pegg (“The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance“, Mission: Impossible – Fallout) and Juno Temple (Horns, Unsane). Pegg plays Theo, a well-known music producer who takes Hannah, a quiet, budding songwriter, under his wing. After successfully working together, the two quickly form a strong, personal bond and discover they have more in common than just a love of music. Theo is schizophrenic but takes medication that stabilizes him and allows him to function and similarly Hannah has a history of depression and is also being treated with medication. As many schizophrenics do, Theo sporadically decides to stop taking his medication and Hannah, feeling responsible for him, doesn’t know how to deal with the difficult situation she finds herself in.
I must admit, I mainly know Simon Pegg from Shaun of the Dead and not his more dramatic roles, so I was struck with how commanding and believable he is as Theo. One scene that is genuinely heartbreaking to watch is when Hannah struggles with an inconsolable Theo who is refusing to get out of the car because he claims he can hear transmissions under the static on the radio. Hannah is forced to juggle writing music for a pop singer, played by Alexandra Daddario, and begging their circle of friends to help a rapidly declining, increasingly chaotic Theo.
In the process of trying to help Theo, Hannah questions whether her medication is limiting her abilities and decides to stop taking it. While I have no personal experience with schizophrenia, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety many years ago and have always felt like I viewed the world through a different lens, so I can relate to Hannah’s need to experience life unmedicated and her feeling of helplessness at her inability to cope. While Temple and Pegg both give remarkable performances and realistically embody individuals struggling with mental illness, and the story is generally well-written, LOST TRANSMISSIONS sometimes feels like one long, slow, intimate, conversation-filled scene.
Cinematographer Arnau Valls Colomer transcendentally captures the esoteric intricacies of living with mental illness throughout Hannah’s endeavor to help Theo while also learning how to take care of herself. There is a beautifully effective scene where Theo jumps out of the car, and while chasing after him in a sun-drenched field with power lines overhead, Hannah has a moment of realization about Theo, as well as herself. The bleakness and hopelessness that comes with mental illness is explored when Theo ends up homeless on the streets after a psychiatric hospital refuses to hold him and Hannah is desperately searching for someone who will help him.
LOST TRANSMISSIONS is an illuminating, poignant portrayal of living with mental illness in a country with an inadequate, and often reluctant, healthcare system. Simon Pegg is outstanding and authentic, and Juno Temple gives a compassionate, convincing performance. The story is told in a profound, nuanced way and overall, only suffers from some minor pacing issues which might lead those with a short attention span to find it to be a bit slow, but ultimately this film will aid in raising awareness and in erasing the stigma attached to mental illness.
LOST TRANSMISSIONS will be in theaters and on VOD on March 13th.