A young man’s romantic delusion renews his psychiatrist’s passion for life. [Dir: Jeremy Leven/ Johnny Depp, Marlon Brando, Faye Dunaway/ 92 min/ Romance, Comedy/ Psychiatry & Force, Individualism & Independence]
This is a romantic film in every sense of the word: it’s about love, about making an adventure of life, and about the liberating effect that such an imaginative attitude has on people. Secondarily, it also does a good job of illustrating the libertarian case against institutionalization of nonviolent eccentrics.
As the film begins, a young man who believes that he is Don Juan is about to commit suicide because the woman he loves has spurned him. He stands on the ledge of an elevated billboard, presumably ready to jump. Just then a state-appointed psychiatrist arrives, and with a few choice words talks him out of it. Subsequently, in the course of analysis, the psychiatrist becomes enthralled with the young man’s improbable story.
The description the young man gives of his life is a great adventure, full of travel to exotic places, sword fighting, and lovemaking—a life of passion very much in contrast to that of the psychiatrist. It may be entirely fictional, a product of the young man’s deranged mind, or perhaps not. But either way, it renews in the psychiatrist a long lost enthusiasm for life. As it turns out, the young man isn’t completely delusional, just eccentric in the extreme. He simply prefers to perceive his life as a great adventure.
Nonetheless, the psychiatrist’s superiors are pressing for the young man to be permanently institutionalized and drugged. The psychiatrist realizes that such treatment would kill this romantic existence that the young man is living, an existence that he admires and has gradually become dependent upon for inspiration. All this comes to a charming if perhaps whimsical end, but part of the fun of this film is that it doesn’t try to be too “real.” Most of the film is a retelling by the young man of the colorful, supposedly true tale of his life, which takes many hilarious and unlikely turns.
The screenplay (by Jeremy Leven, who also directed) is clever, well written, and even poetic. Johnny Depp agreed to star in the film only on the condition that Marlon Brando play the part of the psychiatrist, and indeed the two have an excellent chemistry. The tag line for the film sums it up well: it’s “the story of the man who thought he was the greatest lover in the world … and the people who tried to cure him of it!”