Burn: Movie and Mental Health

This is a very interesting movie. You will enjoy this thriller.

Melinda is the lead character and she is fabulously played by Tilda Cobham-Hervey.

We realise that Melinda is a person who is humble, polite and friendly. She wants to help people and always has a smile on her face. However, she is treated by others with disdain, rudeness or insults. In American lingo, Melinda would be a ‘doormat’ or a ‘pin cushion’ who others use to vent out their frustrations and anger knowing well that Melinda will not reciprocate as strongly as she should. The customer who is smoking while at the pump, abuses and shouts at Melinda when she rightfully points out that he shouldn’t be smoking while filling his car with gas. The (unseen) previous shift worker who has left without cleaning the bathroom, again. Sheila, the co-worker, who films Melinda, without her consent, and refuses to delete the video. Then the customer who isn’t interested in Melinda, even when she makes a friendly gesture AFTER he has been rudely put off by Sheila.

Melinda is a person, who is interested in people but others are not responding in the way she expects. A problem that is perpetually exacerbated in today’s society where likes and favourites determine your social status.
In Melinda’s words: “people don’t usually give me the chance, to get to know me”! Melinda is sad and unhappy inside, but she doesn’t have the awareness of being lonely, without friends, and neither does she realise that the problem is partly within herself and partly in the people/society we live among. Psychiatrists have almost always pointed out that having a close relationship with another person, one with whom emotional sharing is possible openly; is the best preventive measure to save oneself from bad mental health.

Soon, we see Melinda putting her finger in hot coffee and I realise that there is a problem. Self-harm is your mind’s call for help. It is an indication that the emotions and feelings are taking control of behaviour and thoughts and inflicting physical pain seems to be a response of the mind to escape the mental pain. Later, Melinda says “I burn myself all the time”! She however, doesn’t understand that it is a sign to see a mental health professional. We can gradually help you in evaluating why the self-harm thought/behaviour emerges, when it may come out, and what damage it is doing to the body and mind. Over a period of time, as the therapist and you begin to trust each other and open up much more, the links between mood, emotions, feelings on the one hand and thoughts and behaviour become clearer. Then some problems can be solved or new coping skills can be learnt.

The thrill of the movie starts, when a handsome man comes into the gas-station to rob the money. Melinda’s thought process takes off on a different tangent altogether, as she offers to bring the money from the safe for the robber but then wants to go with him!! Seems hilarious at first, but the essence of Melinda’s mind is that she is unable to come up with reasonable and rational responses to unplanned incidents. This again is known to be a bother for many of those who are fighting with mental disorders. As long as life is stable, routine and predictable; mood and behaviour too is fine. But, when any change occurs especially suddenly, then responses can be of fear, withdrawal, avoidance or as in Melinda’s case, unreasonable recklessness! Life goes out of control from that moment.

Even while Melinda comes to terms with the robber’s refusal to take her with him, her anger takes over and for the first time, perhaps, Melinda acts forcefully. After pouring lots of coffee on her hand, perhaps to stabilise her emotional whirlpool of pain, misery and loneliness; she gets control of the situation! The robber is bound and it is time to find out “Why didn’t you want me to go with you?” She doesn’t call the police, even though she has a dead body on her hands, instead she cleans up and waits for the robber to regain consciousness. “Why didn’t you just leave with me then,” is her refrain while interviewing the tied and bound man.

Unfortunately, that is how some hurt and unwell minds work. In Melinda’s mind, the attempted robbery and Sheila’s death are less imperative than the reason of why this ‘relationship’ between her and the robber didn’t start. Maybe it is also about having control for the first time with another person! It is during this conversation between Melinda and Billy that we find out how out of sync with reality Melinda’s thoughts are.

She talks about gas stations as community gathering centres and how she meets many people daily during her shift. It is in response to a question by Billy as to whether Melinda is unhappy with her life. We mental health professionals term such ‘beliefs’ as schemas which serve to protect the mind from the pain of accepting that life is unhappy and hence one goes around with the imagination of doing something great and hence being happy.

She also talks of fire as “forcing things to change” and it “heals (things) back to what it was”.
Her awkward attempt at having sex with the gagged and bound robber after giving him some stimulating drugs also fails and perhaps that is when Melinda realises that she is alone and even this ‘relationship’ does not exist. We see her with the money and the gun, contemplating shooting herself but unable to do so.
One bad decision after another leads to further spiral downwards for Melinda. She looks for an escape plan-bury the bodies, perhaps? But the bikers arrive and Melinda’s lack of social communication skills are demonstrated again, when she asks them “do you guys do illegal things. . . . . . accidentally kill people and get rid of dead bodies?” Then, when she pulls a gun, on a group of bikers (!), they ask her “Have you lost your f…ing mind,” Melinda replies “it is quite possible” (!) So, awareness without understanding, mental health is not all that good, realises Melinda. The bikers leave, after making Melinda realise that there are cameras everywhere!

When the mind is not fully well, we take risks, right! We see Melinda with a cigarette in her mouth, filling petrol in cans from the pump. Officer Liu arrives, stalling the plan for a while, and Melinda further reveals to us her mental state; she doesn’t trust the officer when he says he cares for her and wants to make sure that she is safe. Melinda mentions, ‘You don’t need to say that . . . . . . . you are just doing your job . . . . . . . . you never told me these things before. . . . . . so there is no need to say it now, it is too late!’
By the end of the movie though Officer Liu comes on Melinda’s call and Melinda feels that he was telling the truth earlier-(about caring for her and wanting to keep her safe).

You can decide what you feel for Melinda- sympathy, empathy, pity, compassion or understanding. Or are you one of those who has disdain, disappointment, and you feel that she should be tried for her part in the crime! I would root for helping Melinda (and people who are awkward, termed eccentric and cruelly called freaks). I would also strongly object to those who (like Sheila and other characters) mistreat and emotionally abuse people who are not a good fit into our social communication patterns. Be polite and friendly to everyone, it doesn’t hurt and by caring for Melinda, you will be reinforcing the trust in human society that we do care!!