Afflictions: Culture & Mental Illness in Indonesia
“Afflictions: Culture & Mental Illness in Indonesia” is a documentary film series that examines the lives of severely mentally ill people living on the Indonesian islands of Bali and Java. “Afflictions” is based on more than a decade of clinical ethnographic research conducted by documentary filmmaker and anthropologist Dr. Robert Lemelson.
Each of the six films—“Memory of My Face,” “The Bird Dancer,” “Family Victim,” “Ritual Burdens,” “Shadows and Illuminations” and “Kites & Monsters”— tells the story of the diagnosis, care and treatment an Indonesian suffering from a mental disorder and looks at the impact of culture, family and community on the course of their illness. Themes emerge with universal impact: how family members treat the mentally ill shapes outcomes, both positive and negative; culture has the power to protect and buffer the mentally ill or exacerbate their condition; to understand the experience of the mentally ill, it is essential to understand their cultural universe and values; and finally, pharmaceutical treatment can be effective or unsuccessful.
Volume 1: Psychotic Disorders
“Shadows and Illuminations” (2010) follows Nyoman Kereta and explores how non-normative mental events and behavior, including auditory and visual hallucinations, can be understood or interpreted in multiple ways outside the confines of western psychiatric diagnosis.
“Memory of My Face” (2011) follows Bambang Rudjito and illustrates how the residues of colonialism and the pervasive influence of globalization affects the subjective experience of mental illness.
“Ritual Burdens” (2011) follows Ni Ketut Kasih and questions how communal spiritual obligations may be folded into personal schemas of stress to trigger episodes of mental illness
Volume 2: Neuropsychiatric Disorders
“The Bird Dancer” (2010) follows Gusti Ayu Suartini and focuses on the social stigma of neuropsychiatric disorder and the human suffering it entails.
“Family Victim” (2010) follows Estu Wardhani and examines the bi-directional influences between an individual considered to have a disruptive or troublesome personality and his social world.
“Kites & Monsters” (2011) follows Wayan Yoga from boyhood to manhood and discovers the influential and protective aspects of culture that may guide developmental neuropsychiatric processes.
The film series is unique is at is the first film series on mental illness in the developing world and integrates over 13 years of ethnographic research and footage. Some of the themes that emerge are the way in which family members treat the mentally ill shapes positive and negative outcomes, how culture has the power to protect and buffer the mentally ill or exacerbate their condition, how pharmaceutical treatment can be effective and unsuccessful, and that to understand the experience of the mentally ill, it is essential to understand their cultural context and values.