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Sharp Objects: Mental Illness, Addiction, and Female Heroism

Sharp Objects: Mental Illness, Addiction, and Female Heroism

Mental illness is a serious subject

Mental illness is a thing and it needs to be talked about. It needs to be normalized in the sense that it's okay to talk about it and it's normal to feel things like anxiety and depression. Sharp Objects, starring Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, and Eliza Scanlen among others, talks about mental illness. 

 Photo courtesy of HBO

Photo courtesy of HBO

While watching the series premiere (without having read the book and only having seen the previews), there were no preconceived notions of what Sharp Objects would be about. Adams plays the shows hero, Camille Preaker, who returns to her hometown on a journalism stint covering two recent murders - both of young women.

The first episode, titled "Vanished," opens with a bluesy, airy, and mysterious song playing over the opening credits. Already the show feels nostalgic but not "homey." Upon arriving to the first scene, the audience finds themselves in a flashback of two girls rollerblading around their neighborhood - the scene ends with Camille's younger version of herself coming into the adult Camille's bedroom to cut her hand with a paperclip. This is when Camille wakes up and the show really begins to pick up. 

The following 45 minutes or so of the hour long show take viewers through a series of events, characters, and flashbacks in order to set up what's to come in the series. But what's truly fascinating is the journey through Camille's mind. Viewers get a front row seat examination of alcoholism as we see Camille down drink after drink throughout the episode. The use of flashbacks within the episode give the audience a sense of uneasiness - like Camille has come home and yet she doesn't belong there (and maybe never has). Depression, anxiety, alcoholism, lack of sleep, anger, and stress are all supporting roles in this series and Adams plays with these emotions in such a way that makes Camille relatable and lovable (while also still a warning to ask for help were you to find yourself in her troubled shoes).

In an interview, Adams says this of "the sadness" that drives Camille: "I don’t have the same darkness and depth of internal anger, but that sort of sadness that drives you to be unkind to yourself? I think I have that.

 Photo courtesy of HBO

Photo courtesy of HBO

Towards the end of the episode the audience is left with more questions than answers, drawing us back in for more next week. However, it's safe to say that Camille is connected to these murders somehow through the flashbacks and the girl on the roller blades plays a part in all of that, too. The episode draws to a close as Camille draws a bath and her bare back exposes scars, showing that she has carved words and harmed herself using "sharp objects." 

The end credits roll and, after about a 3 minute long list of names, the increasingly more familiar mental health PSA pops up on the screen:

"If you or someone you know struggles with self-harm or substance abuse, please seek help by contacting the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 1-800-662-HELP (4357)"

Thank you, HBO and Gillian Flynn (the author of "Gone Girl") for not being afraid or ashamed to talk about mental illness through the lens of a female character. Not many years ago a women suffering from alcoholism and mental illness would have been written off as "weak," but now we know that she is nothing less than heroic and real. 

 Photo courtesy of HBO

Photo courtesy of HBO

Did you miss the series premiere of Sharp Objects? Watch it here.

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