Frank (2014) Review/Discussion

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

You know those films on Netflix that you constantly scroll past and say "oh I really want to watch that one" and then don't for the next year? Frank was one of those films. But Matt and I finally took the plunge and decided to watch it and I'm very glad we did. There will be spoilers in this as I am discussing parts of the film in detail.
An illustration of Frank with the writing Frank (2014) Review/Discussion
Guys I drew this and I'm super proud of it!

Frank was written by Peter Straughan and Jon Ronson, who you may know as the author of The Psychopath Test and So You've Been Publicly Shamed. The film stars Michael Fassbander as the titular Frank, alongside Maggie Gyllenhaal and Domhnall Gleeson. The cast is brilliant, but Fassbender shines in this role, despite the fact that he is wearing a giant fake head. He is fast becoming one of my favourite actors after seeing his performance in this and Steve Jobs which I reviewed here. 

The film follows Jon (Gleeson) in his quest to find inspiration in order to create brilliant music. Whilst doing so, he sees a man trying to drown himself in the sea, who happens to be the keyboardist of a band, the Soronprfbs. Jon is asked to fill in for the keyboardist whereupon he meets Frank, a man who wears a papier-mâché head 24/7, and the rest of the strange band members. Jon gets to know the band as they seclude themselves from society and write and album together. The film is mostly inspired by Frank Sidebottom but partly also other muscians such as Captain Beefheart.

When I sat down to watch this film, I didn't really know what to expect. I wasn't sure how much of it was true to real life and I still don't know who exactly Frank Sidebottom is. I certainly didn't expect to be told a beautiful story about mental health. 

It's a film that explores the relationship between art and the artist and also the connection between mental health and art. So often people believe that mental health is intrinsically linked to being artistic and it's far too easy to reel off a list of artists who are also mentally ill. Jon is infatuated with this concept: 

"...despite all the hardships I have suffered here, something inside me is beginning to stir. I've come to realise that this is my Bluff, Kansas. That here in Vetno, I have found my abusive childhood, my mental hospital. That which pushes me to my furthest corners". 

He deeply believes that in order to release his creativity, he must suffer. As such, he is also obsessed with the idea of Frank and his mental illness. Frank is a spectacle for him and for Jon's growing following on the internet. He never thinks about what is best for Frank. Towards the end of the film, Jon forces Frank to take off the head, and obviously Frank freaks out and runs away. Jon doesn't see him again until he tracks down his parents and visits them.  This is one of my favourite parts of the film because encapsulates the entire message of the film. Jon asks what happened to Frank to make him the way he is. His father states, "nothing happened to him. He's got a mental illness". After that when Jon wonders about the "torment [Frank] went through to make the great music", Frank's Mom says, "The torment didn't make the music. He was always musical, if anything it slowed him down". 

This is a great part of the movie that plays with two different ideas. So many people believe that mental illness must have a source, whether it's a terrible childhood, or a bad breakup or a family member's death. But that's simply not the case. Frank has loving parents and a good family home, just like Jon had (as he himself notes) and still Frank suffers from a mental health problem, just like so many people in the world. 

Secondly, coming back to the idea that mental illness inspires artistic tendencies, Frank's mother saying that his mental illness slowed Frank down is such an important idea. I don't know what the link is between mental illness and art; there definitely is one. But anyone that has mental health problems knows how difficult it is to do anything during a bad period, let alone be creative in anyway. I love that this film acknowledges this. There is no judgement of Frank. The film never tries to suggest that Frank's mental health issues are the reason for his creativity. 

The film also looks at social media. We see Jon's tweets as he is out in the forest writing with the band. We see Jon's fame grow as people become more interested in Frank and eventually Jon begins filming the band and posting to YouTube. I think this is a very interesting stance for the film. Frank and his band are so separate from the internet, and are only concerned about the music. Jon however, seems almost to think that the rest of the world is entitled to know about this band despite never asking for their permission. This hits the nail of the head about today's internet culture. The internet is used quite often nowadays as a place to share things that aren't really theirs to share. Most recently an example of this is the nude photos that were leaked of Orlando Bloom.

Basically I really enjoyed this film and I recommend you watch it immediately. It's a film I'll come back to a lot I think. If you're a fan of strange, indie films that discuss mental health, you should definitely watch this film!


Thanks for reading!

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