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Stutz: A conversation on men's mental health

Siena Stott discusses Jonah Hill's documentary and how potent it is to have a comedy actor give us an insight into therapy through his own experiences.

“Why am I hiding behind perfection”, Jonah Hill asks in this poignant documentary with his psychiatrist Phil Stutz. This is a movie about honesty and emotion as we as the viewer are invited into the conversation between Hill and the titular Stutz. From the beginning, we see that the very affectionate therapist-patient relationship is more characteristic of a father-son relationship, in the way that Jonah Hill admires and learns from Phil Stutz. They are both very open and honest in this documentary that turns the tables on the relationship between psychiatrist and patient. Hill states at the beginning that he’s making it to share the tools that he’s learned from Stutz in order to help others, but by the end he concludes it’s because he loves Stutz and wants to make this for him. This sort of ode-to-Stutz becomes increasingly apparent that it’s due to his Parkinson’s disease progressing, making one of Jonah’s concluding lines of the movie (which was years in the making) more potent: “It doesn’t matter what people think about the movie. It just matters that we finish it. Together.”

Toward the beginning of the movie Stutz questions Jonah's grief of losing his brother, but Jonah shuts down and doesn’t want to detract from the documentary focusing on Phil Stutz. But then, less than a quarter of a way through, we are taken out of this therapist facing patient set up and they both sit side by side facing us, the audience. The soft black and white filter is stripped back and we are faced with the green-screen backdrop and cameras. This pivotal scene is what makes this documentary work. It’s meta, imploring honesty both in therapy and on set, and Hill questions “How can I make a movie where I’m talking about people being vulnerable and working at their problems, and not be vulnerable myself”. Hill opens up that they’ve been shooting for over two years, wearing the same clothes every shoot and even wearing a wig to add to the illusion of it all being filmed in one take. In Hollywood, non-fictional narratives still have an element of fictitiousness for drama, but not in this movie which has also been produced by other Hollywood names such as Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara. What makes Stutz especially powerful is that Jonah Hill, a comedy actor, is the creator of this serious movie – but don’t be misled, it’s not a movie devoid of laughter. A majority of comedians are (ironically) depressed, so it’s refreshing to see this version of Jonah Hill: raw, honest, full of emotion.

'his success didn’t cure any of his self-esteem issues, it just made him more depressed'

Hill is self-aware, extremely grateful for his privileges allowing him to enter his “perfect snapshot” of life early in terms of career. However, when his success didn’t cure any of his self-esteem issues, it just made him more depressed. He describes his journey growing up as an overweight child, facing bullying from the media in his career and how this impacted his mental health. He says that the media inhibited his growth from accepting himself, and made him ashamed of his ‘shadow’ – an inescapable version of yourself that you’re most ashamed of. Stutz helped warm Hill into the accepting, confident version of himself that he is today by explaining the beauty of negativity. You need negativity to grow, because by loving and sitting in the feelings of pain, uncertainty and doing the work, that’s where the beauty really comes from: the process.

'According to Stutz, 85% of mental health is lifestyle changes, and he expresses the need to master the practical changes which he calls the life force'

According to Stutz, 85% of mental health is lifestyle changes, and he expresses the need to master the practical changes which he calls the ‘life force’. If you’ve lost all focus on your life force “get yourself in a relationship with your unconscious”. The way to activate this relationship with your unconscious mind is by writing. Your writing, whether that be through journaling or shadow-work, will be a mirror to the emotions you're unable to recognise in your consciousness. Once you’ve done this groundwork, you can begin to think of life as a string of pearls, and you are the person that puts the next pearl on the string. It demonstrates this idea of being the only creator of your actions and navigator of your life. Don’t measure your actions. Just getting out of bed can count as a pearl. By your actions being of the same magnitude, you’re constantly achieving. Stutz then elaborates that there can be a turd in every pearl, but Hill says that he believes there’s a pearl in every turd. Whatever your philosophy, whether there’s good in bad or bad in good, just know that nothing is perfect so don’t strive for that, just look for the silver linings.

Both of these men have experienced grief and denial from losing their brothers young. This shared pain becomes a focal point of the movie and is what the documentary is dedicated to in the closing credits. They also share tainted mother-son relationships, where they felt their mothers rejected them. Jonah felt a pain from this primary female figure in his life not accepting the way he looks, and Stutz’s mother disliked all men because of her trauma with her own father. This cycle of discomfort and lack of validation from parents’, specifically of the opposite sex to the child, is a familiar feeling shared by many of the viewers. And by watching these two successful males' conversations on their experiences, it makes us feel more welcome, understood, and humanised. Given the bad rap that many men get from radical feminism, it’s important to actually see people as human, sharing the same insecurities and need for love. If we perpetuate these gaps of understanding between genders it will ultimately lead to the ostracisation of innocent individuals and instil more social animosity and anxiety. As Stutz says toward the end of the movie, the secret of life is that “nobody has everything figured out” and “you’re not going to win everytime”; and this ambiguity which many see as a weakness or downfall is arguably what makes us human and deserving of love.

Stutz has a very warm presence, something he has always had since growing up therapising his parents’ anxieties. After they talk with Hill’s mother on her parenting, Stutz says that he wishes he had had that opportunity with his own mother. Hill peels more and more layers away from Stutz, and even when Stutz tries deflecting with humour (as many of us do), we become aware of the painfully, hard-hitting humanness of it all. The whole thing feels like a firm, warm hug. There’s a Wes Anderson tranquillity from staring into their eyes as they break the fourth wall. We are there with them. This is our therapy.

'The whole thing feels like a firm, warm hug'

They discuss death and overcoming the fear of loss by detaching from the physical world, practising non-attachment and being willing to lose everything. Stutz illustrates this with the beautiful idea of a ‘Sun World’ where all you can do is give, not take (as possession doesn’t exist in the Sun World). Death isn’t a permanent condition, and this life may not be our first or last. We need to believe in rebirth, not within a religious context, but rather a philosophical one. This belief aligns to what the poet Rumi once said: “Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form”. Similarly with Buddha, “Attachment is the root of all suffering”.

Aside from these older philosophical perspectives, Stutz expands on lessons and tools such as learning active love, radical acceptance, loss processing and understanding the grateful flow with vivid anecdotes and tough realities. As much as I’d love to elaborate on these in this article, I’d rather you see how inspiringly he explains these in the documentary. This is a must-see perspective on therapy and spotlight on men’s mental health. The relationship these two men have is suffused with love and it’s endearing to watch. 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, 100% from Siena Stott.

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