“Bad day? Kill yourself. Heart broken? Kill yourself. Parking ticket? Kill yourself.”
When Dean (Nadine Crocker) utters this line in the 2022 film “Cont;nue,” it is with a wry, glib and darkly self-aware gallows humor. In lesser stories, that approach might be a mere stylistic affect, but anyone who has been suicidal, is suicidal and/or knows suicidal people can instantly recognize the authenticity in that line. As another character explains to Dean early in the story, suicidality is embedded in the DNA of those afflicted with it — perhaps literally, but definitely figuratively. It is the culmination of depression gnawing at your insides, and then getting mixed with whatever terrible external circumstances render one’s pain unbearable. Suicidality involves simultaneously being detached from reality and yet, paradoxically, staying lucid enough to know that (as Dean puts it at another point in the film), “I’m not crazy, I’m just sad.”
“Cont;nue” works because, to be blunt, Crocker is clearly drawing from her own experiences. Made in 2020, it tells the story of a suicidal patient named Dean who attempts to confront her mental health issues and rebuild her personal life after nearly dying from slashed wrists and a pills-and-booze combination. The fact that Crocker is personally familiar with this territory becomes clear from the raw intensity of the writing, as well as the many little moments that ring true. I say this as a person who will now publicly admit for the first time (at least in an article) that I’ve been suicidal. (Crocker’s pills-and-booze combination is, to say the least, a familiar flavor for me.) Since a very traumatic event happened to me in 2018 (the death of my dissertation adviser, John Pettegrew), I have been hospitalized either partially or entirely for suicidality on three separate occasions. As such, I know that a lot of the small observations in Crocker’s film are absolutely accurate: The fear of being 5150’d and having it follow you for the rest of your life; the exhausted medical staff constantly making judgment calls where they weigh protocol against compassion; the need for absolute candor — even when it makes others uncomfortable — in order to ever develop real trust; and the fact that, for all of the exploitative and frustrating aspects of going to an in-patient facility, the bonds you form with other patients are some of the most intimate that you’ll ever have. Even the color palettes are right: Dull pastels in the hospital scenes, and then hues that are more vibrant (but not necessarily more comforting) in the “real” world.
Even more to its credit, “Cont;nue” does not succumb to the temptation of many films in this genre by vilifying people who are not mentally ill. There is a crucial scene in the movie where Dean confronts Jackson (Anthony Caravella), her ex-boyfriend who found her after she had tried killing herself. Independent of the plot of the movie, that individual exchange could stand alone as an ideal short drama. Neither character is “right” or “wrong,” in the sense that conventional dramas would play out. Much like a very different kind of film, “Midsommar” (which I also reviewed) “Cont;nue” has the courage to acknowledge that both mentally ill individuals and their stressed, put-upon partners can be victims. When the demons are addiction, suicidality and intense forms of mental illness, the traditional moral rubrics used to separate dramatis personae into “protagonists” and “antagonists” can’t apply. So, too, does the ability to reliably expect emotional closure.
While “Cont;nue” does not end with easy answers, it does offer an observation with which few can in good faith disagree:
“Suicide destroys every life around it. Not yours. You’re gone.”
Like all good works of art, “Cont;nue” made me reflect deeply on my own life. There is not a day that goes by when I do not think about suicide. Even when I do not directly contemplate taking my own life, the impulses of past periods of suicidality perpetually percolate beneath the surface of my superficial equanimity. At the time that I write this article, I am at the tail end of one of the worst years of my life. I was physically attacked by three Donald Trump supporters, one of whom directly helped him in his 2020-2021 coup attempt, at an event to which I had been invited by a Republican state senate candidate. I left with a concussion, photophobia and PTSD, all of which still afflict me today. In addition to knowing that my attackers will likely never face accountability, much less legal consequences, I also live with the knowledge that I will also likely lose the PhD program to which I dedicated over a decade of my life. (I’ve faced discrimination from them for years for being autistic; getting a concussion added a second disability on top of the first one for which they were already discriminating against me.) And I am very, very alone as I go through these things.
I am going into this personal story because I cannot guarantee that I won’t lose my battle with the demons that tell me suicide is the answer. Often the pain of living is so great that death seems like a welcome reprieve. But I do know that there is a reason to fight, even if I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel right now for myself. Movies like “Cont;nue” show that there is a chance, maybe for me, and certainly for others.
Quality stories like this succeed because they’re smart, well-crafted and — above all else — they tell the truth.