Sandra Nettlebeck both wrote and directed this somber, intense study about clinical depression. The film is long, is a one-note song, and is in need of editing and lightening - or is it? What Nettleback has created is an atmosphere that very likely simulates the way the world is viewed and coped with by those who are suffering from suicidal depression. It is a lesson as much as it is a film.
Helen (Ashley Judd) is a popular professor of music theory, and accomplished pianist, and the wife of handsome and successful lawyer David (Goran Visnjic), and mother of a charming teenager Julie (Alexia Fast) all of whom we meet at a surprise birthday party for Helen. But very gradually Helen begins to change from the ebullient happy woman to a more quiet, pensive, obviously injured woman. Concentration fails, she cannot get enough sleep, her connection to the world begins to crumble and finally she breaks into the depths of depression. Despite the support of David and Julie and denying the medical assistance of psychiatrist Dr. Sherman (Alberta Watson), Helen continues to sink deeper into the profound sadness of clinical depression. One of Helen's students, Mathilda (Lauren Lee Smith) seems to be one of the few people with whom Helen can relate: we are lead to discover Mathilda suffers from a similar disorder. The truth about Helen's medical history finally surfaces: she has had suicidal ideation and clinical depression in her past When married before to Frank (David Hewlett) and soon after the birth of Julie (?postpartum depression?) Helen required psychiatric hospitalization, her marriage failed, and she ultimately met David who has been the ideal husband and father for Julie. Helen escapes her home, is hospitalized and undergoes shock therapy after a suicide attempt - her only apparent understanding contact is the nebulously drawn Mathilda. How Helen emerges from her illness and reorganizes her life is the ending of the film.
The film benefits greatly from the moody musical score by Tim Despic with the aid of James Edward Barker ( and Schumann and Schubert...) and the mood is kept appropriately dark by the cinematography by Michael Bertl. The quartet of actors - Judd, Visnjic, Smith, and Fast) - are outstanding as is the well selected group of actors for supporting roles. But for this study of the depths of depression - mostly dark scenes of Helen lying in bed or weeping - is, at two hours, a bit more than an audience can handle. In order to appreciate the quality of this film the viewer must accept the fact that the main point of the film is a study of the crippling illness of depression. And that it does extremely well. Grady Harp, August 10