This film has been in my Netflix queue for a while now—I saw Robert Sheehan in the picture and knew I wanted to see it. The boy has a knack for humor and simultaneously creating sympathy for his normally tactless characters (Misfits anyone?). So when I finally got around to watching Gren Wells’ 2014 adaption of the German film Vincent Wants to Sea, I was surprised at my own disappointment. The Road Within tackles some big themes, some more effectively than others. Overall, I don’t regret watching it as it made me ask important questions about mental illness and how we want others to perceive us.
The entire film centers on mental illness, following three young individuals who suffer from some sort of mental disorder as they steal their therapists car and head to the ocean to spread the ashes of Vincent’s recently deceased mother. Vincent (Sheehan), the main character, has a severe case of Tourette’s, spending a large portion of the movie twitching and belligerently yelling inappropriate things. Marie (Zoe Kravitz) is anorexic, and we come to find that her heart has already given out on her once. Alex (Dev Patel) struggles with everyday activities due to his sever case of OCD, which causes him to burst out in anger if touched and constantly wear surgical gloves for protection against germs.
While the film is an obvious attempt to educate people about the stigmatism surrounding mental illness, it doesn’t do it effectively. Vincent’s yelling implies that he has Coprolalia, a condition that causes people to use obscene or inappropriate language and normally affects about 10 percent of people with Tourette’s. The movie utilizes this tic as something to draw sympathy from the audience, creating scenes of discomfort and embarrassment. When it’s not vying for pity, the outbursts are attempts at comedy, though they are mainly just cringe worthy.
What I found really interesting about the film is that the tics aren’t the thing that evokes a sense of empathy—in fact, it’s not even the moments where the characters demonstrate a sense of self-awareness towards their disorders and acknowledge their own sense of hopelessness. The most relatable and empathetic aspects of the film are the feelings of awkwardness and confusion when it comes to social acceptance. In the scene where Vincent and Marie sleep together, Vincent tells her that he loves her. His confession possibly stems from the lack of acceptance he’s felt in his life. The only person who seemed to stay with him was his mother, and she was an alcoholic who drank herself to death. It’s no wonder that he feels affection towards Marie—she’s the only person who’s given him a sense of normalcy.
After Vincent tells her he loves her, Marie looks away and refuses to say anything back to him. Vincent takes this as a rejection, though the audience can tell she lacks a sense of worth. Her own disorder affects how she mentally sees herself, making her question whether or not she deserves that kind of love. As a result, the audience sees both people who crave acceptance—one is denied it and the other is incapable of receiving it. Everyone can relate to feelings of rejection or insecurity.
Vincent’s father is the secondary storyline in the film—a self-centered politician who is afraid that his runaway son might affect how he does in the polls. Vincent’s self-awareness and his concern at how people perceive him is a potential result from his childhood. His father recollects in one scene his embarrassment of a son with Tourette’s, and how he wished for a different boy. He confesses that Vincent knew and it caused the disintegration of their relationship. This explains Vincent’s desire to be accepted fully, disorder and all, by someone else, and his anger at people mocking him throughout the film. Their reconciliation near the end is one that an audience craves, but seems too simple and forced. Vincent’s forgiveness and the ease of their final conversation seem too friendly and amiable for people who have never seen eye-to-eye. We are talking about a father that became estranged from his family because he couldn’t accept his son’s mental disorder.
My favorite scene from the film was a scene between Alex and Vincent, two unlikely friends who began the story bickering incessantly. Though their insults continued throughout the movie, though eventually they were said with more jest and humor behind them. Near the ending, there is a scene with the three main characters sleeping on a bed in a hotel room—Vincent spooning Marie in the middle and Alex on his left. Alex removes his gloves uncertainly and reaches over to touch Vincent’s hair—voluntary touching on his part is a big step forward for his illness and something not seen in the film up to this point. He pulls back at the last second, giving a slight shake of his head. Vincent realizes that he is trying to find a sense of comfort and holds his hand out. After a moment of hesitation, Alex grabs his hand and a small smile begins to form. Their hands locking together demonstrates a reconciliation of two people who have disagreed throughout the whole film. They’ve both grown to accept each other despite both their differences and their disorders.
The ending of the film showed a lack of resolution-but in the best way possible. Marie’s last scene in the hospital was heartbreaking—Vincent tells her that he can’t make her better. However, he mentions to Alex that they are going to visit her first thing in the morning, implying that while he knows he’s not the cure for her, he wants to be there to support her. Alex decides to stay with Vincent and the two go walking along a crowded beachfront with smiles on their faces, tics and surgical gloves still intact. There is no magical cure for the mental illnesses in the film, but the implication that acceptance and support can lead to a sense of fulfillment is the major takeaway.