Screening two movies about persons suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might sound like a depressing project; but amazingly there are two such pictures on pay-per-view TV right now and they are both more than watchable notwithstanding a string of so-so reviews.
The visually lushest of the two is “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” the story of British Author A.A.Milne and how he came to create the beloved Winnie the Pooh stories. It turns out that when WWI broke out, Milne was a successful London playwright enjoying fame and fortune. Milne signed up to flight in France and was wounded at the Somme. When he returned to Britain he was suffering from what was then called “shell shock” Milne married Dorothy “Daphne” de Sélincourt in 1913 and their son Christopher Robin Milne was born in 1920.
The bulk of the story details how Milne, played by Domhnall Gleason came to write the Pooh stories while struggling with his PTSD. Spooked by the loud noises of London he bought a farm in Sussex which became the setting for the fictionalized Pooh stories which were based on his son Christopher’s stuffed toys—a Teddy Bear, a piglet and a kangaroo.
Unlike the bucolic and joyous childhood that the fictionalized Christopher Robin enjoyed, the real Christopher magnificently played by Will Tilston, had a strained relationship with his self-absorbed father and his mother who preferred London society to paying much attention to her son. When Winnie the Pooh became a massive international success, young Christopher Milne was put on display in a series of cheesy publicity tours aimed at selling books and Christopher Robin merchandise—a kind of Kardashianization of the little boy. Ultimately the boy rebels against his parents. The Milne character is not a particularly likeable person, but that is compensated for in the character of Olive, Christopher’s nanny played with warmth by Kelly Macdonald who was recently a key figure in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. The real star is 10-year old Tilston who one hopes will not suffer the kind of exploitation that is the fate of so many child actors and as well, the real Christopher Robin he portrayed.
For a look at another PTSD-ravaged writer we suggest Rebel in the Rye—a dark little movie–the story of legendary novelist J.D. Salinger, his struggles to get his short stories published, his massive success with the novel Catcher in the Rye, and his stunning and abrupt withdrawal from society to become a hermit in New Hampshire. Nicholas Hoult plays Salinger, a New Yorker who has recently been discharged from an army psychiatric ward following his return home from service in WWII where he saw action at Utah Beach on D-Day, in the Battle of the Bulge, and the Battle of Hürtgen Forest. Most traumatically, Salinger had participated in the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp where he saw unspeakable horrors. The Salinger character is obsessed, not simply to get published, but to get published in the New Yorker—the foremost literary journal of the day. He finally succeeds, but prior to his first acceptance with the New Yorker, Salinger gets published by low-budget Story magazine, whose publisher Whit Burnett taught Salinger fiction writing at Columbia. The Burnett character is played by Kevin Spacey, reminding one that even though Spacey has become an overnight pariah because of sexual misconduct, he is still a hell of an actor. Salinger then moves on to create his triumph, the Catcher in the Rye, a tale of adolescent alienation and ultimately breakdown. The book is an overnight success and Salinger is lionized by New York literary and Show biz elites. And just as suddenly he throws it all away and holes up in a farm in New Hampshire where he is out of the public eye for the last half century of his life. It appears he has never overcome the PTSD as he dabbled in Buddhism and even Scientology along the way. Despite scathing reviews generally, the movie is still must viewing for anybody who has read the Catcher in the Rye which at last count was about 65 million readers.