How Moon Knight tries to explore dissociative disorders – Digital Spy
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And doesn’t always succeed.
Each year as part of Mental Health Awareness Week, Digital Spy writers share their experiences of how entertainment can be part of the conversation around mental illness.
My therapist doesn’t really watch movies. Or TV, for that matter. It’s never been an issue — why should it be? — but it has made for some Seinfeld-worthy conversations. Imagine trying to describe the scene from Moon Knight in which Marc Spector allows his alter-personality Steven Grant to sacrifice himself, leaving him frozen in the sand in the desert of Duat, to someone who has never seen anything MCU, let alone this very niche Marvel show.
It is a credit to my therapist that she has never once laughed when I described this moment to her, or any other countless scenes that have resonated, angered, or otherwise left me verklempt.
In fact, she always seems to know exactly what I mean, and when I described the hippo god and the ship and the sand, she said, in complete seriousness: “He had to massacre part of himself.”
Moon Knight, as you all know, has dissociative identity disorder. This is one of three types of dissociative disorders, which also include depersonalisation-derealisation disorder and dissociative amnesia.
Marc navigates the former throughout his six-episode run. I have had to navigate the latter two for, give or take, fifteen years — unknown to myself. My own journey didn’t involve hippo gods or Ethan Hawke, unfortunately.
Until recently, I had only thought of dissociative disorders in the crudest terms – blacking out and waking up confused, or, of course, having multiple personalities — both facets of this kind of mental disorder on full, almost-always-comedic, display in Moon Knight.
Still misunderstood, or perhaps not well understood, the prevalent thinking is that dissociative disorders blossom as a coping mechanism, often as a way to deal with acute or sustained trauma.
Moon Knight‘s fifth episode explicitly shows us the ‘birth’ of Steven Grant, an alter personality Marc constructed to help him cope with the abuse from his mother and the loss of his brother, something which Marc feels he could have prevented.
My own trauma, too, comes from a parent. Luckily for me, not an abusive one. A loving one, a kind one, one who gave me my passion for words and my chutzpah (and my Jewishness). My father has made his way into my work before – from my condemnation of Ghostbusters Afterlife‘s manipulative CGI to, well, any time I write about anything Jewish.
But the truth is, I don’t think about him a lot. Like Marc, my life is full of moments sealed behind closed doors that I refuse to look at, flat out don’t remember, or peer in on with a total lack of emotional recognition, like an alien observing incomprehensible, unknowable, unfeelable scenes. One banal trauma after another.
In describing these feelings to my therapist, she succinctly stated: “It sounds like you’ve disassociated.” Thus began the winding process to where I am now, managing diagnoses and trying to find some kind of hook upon which to hang my mental-illness hat — something that will likely be a lifelong process.
In the rare moments in which Marc’s mental illness is given weight, it is in service of the larger ‘superhero’ story (in a way, we can’t fault Moon Knight for this – it is, after all, a superhero show). But the reality is that this kind of deep-rooted psychological schism isn’t a superpower — at least, not anymore.
The coping mechanisms that we — Marc and I and the countless other real people with dissociative disorders — develop in our younger years are an armour, but as we grow they become a cage. They no longer serve us and can often hinder us.
The hard part, the painful part, is learning to live in a way in which the cage might be there but the door is, at least, open. Not just to others but to the self. In Moon Knight lingo, your heart must be full and the scales must be balanced.
There are moments in which Marc reckons with his own identity, in which he seeks to amalgamate these disparate parts of himself into one whole person. However, Moon Knight‘s flaw is that in seeking to create an exceptionally-multifaceted character – after all, he’s multiple people – it flattens them all into one footnote in service of the plot.
In Moon Knight‘s defence, it’s rare to see this kind of mental illness handled on-screen with nuance. It is often hard to translate a sense of self-alienation visually.
Even in dialogue, it sounds, frankly, absurd, melodramatic and totally overblown and if you took half the things I said to my therapist and put them in a show, people would roll their eyes and say ‘no one talks like that’. (We do!)
Still, most people, we’d wager, have felt, at some point, a sense of alienation from themselves. The sudden, eye-opening realisation that no one else is inside your head, that everyone has a different version of the colour blue, or that we will all die someday and nobody truly knows what comes next.
So how do you explain to someone that this isn’t a passing thought? That I can be having a perfectly normal conversation with you and be completely outside of myself at the same time? Or the plethora of other mental illnesses that accompany dissociative disorders like intrusive thoughts, anxiety, insomnia, and eating disorders, amongst others?
Moon Knight tried, it really did, to hammer home this point — that DID (and, we’d argue, other dissociative disorders) isn’t episodic breaks in the movie of our lives. Vegan-Steven ordering a steak, the sole poignant tragicomic moment in the series, was Moon Knight‘s best attempt.
But for a character who outright calls his mental illness his ‘superpower’ (sorry, Khonshu), there isn’t enough of the reality to balance out the hyperbole of that statement. Sure, being able to step outside yourself, to detach from any emotion in a stressful situation can be helpful (and it’s a coping mechanism I have used in many other life situations) but it isn’t a superpower.
Perhaps it was asking too much of a Marvel property to deliver a bleak-yet-hopeful treatise on the connectivity of life with mental illness (for that, check out Everything Everywhere All At Once). What Moon Knight does, however, is turn Marc Spector into his own punchline, undermining the moments of true character development.
His growth and eventual denouement is an unearned panacea epiphany that is undone in one fell post-credit-scene-swoop. The show can’t meet the gravitas it wishes it had, leaving us with a disheartening end to a poorly executed attempt at narrative framing: Moon Knight doesn’t know who Moon Knight is. But I do.
If you’ve been affected by the issues raised in this story, organisations who can offer support include Samaritans on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org) or Mind on 0300 123 3393 (www.mind.org.uk). Readers in the US are encouraged to visit mentalhealth.gov.
via Inferse.com https://www.inferse.com
May 12, 2022 at 02:58PM