Written and directed by Katherine O’Brien, Lost Transmissions centers on a young, performance-shy singer/songwriter named Hannah (Juno Temple) who connects with her friend, record producer Theo (Simon Pegg) over their shared love of music. He believes she is talented, and tries to build both her confidence and her professional resume by working with her. The only problem is, Theo has schizophrenia, and only sporadically stays on his medications. Hannah, who has also been medicated for most of her life for her own mental illness, is drawn to his magnetic, enigmatic personality, and starts to go down the same dangerous path. In a quest to draw on inspiration he has persuaded her is being dampened by drugs, she starts missing doses of her own meds.
This is a dark, sad tale that devolves as it goes, and is one many of us have experienced in some way, either firsthand, or through a friend with mental illness. Both Juno Temple and Simon Pegg do great work here, but it is Simon Pegg who is compelling enough to make us all watch as his character, off his meds, takes a blow torch to his life. It is revealed that this is only the last time, one of many, which is why his circle of friends is getting ever-smaller.
Also crystal clear but just as painful to watch is the way the US mental health system is set up to fail those that need it the most.
Simon Pegg comes by his authentic, riveting performance honestly. He himself has struggled with depression, which was diagnosed when he was 18. It led to alcoholism, something he has since gotten a handle on, in as much as anyone can. He has mentioned that during the worst of it, he hid it, and acted all the time. He has spoken openly about rehab, and the challenges of getting better, as well as his hope that, in knowing his story, people might be motivated to look at themselves. No doubt his deep, personal understanding of mental illness, and how it can take a life over, is in part what makes him so watchable, and his performance so authentic, if excruciating, to watch.
O’Brien doesn’t spare the viewers any of the difficult aspects of how schizophrenia expresses itself, nor the often dangerous situations in which those inflicted with the illness and their friends can find themselves. There is one scene where Theo’s delusions lead him to nearly wreck a car with a very pregnant friend sitting next to him. While the scene works for dramatic effect, it neither trivializes or glorifies the sickness.
There are moments where Hannah seems lost, or is making self-destructive choices in an attempt to help her friend. They definitely capture the difficulty of navigating the line between friendship and caretaking, which so often falls to women in our society. Also Lost Transmissions considers the connection between art, creativity, and clarity, and how potentially dangerous the belief that medication stunts creativity can be to those working to feel better. A hard watch, Lost Transmissions takes us into the world of the suffering, without bombast and without flamboyance, in a way rarely shown onscreen.
4 out of 5 stars