Spoiler alert: This article refers to plot points in the film Tully.
To some, it's a great piece of cinema, but to others, the portrayal of postpartum depression in Tully isn't entertaining, it's worrisome.
The resulting controversy may do what the film does not: Educate the public about maternal mental health. The recent New York Times coverage proves people are talking about Tully, and that's a good thing, even if the movie didn't live up to some film-goers expectations.
When the Tully trailer came out we at Motherly covered it with excitement. The promotional images seemed to portray the day-to-day struggles of motherhood accurately, in a way we'd never seen on the big screen.
But when Motherly's Digital Education Editor Diana Spalding went to an advanced screening, the tone of our Tully coverage changed. A midwife and pediatric nurse, Spalding had some real concerns about the problematic way the film mislabels postpartum psychosis as the more common postpartum depression. Her review of the film spread beyond our community and went viral, as reported in the New York Times.
"I love that people are talking about it as much as they are. That's a big step towards reducing the silence and stigma around postpartum mood disorders for sure. We need to be able to have open conversations, so this is a great start," says Spalding.
In her review Spalding wrote about how she wished Marlo (a mom of three played by Charlize Theron) got treatment for her postpartum psychosis after experiencing hallucinations and delusions.
In the film, Marlo is diagnosed with postpartum depression, but as Spalding pointed out in her review, the symptoms of that common condition do not include the kind of hallucinations Theron's character experiences. Film-goers see Marlo being (incorrectly) diagnosed with PPD, but they do not ever see her getting help for it. For Spalding, that—and the film's surprise reveal of Marlo's mental illness—are troubling. "I still wish that the movie had shown her receiving treatment and that the trailers alluded to her psychosis- it's potential to be triggering for people is huge and unfair," Spalding says.
Filmmaker Diablo Cody tells the New York Times she made a conscious decision to not consult with any maternal mental health experts before writing the script, which may explain why the mental illness the character experiences is described as depression when it is actually psychosis.
The controversy around the film is amplifying opinions and statements from the kinds of experts Cody did not consult, and that's a good thing. While Spalding is happy to see maternal mental health being talked about on a national level, she says it's important to also remember the smaller, more intimate discussions that aren't being had. "I also worry about the women who don't have the opportunity to have conversations about this topic. I worry that the movie will make them feel like this is just 'how it is' and they have to suffer alone," she says.
If you are suffering from postpartum depression, psychosis, or any kind of perinatal mood disorder, know that you are not alone and you don't have to suffer.
The film ends with a diagnosis, but in real life, a diagnosis is just the beginning of a healing journey. Film-goers are left to assume Marlo gets some help with her mental health, but in real life, we need to make sure mamas do. That's a conversation worth having.