Madness means you have no boundaries. The mind becomes porous. Imagination overflows. A madman can link ideas that seemingly have no connection. He wills the world anew, no matter the danger. As damaging as madness can be, it’s still a creative urge. When you’re insane, you invent new perspectives. Life is startling, every moment. The same way art and science seek to expose reality – to show us how vapid our worldview is – madness can never be complacent. Once you stop having ordinary thoughts, you no longer accept the ordinary for what it seems. In Trevor Sands’ short film, Inside, a man named Daniel is imprisoned in a mental hospital. He hears a tide of voices.
It’s the clamour in him: to escape.
Daniel lives in solitary confinement. He sees a psychiatrist, but otherwise he’s alone. He suffers from multiple personality disorder. The voices in his head are visualised for us as nine different people. They include: a burly bald man who expresses Daniel’s rage; a dark-haired woman who expresses his regret; a little girl who expresses his innocence, and a man of about his father’s age, who chips away at his self-esteem. Reconciling these competing voices is a daily struggle for Daniel, and when he’s inhabited by one personality, he is that person, mannerisms and all. He’s a tragic ventriloquist; he can’t speak in his own voice. A kindly doctor appears to want to help him, but even she exerts a malign and sinister control.
Shadows dominate in this film. People hide in shadows. Faces bathe in gloom. It seems to be night when Daniel is brought to the doctor’s office. But you have the feeling it’s always night-time in Daniel’s head. Light is only noticeable when something significant happens. A searchlight finds Daniel in his cell at the beginning. When Daniel makes a breakthrough, the same searchlight crosses the room. He’s depicted more like a prisoner than a mental patient, and behaves like a man scheming to break out of jail. Trevor Sands stages the counselling session like an interrogation sequence. The sense of claustrophobia is only intensified by the number of people in the room. As Daniel mouths the words the voices want him to speak, the interrogation becomes surreal, theatrical. It’s like watching a play after the audience has left, a paradox: you’re intruding on an exhibitionist.
Jeremy Sisto looks haunted for most of the film. He’s possessed – in one sense – so it seems a good fit. He re-shapes himself each time someone talks: now bigger, now smaller, now twice his own age, now a different sex. It’s an acting demonstration, but not an egotistical exercise. Look closely, and you see he’s acting in partnership with each other “voice”. They have to match each other exactly, or else the effect is lost. Sisto is a megaphone for a broken community. He’s smashed himself into pieces, and made a village from the wreck. With his straggling hair and piercing eyes, he could be a cult leader. You see the power he draws from these imaginary people, and the way each of them, parasitically, feeds on his strength.
The mental hospital is a place drawn from our nightmares. It’s more influenced by Sam Fuller’s classic Shock Corridor than it is by anything in the real world. Real mental asylums are more like monasteries. This place is more like a crypt. Its appearance is indicative of our fear of madness; the way insanity stalks us, a subconscious dread. Mental hospitals are always dungeons when we picture them; with padded cells and patients in straight-jackets. We never think of recovery. Madness – for sane people – is shameful. To be stripped like that, to have your dignity so violated… We prefer to think there’s no coming back. A mind scarred by madness is ugly, so (we imagine, like any other taboo) it must be hidden.
The irony is: human beings need madness. When Homo sapiens were at war with Neanderthals, they only won because they were mad. The creative urge – the urge to make art – was the same urge that created weapons. But this urge was never stable. Our ancestors weren’t filled with calm. The ability to invent (to visualise things that don’t exist, yet) is a blessing. But it’s dangerously close to the delusion of seeing things that aren’t there. When our thoughts race, we connect with this primal imagination. For some, it’s a hysterical feeling. For others, it provokes euphoria. Inside contains all these emotions. Madness is charismatic when it’s embodied by Jeremy Sisto.