Here are some movies about topics relevant to social work (grief, mental illness, drug addiction, poverty, immigration, etc.) I’m sure there are many more, but these are the movies I have found so far that best deal with these topics. Enjoy watching!
The Things We Lost in the Fire
The film begins with a funeral. Audrey is mourning the death of her husband, who was shot trying to help a women who was being abused. After her husband’s death, Audrey reaches out to her late husband’s best friend, Jerry, who is a recovering heroine addict. We see flashbacks to Audrey’s joyful life with her husband as Audrey and Jerry develop a relationship that allows them to support each other in their respective recoveries.
Halle Berry plays Audrey, who is completely different before and after her husband’s death. She does a great job of subtly showing the challenge of recovering after the accident.
This is probably the most well-known social work related movie. The main character, Precious, is a young women who is illiterate, obese, and pregnant with her second child by her father. When she gets kicked out of her school, she starts an alternative school where she meets girls who become her friends, and where she has a caring teacher. We are frequently shown what is happening in her mind during her worst moments, which reminds the viewer that we cannot judge someone by how they look or by a first impression. Precious is motivated to succeed, and eventually does well in school and escapes her abusive family. My only complaint is that one of the social workers who does a home visit completely misses what is going on at Precious’s house because she barely even asks any questions. However, the social worker she speaks to at the end and her teacher at the alternative school eventually do a lot to help Precious.
Reign over Me
A dentist living in New York is feeling frustrated with his daily life when he runs into an old friend from college. His friend, Charlie, has completely changed since September 11th, when his wife, two daughters, and their dog all died in the plane that hit the twin towers. Charlie no longer works or does much other than play video games, ride his segway around the city, and remodel his kitchen over and over again. He acts and speaks like a child, and refuses to admit that he remembers having a family. When his college friend starts to get into Charlie’s life again, he is forced to address what he has tried so hard to forget.
I really enjoyed this movie, and found it to be gripping and well-acted. It gives a perspective on how PTSD affects one person’s life, and shows the role of psychologists and family in the recovery process. The ending was maybe a little too optimistic to be believed, but overall, it was a good movie.
Short Term 12
The main character of this film is a young woman named Grace who is working in a center for at-risk teens. When one girl comes to the center who is being abused by her father, Grace connects with her over the fact that she had also been abused as a child. The acting in the film was very realistic, and I thought it was a good depiction of what a home for at-risk children looks like. What I found interesting is that Grace gets through to the girl who is being abused by sharing her own experience, which I think is generally discouraged for social workers. The main character of the film has far greater challenges at work once she starts mixing work with her personal life.
This Canadian film takes place in a school in Montreal, where a teacher has just committed suicide. An Algerian refugee takes over her class and helps the students deal with the loss of their teacher, while dealing with his own separation from his family he left in Algeria.
Amira & Sam
Amira, an illegal immigrant from Iraq, befriends Sam, an army veteran. A sweet movie with a couple of important topics, if not directly related to social work.
Silver Linings Playbook
The main character of this film, Pat, is on a restraining order from his wife after attacking the man his wife was having an affair with. He has bipolar disorder, and has to live with his mother and father (Robert de Niro, who has some of his own issues) after leaving a mental hospital. He befriends Tiffany, whose husband has just died and who is equally tactless and emotional. They bond over preparing for a dance competition, eventually falling in love.
I really enjoyed watching this movie, but I thought that the presence of mental illness was used more as an excuse to have characters with entertaining personalities than anything else. I also found Pat’s therapist unrealistic; he kept telling Pat to find a strategy to deal with his mood swings, but never once gives him a suggestion of what a strategy might be. A good movie, but not necessarily good for social workers.
Yes, this is a children’s movie, but I got so engrossed in it I almost cried at the end. It is the story of the emotions inside a child’s brain and how they interact. Her emotions are characters, such as joy, sadness, and anger. During a difficult time in the girl’s life, her emotions change and evolve, which gives the viewer an interesting perspective on healthy emotional developments. Just make sure you watch it with no kids around so that you can really enjoy it!
Have you seen any of these movies? What did you think? Do you have any more suggestions?