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“I want people to open up their mind” – Rose Writer/Director on Tackling Mental Illness

4 min read

Slasher killers, criminals, villains, we’ve all seen depictions of schizophrenia that are rooted in negative stereotypes or far removed from reality. In the past murderous behaviour on screen has been blamed on mental conditions, something that can perpetuate the idea that those with psychiatric disorders are a danger to society. Humanity and compassion isn’t always afforded to them and these characters can have unlikeable traits with little redeeming qualities, making it difficult to connect or root for them. 

Thankfully, Niels Arden Oplev’s Rose is refreshingly different. In part because the main character is based on his sister and real-life events. Protagonist Inger (Sofie Gråbøl) has schizophrenia and embarks on a challenging trip of a lifetime with her sister and brother-in-law. The trio travel from Denmark to Paris on a coach trip. But how do you decide what to keep in and leave out when the story is so deeply personal? 

“You can’t just make it exactly as it was because it becomes like a fictionalised documentary, and that doesn’t work emotionally for film,” says Oplev. In some ways, everything we see in Rose is true, but the events didn’t all unfold on the coach trip. Oplev decided to compact the incidents into an 8-day road trip rather than the years they spanned across to pique viewers’ interest. “You need a dramatic structure that works up and engages the audience, a story that comes to a climax,” Oplev tells FILMHOUNDS. But admittedly, the writer/director did find the process challenging and it took him five years to write. There was also an added pressure of the film being based on his family, something the filmmaker felt intensely during filming. He promised that the character’s names would be different to offer some distance between reality and his fictionalised version. 

His family played a key role in the final product we see on screen. Through interviews with his brother-in-law and sisters, Oplev was able to nail down the key plot points he wanted to involve. The cast also actively participated, with Sofie Gråbøl — who plays Inger — meeting the writer/director’s real sister, the inspiration for her character. “She’s been amazing with my sister. Even after the film. This whole experience has actually enriched my sister’s life,” Oplev comments, beaming. The film’s title, Rose, is partially a homage to his sister’s favourite song and the music she introduced him to before she became unwell.

One thing that can’t be understated is how much Gråbøl shines. With light, warm-hearted moments Inger the heroine is portrayed as an extremely intelligent woman who also happens to have schizophrenia. She can play musical instruments and speaks French with ease, but there are also points of contrast where the reality of the condition is highlighted and schizophrenia’s symptoms are on show for all to see. This was a conscious choice. “Sometimes she’s [Inger] doing so well you forget she’s sick, and the next day is terrible. There’s no logic as to why it goes from bad to good and that’s what I wanted to portray in the film. You have to let go of logic to understand this, which is very difficult for humans to do” Oplev adds. Humanising Inger was crucial for the filmmaker, alongside highlighting that her condition wasn’t her whole identity. We see Inger’s relationships, her touching new friendship with a young boy on the bus and her feelings of love. Inger’s schizophrenia plays a central role in the film, but it’s not the entirety of who she is. This feels radically different to the depictions we’ve seen before. 

Inger goes from being this person that nobody wants to travel with on the coach, to becoming the hero. Her relationship with her sister Ellen (Lena Marie Christensen) and her brother-in-law Vagn (Anders W Berthelsen) is one of the film’s highlights. We go on an emotional journey with them and see our heroine’s ups and downs. The caring pair walk Inger down from several metaphorical ledges and the warmth of their relationship shines through. This, alongside the flitting subtle moments, such as Inger hunching over and not wanting to walk — something that some schizophrenic people live with due to having a slower gait and balance problems — shows the intricacies of living with a mental health disorder.

And what does Oplev want people to take from Rose? 

“I would like them to travel through mental illness and all the stigmatism.” If they dare to open up their heart and mind to people who are different from them “that might enrich their own lives in a way that they didn’t expect.” 

Rose is now available to watch in some select cinemas