Is That Me You’re Eating?
A powerful drama featuring a young woman’s bizarre sufferings through,
and eventual escape from, schizophrenia.
Is That Me You’re Eating?
by Jeremy Sandford
Based on the experience of schizophrenia as suffered
by one of his nearest and dearest
This is the first television film to feature schizophrenia from the point of view of the sufferer, showing through the medium of drama the hallucinatory symptoms that are often at one and the same time bizarre, burlesque and terrifying.
Schizophrenia is one of the commonest mental illnesses and is alleged to attack one in a hundred of the population.
It is strange but true that schizophrenia often seeks out the young, the beautiful and the idealistic. It inflicts on the sufferer an alternative reality, of equal validity to the ‘real’ reality which most of us accept as ‘the way things are’. Film is ideally suited to presenting the experience since it can layer, distort and run opposing views of reality simultaneously. For example, there can be one reality presented in picture and a quite different one in sound. The experience of this disease is often terrifying, but the incidents that follow from the disruption of ordinary reality are often highly dramatic, and the illness can sometimes be used for its histrionic opportunities by those who need to be the centre of the stage.
For much of the film the camera may rest between the eyes and ears of the heroine. Experimental camera moves, stage gauzes, distorting mirrors, microscopic and fish-eye lenses, body masks and surrealist lighting techniques will be harnessed to our representation of the schizophrenic reality.
© Jeremy Sandford
All rights asserted
Jeremy Sandford ... Best known for his BBC screenplays Cathy Come Home (“possibly the most successful TV play of all time” - The Express; “... television plays like Cathy Come Home have served to awaken us ... the passion of Jeremy Sandford’s play would be inadmissible in a documentary” - Quentin Crew in The Times) and Edna, the Inebriate Woman (“the difficulty is to control one’s superlatives” - The Times). Jeremy also scripted Don’t Let Them Kill Me on Wednesday (Granada TV), Dreaming Bandsmen (“... in most attractive bad taste throughout” - The Daily Mail), the BBC TV documentaries Hotel de Luxe and R.S. Thomas and many more. He has written extensively for radio and the theatre and published 13 books and countless articles addressing the interests of outcasts in contemporary Britain in both the ‘highbrow’ and ‘popular’ press.
Is That Me You’re Eating?
Joe and Lou are happily on holiday. Lou is sitting by a pool trailing her hand in the water, enjoying the reflection of a happy, fulfilled young woman that the water throws back. Suddenly, a very loud ‘ignorant’ voice in the centre of her head is shouting, “Don’t go in there!” The same words flash across the width of her vision in blinding neon, “DON’T GO IN THERE!”
Very shaken, she hurries back to Joe for reassurance. Did he say anything? Did he notice anything unusual? Was there someone else around?
Our story will follow Lou as the aural and visual hallucinations of the disease known as schizophrenia get a hold on her. At first they are infrequent. Later they will build to a horrifying climax.
The messages grow more frequent. Sitting in a café, prompted by the hallucinatory messages, Lou angrily demands of a nearby diner, pointing at his mutton chop, “Is that me you’re eating?”
The messages tell her that she has to walk ... walk ... She sets out to walk a thousand miles barefoot because the messages have told her that if she doesn’t the world will blow up. After forty miles she collapses with bleeding feet and is taken back home in a police car.
Lou’s boyfriend Joe, as the illness begins to get a hold, is completely loyal to her, confused but trying to be helpful. As the bizarre happenings multiply, however, resulting in danger or embarrassment to him, he tells Lou he doesn’t know how much longer he can stand the pace if she is going to carry on like this - but he will try.
Lou fails to resist the voices. She next arrives at the Manjushri Buddhist monastery in mid Wales where her voices tell her the Venerable Damshock, Geshela, the sacred chief monk, is about to be assassinated if she doesn’t intervene. There is silent meditation in progress which is thoroughly disrupted by her arrival. The monastery is a sturdy Victorian villa with one room fitted out as a lavish Eastern temple. Its walls depict ‘Hungry Ghosts’ and other horrors from the Buddhist hell. These disturb Lou yet further. An executive nun shaves Lou’s head, drives her to the nearest motorway and dumps her.
Lou surfaces from sedation in a psychiatric hospital. The messages inform her that she is to catch fire at 5.00 p.m. on Sunday. Hospital staff stand by with fire extinguishers. When she fails to catch fire the messages point out that the clocks went back last night. The ‘real’ 5.00 p.m. has not yet arrived. The rigmarole is repeated one hour later. Then the messages tell her the incendiary situation has been postponed by twenty four hours.
It is a feature of schizophrenia that there is no silence for the sufferer. As the illness establishes itself, the voices keep up a perpetual din from which there is no escape except sleep, and even this they strive to prevent. When sleep comes, Lou dreads the terrifying nightmares it brings.
At a ‘real’, as opposed to a ‘hallucinatory’ level, Lou’s life is falling apart. Joe is increasingly unable to cope. A charity intervenes to remove her from their home and houses her in a ‘sheltered’ flat. One night a man breaks in and tries to rape her. Her screams when she tries to defend herself cause complaints from neighbours. She goes from door to door asking for help and being refused. As a result of this commotion she is evicted by the charity and it out on the street. Out in demon territory.
The road rises steeply in front of her, then zooms down away, as if she were on a roller coaster. Now the demons have taken physical form in the murky darkness, strange barely decipherable shapes, taunting her. In a travesty of Christ’s seven days in the wilderness, she is shown kingdoms and offered dominion over them if she’ll give up her soul. They tease her with ignorant riddles, such as “What does a carrot between two potatoes remind you of?” Always she’s able to give a spiritual reply, rather than the smutty one they are expecting, until at length she’s stumped by one of them.
Obscenities appear on signposts. Objects turn into monsters. At one point the Buddhist nun appears with her nose enlarged into a fog horn.
As motor traffic pauses she is shouting that she believes in those things that are good and true, in springtime, in apples, in a boy’s voice singing, in lakes and all waters. We hear this fitfully like a radio programme being interfered with. The interference is the voices of the demons and their incessant jabber. When she says, “Please stop. Please let me think,” they reply, “Drink my pee!” She throws herself or is thrown on the ground and as the jabbering and music reach a climax, the wind blows over her.
A little later she realises that something unusual and blessed has happened. The voices have gone. She is experiencing silence.
She can’t believe it and dreads the voices returning but, as the minutes pass, she recognises that the demons have gone. Lou moves with rapture and in gratitude for the silence that has been returned to her.
Arriving at a river she looks for her reflection in it, dabbling in the water as she did at the start of the film. It flashes back at her, not the distraught woman we have grown used to through so many torments, but instead the radiant young woman we saw before the illness struck, at the start of the story.
On the opposite bank a group of people regard her with suspicion.
The drama is presented from Lou’s perspective. When she is calm, the camera is relatively steady. When she’s frantic, it moves in response to her turmoil. The camera perspective will also echo her moods and responses to her voices and demons, as well as the other characters in the film. Although the camera cannot sustain her actual viewpoint all the time, establishing shots could begin with a move off something which resonates with her current preoccupation.
The pace of the film will also echo her illness as it gets established. By starting slow and building towards ever greater time compression, we will convey an acute sense of the advance of her illness, and the widening gap between her reality and ‘our’ reality.
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