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Tanya Feke with Zoe Kravitz.

DIAGNOSIS MOVIES: The Road Within


As a family physician and movie critic, I am drawn to films that draw on medical topics, be they about physical or mental illness. It allows me to offer insight into my dual passions of film and medicine, the essence of Diagnosis Movies. I had the pleasure of meeting with director Gren Wells and the cast of THE ROAD WITHIN prior to the film’s world premiere at the LA Film Festival. This is one independent film that you have to hunt down and see. It stimulates the mind and stirs the soul.

Robert Sheehan transforms himself into Vincent, a young man affected by a rare form of Tourette syndrome known as coprolalia. Coprolalia, often misunderstood to be synonymous with Tourette syndrome in the public eye, results in uncontrolled swearing and outbursts. It is present in less than 10 percent of cases. Vincent’s struggles to live with his affliction are evident with every contorted gesture and verbal outburst. Sheehan’s research into the disease included months of research including moving in with advocate Jaxon Kramer who himself has Tourette syndrome. The result is a thoughtful and realistic glimpse into what life would be like with the condition.

Vincent is not the only one who must learn to cope with the effects of his Tourette syndrome. Emotionally abandoned by his father, the always brilliant Robert Patrick, Vincent is raised by a mother who resorts to alcohol as a defense mechanism. When she dies, Vincent finds himself in confrontation with his father who believes his best recourse is to send his son to an experimental clinic for treatment. Sadly, Bob Rhodes’ priorities are to his profession and his bid for political office rather than to his son. A son cursing and swearing at his campaign events after all would surely not earn him votes.

At the clinic, Vincent meets others with mental disorders and this is where writer/director Gren Wells flourishes. Vincent is roomed with Alex (Dev Patel), a young man with obsessive compulsive disorder who is overcome by the invasion of his personal space. His obsession with cleanliness triggers outbursts of painstaking fear. An unlikely friendship develops between the two as they learn to trust each other.

The relationship that develops between the roommates is only a fraction of the dynamic that builds between Vincent and female clinic patient Marie (Zoe Kravitz). Marie suffers from anorexia, and while the boys must struggle with the challenges their psychiatric conditions bring, her disease – if left unchecked – is one that could actually kill her. Kravitz lost considerable weight for the film and actually ate clay as a way to cleanse the body. Vincent develops sincere feelings for Marie but is she capable of loving another person if she does not love herself or her own body?

The trio make their way to the ocean after they steal their doctor’s car. The road trip becomes as much of a personal journey of self discovery as a scenic one. His father, forced to abandon his politics in the moment, unites with Dr. Mia Rose (Kyra Sedgewick) to track them down and does some growing of their own.

The acting in the film is full throttle, frequently hysterical and always honest. That can only be the case with exceptional directing. Cast and crew together give the proper stage to these conditions. People with psychiatric illness need not be ostracized from society. They have the potential, like everyone else, to live independent and meaningful lives if they look within themselves. A condition alone does not define you. You define you. While The Road Within remains a bit sensationalized in parts, it is an enriching journey into life’s realities.



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