"I know more about the business of suicide in my baby finger, than you do in all your years of training and Freud reading. I gurran-fuckin'-tee ya that"
Much like England is primarily know for it's sumptuous costume drama's and it's pedestrian Rom-Com's, Irish film has sadly been dominated by films about being poor, catholic, involved in 'the troubles' or preferably all three. So it's quite refreshing to see a contemporary Irish film that avoids the typical cliché’s, looking at the far more challenging topic of mental illness instead.
Dealing with the suicide of his father, ‘live wire’ Jonathan (Cillian Murphy) tries to handle his grief by picking up a girl, taking drugs, stealing a convertible and driving it off a cliff with his fathers ashes. Given the option of going to prison or spending some time in a mental institution, Jonathan chooses the latter encountering fellow patients Toby (Jonathan Jackson) and Rachel (Tricia Vessey). Sarcastically spurning the earnest attempts of world weary Dr. Figure (Stephen Rea) to help him, Jonathan thinks that he's there for a holiday, not there to be helped. Dealing with his new found friends and their problem however, Jonathan is forced to learn a few things about mental illness while facing up to his own problems.
Closer to 'Girl Interrupted' than 'One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest', 'On the Edge' takes a far more grounded look at mental illness and suicide, looking at the realities of for the people affected by them and those who care for them. Initially coming across as Holden Caulfield on speed, Cillian Murphy does a great job of stripping back the layers to reveal the emotionally damaged individual hiding behind the anarchy he causes. While Jonathan Jackson and Tricia Vessey are equally impressive, giving much more subdued performances that are equally heart warming and heart breaking, Stephen Rea is sadly sidelined for the most part letting things play out on their own thankfully, rather than striving for that Hollywood miracle emotional breakthrough that would cure his patients problems in one Oscar baiting swoop. While there are some laughs to be had (Jonathan comparing Dr. Figure to Robin Williams and sarcastically suggesting they 'bond' was particularly funny) it's clear suicide is no laughing matter and that mental illness can't always be tied up in a neat Hollywood bow, people are just more complex than that.
This is not a feel good crowd pleaser, nor a subversive look at mental institutionalisation and it's unlikely to have mass appeal. It's a simple, tender story about damaged individuals and how difficult even just continuing can be for them. The Hollywood dramatics are checked at the door, in favour of study of more real, tragically flawed individuals just trying to take one day at a time, but anyone interested in the topic may find it quite a rewarding experience.