Afflictions: Culture and Mental Illness in Indonesia/ Volume 2: Neuropsychiatric Disorders


The Bird Dancer” (2010) A Balinese woman with Tourette’s Syndrome struggles for acceptance (40 min)

The film focuses on Gusti Ayu Suartini, a young Balinese woman living with Tourette’s syndrome. Members of Gusti’s small rural community, who do not recognize her illness as a medical disorder, regard her with scorn or pity. Mired in loneliness, Gusti begins to question the meaningfulness of her existence after treatment by western and traditional practitioners fails.

The film, which follows her slow, painful, and courageous effort to create an independent life for herself outside her village, addresses the profound impact of family and community’s acceptance or rejection on the lifecourse of persons living with a neuropsychiatric disorder. The Bird Dancer focuses on the social stigma of neuropsychiatric disorder and the human suffering it entails.

Family Victim” (2010) The ‘bad coconut’ of a Javanese family (38 min)

Estu Wardhani is a young Javanese man and has struggled for most of his life to achieve a sense of competency and inclusion in his familial and social world. The second youngest of eight children born to an upper-class family living in the rural region of Gunung Kidul in Cental Java, Estu has been ‘different’ ever since he was a young boy. Estu’s actions, and their disorienting power, cannot be understood outside of the cultural and social context within which they have taken shape nor can they be considered apart from the disruptive and painful effects they have on his family.

Estu’s problems are interpreted as ‘psychopathy’ by a psychiatrist, spirit possession by local healers, and as dimangakan or ‘spoiled’ by his family. Estu himself desires to be a ‘big man’, and he feels misunderstood and disrespected by his family. His case involves not only his own troubling symptoms, but the striking and extensive interpretive work his family, healers and community engages in while trying to understand Estu’s personality and behavior. This film explores the multiple ways the family interprets such dilemmas, and his tribulations and finally transformations as he matures into culturally defined adulthood.

Kites & Monsters” (2011) A Balinese boy’s imaginative journey towards recovery from Tourette’s Syndrome (25 min)

The film focuses on a growing boy, Wayan Yoga, and is not so much about illness as it is an exploration of the protective aspects of culture that may guide developmental neuropsychiatric processes. At six years old, Wayan Yoga is an energetic boy who flies kites and is obsessed with the monsters of Balinese mythology. He also has various tics, which move his parents to seek treatment. At twenty, he is a young man planning his career as a chef and an expressive Balinese dancer.

Ultimately, Wayan Yoga’s tics are insignificant to his evolving sense of self-compared to the saturation of symbols, images, and narratives of his culture. While Wayan must learn to negotiate the kinds of movements, interests, and goals that are culturally appropriate, the protective buffer of his family guides him successfully into normative Balinese adulthood.

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