When I was fifteen years old, I tried to commit suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. I had been taking an experimental prescription acne medication called Accutane, which caused my hormonal ups and downs to feel a thousand times more severe than they really were. In May of 2001, I downed thirty-two pills in my school's bathroom and, following medical treatment, was sent to a juvenile mental institution for a short period of time. Miraculously, the cloudiness I felt in every aspect of my life was eliminated once I realized I had hit rock bottom. I’ll never forget the experience of riding in the back of the ambulance, looking through the window, and for some ungodly reason, feeling okay for the first time in nearly a year. I laughed and cried happy tears as they put the IV needle into my arm and spoon fed me charcoal. The numbness went away and I wanted to live.
That was eight years ago and, thankfully, I’ve never felt that desperate since. But that doesn’t mean suicide hasn’t entered my mind on occasion. I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but once you’ve tried to end your own life, the idea of death isn’t as scary as it once was. It’s kind of like having an extra piece of weaponry at your disposal.
Evan Perry, the subject of Boy Interrupted, seems to have felt similarly. When he was also fifteen years old, Evan committed suicide by jumping from his bedroom in New York City. From a very early age, Evan was practically entranced by the idea of death and taking his own life. He was put on Prozac when he was five and spent a great deal of his young life in a psychologist’s office. Evan attempted suicide for the first time when he was in elementary school.
This gripping documentary was created by Evan’s parents, Dana and Hart Perry, who are professional filmmakers. They painstakingly trace their son’s demons from the point of his birth until the end of his life in 2005. The film has been well-received thus far and has garnered several awards and nominations, including one for best documentary at this year’s Sundance film festival. It premieres tomorrow, August 3rd at 9 p.m. EST on HBO.
When I first read about Boy Interrupted, I was worried the film would be either incredibly exploitive or apologetic. I wondered if Evan's parents were creating the documentary in order to settle accusations or suspicions, or as an attempt to paint themselves in a good light in a Lifetime-esque retelling. Thankfully, neither are the case.
Boy Interrupted plays as a bittersweet rendition and tribute to a person whose magnetic charm affected everyone around him. Evan was a talented, smart, and loved person during his lifetime, but his bi-polar disorder and various medications haunted him like he wanted to haunt life. His family, friends, therapists, doctors, and teachers all lend their hearts and honesty to this documentary by appearing on screen and talking about Evan. Through these interviews, as well as an abundance of home movie footage and photographs, we not only get to know Evan and his family, but we’re also asked to ponder the role of children in our society.
My favorite aspect of the documentary dealt primarily with Evan as a youngster. It seems as though Evan was born with the knowledge of his demise and, through all of the highs and lows, couldn’t veer from that path. We live in an era where child victimization is the norm. We like to think of kids as weak, whimpering little nymphs who are always in desperate need of saving. Boy Interrupted’s greatest strength, especially because it was created by his parents, is that it looks at Evan as a person, not a victim of circumstance, and looks at his demons straight in the eye. Certain people seem as though they are destined to lead lives of destruction. Of course the environment we grow up in influences that, but we’re also preordained with different personality traits and desires, no matter what happens to you when you leave the womb.
While watching the documentary, I often had tears streaming down my face because it brought back so many of the feelings I felt when I was in that suicidal state of mind. Evan may not be here anymore, but his parents have honored his memory in what I consider the best way possible. He may be gone, but this documentary will live on forever. I don’t know what would have happened to Evan if he had lived following his fatal attempt, but I can only vainly hope that he would have experienced the same moment of clarity I felt if he had.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please ask for help.