William Styron, alas, is no more, so sayeth The New York Times in a nicely balanced piece. I remember years ago seeing my younger brother reading Darkness Visible, his memoir about depression, and thought, “That sounds like a sci-fi or fantasy novel.”
Then I stumbled across Dead Blue, a documentary about clinical depression, in which Styron is prominently featured (along with Mike Wallace). Styron talks elegantly about how his intellectual, artistic, and emotional sensibilities were deformed by his condition.
One of the strengths of the documentary is how vividly and chillingly it conveys the inexorable chemical degradation of severe clinical depression, giving a savage double meaning to “It’s all in your head.” The title of the film actually refers to the neurological image of a severely depressed brain.
The other strength, of course, is William Styron, who is every bit as satisfying in a capsule portrait of a writer as you would hope. This got me thinking about how few times I have seen writers convincingly portrayed on-screen. Did anyone buy Debra Winger as a poet in Shadowlands? Or Gabriel Byrne as Byron in Gothic? John Heard successfully imitated a poet for about 20 minutes in Mindwalk, and I would have loved to have seen the makers of Field of Dreams try to cast anyone as J.D. Salinger (who the Terrence Mann figure actually was in the book).