Minor spoilers for the film ‘Eli’
‘Eli’ is a 2019 horror movie directed by Ciaran Foy. The movie centers around the titular Eli and his struggle with a disorder that makes him highly allergic to the world around him. He lives in a literal bubble, he needs a suit similar to a space suit just to venture out into the world, and he is unable to interact with the world around him in any meaningful way. His parents are at their wits’ ends trying to find a solution for his myriad health problems. They end up investing almost all of their money in a potential cure at a “clean house”- an old renovated house that has been outfitted to allow him to breathe with ease. At first, it’s a miracle and the family is elated. Then Eli starts seeing and hearing terrifying things to which the clinic staff insist are hallucinations brought on by the medications that are bound to be his cure.
When the so-called hallucinations become too much for Eli to handle and he is found with various iterations of his name carved into a destroyed wardrobe in his room, he is punished by both the staff and his parents for lashing out at the hallucinations he has openly complained about while those closest to him have brushed it off. This is skipping over the harrowing treatments that Eli must endure without his parents present. He is strapped to tables while bright lights are shined in his face and he is prodded with painful and sharp needles. When Eli is uncomfortable and stressed out by his change in surroundings, he is told by hospital staff that it’s all just side effects to medication. He is repeatedly told by his mom to breathe and “pretend he’s blowing out candles on a birthday cake.” How many of us as adults have been enraged by someone telling us to breathe or to calm down when we are upset?
I don’t want to spoil the movie, because it’s honestly one of the best horror movies I’ve seen recently and has one of the greatest twists in horror history, but suffice it to say that Eli is not suffering from allergy conditions at all. His condition is much deeper and it does have a supernatural bent. Eli’s journey reminds me of that of a child with a mental illness. Parents and caretakers will blame children for their outbursts. They’ll ask them to calm down. Try to explain their issues with hyper-rational answers like ‘it’s just side effects to medication’- something that a child couldn’t possibly understand. Eli’s behavior escalates as the movie goes on and climaxes with him having an outburst in which he lashes out violently against those he loves the most.
I’m not saying that I have the solution for how to treat children struggling with mental illness, but movies like Eli show from the child’s point of view the struggle of living with mental illness as a child. Especially in a world that can be misunderstanding.