The romantic critique of antidepressants returns over and over again in art and music. It appears in Garden State, the 2004 film in which the protagonist, Andrew, a twentysomething man played by Zach Braff, uses the occasion of a trip home to New Jersey to go off the battery of antidepressants and mood stabilizers that his psychiatrist father has had him taking for years. He reconnects with his old friends and forms a relationship with a quirky young woman played by Natalie Portman, connections that are vivifying where his medications merely numbed and stifled him.
As the film progresses, Andrew loosens up, finally beginning to smile and laugh. See, the movie says, he doesn’t need pills! He needs love! He needs to feel! He needs Natalie Portman! The love-conquers-all plot builds up toward a cleansing rainstorm and a literal primal scream at the bottom of a quarry.
The romantic critique is easy to grasp and smugly satisfying, but it’s also a little sophomoric. It portrays recovery as being as easy as being willing to look your problems in the eye, a proposition that most serious chroniclers of depression have understood just isn’t true.