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Amy Winehouse performing in Berlin in 2007

Amy Winehouse performing in Berlin in 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A movie must be truly outstanding for me to engage in it these days. Like everyone else, I am time poor, tired and intolerant most of the time, and there are just too many other distractions.

But occasionally you watch a movie that leaves you staggering in the gulf of an emotional meltdown. Think Sophie’s Choice, Terms of Endearment, Saving Private Ryan – just a few movies that have wreaked havoc on my self-composure, caused me to snivel embarrassingly loudly in a public place and yanked at my heart-strings over the years.

This week I will add the movie ‘Amy’ to that list.

This is not a review of the movie, but for those who haven’t heard of it, or who don’t know who Amy Winehouse was, the movie is a biography of British singer Amy Winehouse. The movie is in her own words a chronological recording of her brief ascendency to stardom, before being tragically and prematurely taken away from us at the age of 25, due to the long-term abuse of drugs and alcohol.

The movie’s rawness, the singer’s incomparable talent, made all the more poignant by her mental instability, the sad yet blatant message conveyed about drugs and the vulnerability caused by inherent mental health issues struck a painful chord with me. I would recommend that all parents of older teens force their kids to watch this movie with them as a duty, even if their kids have never heard of the singer.

Amy Winehouse will be remembered not only for her voice, but sadly for her place in the 27 club; a group of famous young musicians who all died at the age of 27 and who shared the incredible talent that sadly too often goes hand in hand with self-abuse and mental illness.

With her death in 2011, she joined the ranks of Kurt Cobain, Jimmy Hendrix and Jim Morrison.

Yes, Amy Winehouse was a drug addict, who towards the end of her life was publicly derided for her dependency and the behaviours it provoked, by many who should have known better. But it wasn’t just the excesses of fame that damaged Amy, for she had been a victim of the tricks of the mind from an early age. She admits in the movie that she was taking antidepressants from the age of fourteen, and I imagine that drugs became an extension of the help she needed to ‘live’ a normal life – a form of self-medication to soften the edges of those feelings of isolation that we now know all addicts share, as they become sucked into the vortex of drug abuse.

Like many successful people in the public eye, Amy loved to use and explore her creativity, yet feared and deplored the ‘celebrity’ that her success exacerbated, and became anxious and petrified of the 24-hour attention from an unrelenting British press.

That side to her vulnerability is difficult to watch in the film.

Even when she tried to get well and disappear from the media circus, she was to became the innocent victim of a father so hell-bent on maximizing what he saw as their joint celebrity, he became blinded to her needs and forgot his prime responsibilities as a parent – to create a safe zone for his daughter.

I have witnessed that dependency as a form of release, sought by people who feel they don’t fit into society’s limited scope of acceptance. ‘Amy’ made me feel a mix of emotions: sadness for the loss of such an innocent, talented spirit; anger at the misjudgment and mistreatment she received, (not only at the hands of the public but at the hands of the allies she should have been able to depend on); and a sense of loss for the woman-child who sought a simple life, a great love and acceptance in her life, yet whose talent projected her into a world of corruption and unfair criticism.

I also understand how impossible it is to help people in the grip of addiction who are not ready to be helped; and the waiting game for them to crash and burn so they are ready to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.

The hope is that the crash is not the final one.

As a society, we are quick to judge those who make what we determine as ‘bad life decisions’, and it is only with the wisdom of age that we understand that people are not all created equal, given the same opportunities or the same shot at happiness.

In spite of what may appear to be a tough exterior, many people are more fragile spirits than we realise because they haven’t been given those same opportunities or a measure of the love needed to develop properly; to grow the armour they need to protect them through adulthood.

That is why they need our support, not our condemnation.

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