Jonah Hill He gets a little tryout in his latest directorial outing. his new documentary, Stutz – released on Netflix earlier this month – presents itself as a candid conversation between the director and his therapist, the eponymous Dr. Phil Stutz. However, she publicly dismantles this hypothesis once it is established. The movie ends up playing with several modes and styles. It is partly biographical about the life of Dr. Stutz, but it is also a participatory film, in which Hale inserts himself as the primary and crucial subject. At the same time, it also engages in attempts at direct cinema, veritable cinema, and the quasi-avant-garde. Harmonious at times and chaotic at times, this diverse mix of hues ultimately serves the film’s thematic purpose, showing key parallels between the cinematic arts and mental health.
‘Stutz’ gives off a sheen of honesty
on the roof, Stutz He has a strong focus on mental health, as the emeritus therapist shares his core philosophies about wellness. But during the second scene, Hill reveals the farce behind the film: how “Frank Conversation” was filmed over two years, using make-up, green screens, and editing techniques that provide the illusion of continuity. In a moment as unsuspecting as any in the film, Hill expresses his desire to create something honest, while minimizing film magic that improves the story it’s trying to tell. As Hale jokingly paraphrased Stutz, “The worse, the better.” In other words, since the project aims for honesty, the less glossy and pure it is, the more successful it will be.
This balance between authenticity and illusion is something all cinema – especially documentaries – struggle with. At the far faux end of the spectrum would be a movie with a strong artistic hand, something meticulously written with heavy editing, special effects, or animation. By contrast, on the more authentic side of the spectrum, it would be a straight-forward documentary, with no script, few themes, few plots, and little camera movement. Where a film is on the spectrum has to do with the extent to which the filmmaker decides to interfere with the indexal relationship of the medium to reality. in StutzHill wants to err on the side of authenticity, but he also knows that complete objectivity cannot be achieved.
Hill’s desire for unattainable perfection holds significance far beyond the mere filmmaking process. It links the medium to the film’s main theme of mental health. Just as a movie can never be truly objective, the human mind struggles to fully decode its true self. Even when not in front of the camera, people perform roles in different situations. Meanwhile, they willingly leave other elements of their identities on the cutting room floor. Hale expresses how he is exposed to this mystery not only in his directorial decisions, but in his desire to uphold a strong self-image, while rejecting unwanted parts of his past.
As the film progresses and Stutz shares his life story, there are intermittent sequences of Hill talking about his own journey of self-acceptance, and Stutz guiding him through the process. Stutz’s core philosophy consists of the fact that there are three constants in life: pain, asymmetry, and action. While these three constants are usually framed as negatives, Stutz posits that true happiness comes not from trying to avoid these inescapable realities, but in learning to embrace the process of navigating them. Doing so entails learning to love one’s body, one’s peers, and oneself. Hill and Stutz both become more open throughout the film, building these tools along with a gratitude for embracing their vulnerabilities. All the while, the documentary seems to slowly grow into itself, with Hale unconcerned about the outcome of the project and appreciative of the process.
At least, that’s what seems to happen in the movie. Some moments remain overtly scripted, such as when Stutz claims he is going home, only to lie down on a bed conveniently located across from the soundstage. However, the thoughts Stutz expresses while lying on this bed are even more suspicious – are they written? Or is she serious? As with any documentary, the audience can wonder endlessly about the degree to which these elements are decorated. While most of the difficult information presented throughout the film is factual, the casual viewer can never tell just how true the two subjects are.
This is the nature of life. One cannot fully know one’s true self. Everyone wears their mask and plays a role that is full of varying degrees of inauthenticity. StutzThe main message is that this inauthenticity is an essential part of the human experience, and it is more important to recognize and come to terms with inauthenticity than to avoid it altogether. Like any good artist, Hill uses the tools of his medium to explain that message, showing how filmmaking and the director’s constant pursuit of perfection is a clever metaphor for traversing one’s mental health and perhaps finding inner peace through the final cut.