Pure O hit the Festival circuit with a bang at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival. In a time where stories of mental illness are often exaggerated or dangerously wrong, this is the film we all need. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) remains among the most misunderstood and misrepresented mental illnesses. Filmmaker Dillon Tucker takes a brave and authentic look at the illness in this semi-autobiographical tale of self-discovery.
The movie captures the unique experience of being mentally ill while providing mental healthcare. So often, the Helpers need help themselves. The rehab centre where the protagonist Cooper (Daniel Dorr) works is the perfect setting to emphasize that many mental healthcare professionals face their own struggles with mental illness. This gives Cooper a layer of humility that’s incredibly endearing. In the course of his journey, he becomes a better professional since he is now on a similar path as his patients.
As a whole, Pure O’s naturalistic feel works well for the message it is attempting to convey. There’s a layer of authenticity that comes from watching characters deliver dialogue that feels lived in. This quasi-unscripted story makes the viewer feel like they are listening in on these conversations. As a whole, this structure makes the characters and the stories easier to relate to. In less skilled hands, the dialogue could have come across as incredibly cheesy. Happily, the dialogue invites viewers into the conversation rather than leaving them behind.
Pure O takes great care to educate viewers about the complexities of OCD. Narratively, it’s so effective to follow a character as he is being diagnosed in real-time. Group therapy is also an essential part of telling a grounded OCD story. Here, viewers are introduced to multiple characters experiencing the wide spectrum that OCD encompasses. This is just a brief introduction to OCD. Each of these characters is a powerful antidote to the often-portrayed super-clean or quirky characters shown in too many movies and shows.
In so many ways, Pure O is a love story. Emily (Hope Lauren) is presented as her own person while her partner is facing his mental health diagnosis. There is something heartbreakingly beautiful about how this relationship is portrayed. In spite of everything that they are up against, it’s clear that they care for each other deeply. Emily’s story is handled with just as much sensitivity and compassion as Cooper’s, as it should be.
While it may not seem like it at first glance, this movie does have a kind of happy ending. Perhaps the only complaint is that the ending comes far too soon. Each of these characters is on the cusp of a whole new world. Their respective journeys of self-discovery are enthralling. It is a shame that the camera stops rolling just as they are embarking on new paths. They are both full of so much potential, and these stories are just beginning.
Stories like Pure O are now more important than ever. On the eve of yet another series revolving around a character who is “OCD,” it’s important to look to people with lived experience to tell these stories. This movie is an example of how to tell a story about mental illness without embellishment or excessive devastation. Hopefully, more stories like Pure O will gain prominence in the public sphere to show real faces behind mental illnesses.
Pure O Premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film and Television Festival.