Review: ‘The S Word’

By Michael Smith

For this review, I will start it off a bit differently. I will say right away that everyone should absolutely see this movie. It is about a subject that is so seldom talked about in a serious manner: many believe they are alone in having suicidal thoughts. I believe that it is important to allow people without such thoughts or mental illnesses to get an insight into those of us who do. And I believe this film is just as important, if not more important, for those who have mental illness, suicidal thoughts, or suicidal ideation, because it helps show that no matter how alone you may feel and how much you think that no one else has ever felt this before, there are people who are just like you and have survived through it. Now this doesn’t mean that I don’t think this movie is without fault, but those faults would not even come close to keeping me from recommending this film to anyone and everyone.

As I mentioned above, The S Word talks about suicide in a very candid way through suicide attempt survivors. We see many different types of people from all backgrounds and get an understanding that suicidal thoughts and actions do not discriminate and can appear in anyone. Hearing so many different stories that have happened at all ages of the subjects’ lives is very powerful. There is one question asked that I found to be the most poignant and powerful: “Is suicide still an option for you?” Listening to each person talk through things that have changed in their lives and hearing them reach their conclusions is sobering. Hearing someone wish that it isn’t an option, even with all the change they have undergone, but still admit that it probably still is a possibility, is heartbreaking but very real. As someone with a mental illness who has had and still has these kinds of thoughts, it is very inspiring to see so many people overcome their own demons and find success even while still having bad days. It is something I try to strive for.

Now I must address some of the shortcomings of this documentary. From what I had read about the movie in the Heartland guidebook and online, my understanding was that The S Word would put a human face on the topic of suicide and include many stories and perspectives. While this is true for a lot of the runtime, the film seems more like a documentary on the first subject, Dese’Rae Stage, and her project of interviewing and photographing suicide survivors for her website and art gallery. The film also tends to default back to her view and story above the others. While there is nothing inherently wrong about this, it made The S Word a different film than what I had expected. I also disliked that some of the stories only appear for very brief sections of the film, not to come back again. One such section is that of a veteran. It seems like there is something the filmmakers wanted to say here, but it was cut into a very short section that doesn’t get the amount time or have the impact that the other stories do.

Overall, The S Word is a good film that should be seen by everyone. It gives a little insight into a world unknown to many but needs to be talked about more. While they may be uncomfortable for some to talk about, suicidal thoughts and actions are a national health epidemic that needs to be addressed. I believe that this movie is doing its part to bring that conversation to a broader audience. I give this film a 4 out of 5 and must again recommend that everyone see this documentary.

Rating: 4/5