Woman chronicles brother’s horrifying psychotic break in new doc
At the age of 46, Duanne Luckow’s mental health began to unravel at a seemingly rapid pace.
Beginning in 2009, Duanne’s parents and sister — the documentarian Sandra Luckow — were terrified to see their family member, once a bright young man who enjoyed fixing antique cars, morph into someone they didn’t recognize.
There was the time the Portland, Ore., resident drove to the Canadian border and gunned his car past guards to try to find a woman whose YouTube videos he thought were speaking directly to him. There was the life-threatening psychotic episode atop Oregon’s 611-foot-tall Multnomah Falls. And there was the Nigerian e-mail scam he poured $40,000 into, believing it would make him rich.
“Severe mental illness is not pretty,” Sandra tells The Post, “and there’s no magic wand that is going to fix it.”
Sandra details her brother’s downward spiral in a new documentary film in theaters Friday, “That Way Madness Lies . . .,” named after a quote from Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” Filmed over the course of five-and-a-half years, the movie shows Duanne’s journey in and out of mental institutions and jail, as he grapples with diagnoses such as paranoid schizophrenia and delusional disorder. Uniquely, the film includes a considerable amount of footage taken by Duanne himself.
“When the problems started, he didn’t know whether things were happening to him or not,” says Sandra, “and I suggested that he use his new iPhone to record those events and maybe evaluate what was going on later.”
Duanne took her advice — and when Sandra, a professor of film at Columbia University, Barnard College and Yale University, viewed the videos, she realized she had something at once both fascinating and disturbing. She took the footage to a professor of psychiatry at Yale, Dr. Larry Davidson.
“He watched some of these clips with amazement,” says Sandra, “and said to me, ‘You have something that in my 25 years of working with severely mentally ill patients, I have never seen, which is in-the-field, first-person, unfiltered, unfettered psychosis.’ ”
Luckow decided to pick up her own camera. Her movie makes a strong case that the mental health system in America is in dire need of repair.
“The only way that you can get help right now is that you commit a crime,” says Sandra, whose brother lost his home because of his inability to pay hospital bills. “We have got to get the medical decisions about severe mental illness out of the judicial system, and back into the medical profession.”
Duanne, who is now 55, hasn’t been in a jail or mental hospital since August, his longest stretch in seven years. He’s hasn’t seen the film, though he does frequently like Sandra’s Facebook posts about it.
Sandra hopes her doc will show the necessity for action.
“We need to start looking at severe mental illness on a case-by-case level, in terms of what the patient needs,” she says. “We need to change policy, and we need to do it now.”
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