In 1999, a movie titled “Falling Sky” was partially filmed at Lake Mead. The movie starred the late actress Brittany Murphy. Both “Falling Sky” and Murphy’s personal life offer lessons about facing who we are and battling the stigmas related to mental wellness and substance abuse.
“Falling Sky” was written by Brian De Palma, who is known for the movies “Carrie,” “Scarface,” “Mission Impossible” and “Carlito’s Way,” to name only a few. “Falling Sky” was De Palma’s ambitious writing and directing project for DEJ Productions, which has over 225 films distributed, including “Monster,” which won an Academy Award.
“Falling Sky” is about an alcoholic mother and her daughter who are looking for a fresh start. The decision to move to Las Vegas is made, and daughter Emily (Murphy) hopes past problems will be erased with a new city. Addiction, however, is addiction, and until the challenge is addressed, moving only leads to new problems.
Soon, history starts repeating itself, and Emily is now serving as the parent in the relationship. She spends days working her mother’s shifts at a local diner, her relationships are interrupted, and finally she is left to fend for herself. Spoiler alert: The mother succumbs to her alcoholism with a note left for her daughter before drowning herself in a bathtub.
The movie is a bit cheesy from a cinematic standpoint. However, it is smartly written. The dialogue and life events within its script address how substance abuse impacts other family members. “Falling Sky” also reflects how addiction is often fueled by an underlying traumatic event or mental illness. How families handle suicide is also addressed. With or without support, there are times the light at the end of the tunnel is too far down the road to not feel utterly lost within the darkness.
Murphy’s personal life was, during and after her death, surrounded by rumors of mental illness and addiction. Regardless if she was using drugs or not, the stigma of addressing the problem existed. The same goes for mental wellness. Regardless if she was depressed, bipolar or anorexic, those whispering about her problem should have been supportive of her by addressing the challenges.
When Murphy died at age 32 in December 2009, the media went wild. It was assumed a drug overdose caused her death. Next, her estranged father accused Murphy’s mother of killing her. It was officially announced that pneumonia was Murphy’s cause of death. Years later, when her husband died of the same thing, there were claims that black mold in the house could have been the cause.
The end of “Falling Sky” was filmed at and featured Lake Mead. Unlike most stories, Murphy’s character gets a second chance at life after almost succumbing to the same death as her character’s mother. Her character finally faces her trauma and her addiction like a baptism by fire only by using the lake in Boulder City’s backyard.
My Throwback Thursday recommendation today is “Falling Sky” for its story and because it’s always amazing to see local landmarks on the big screen.
Murphy also starred in “Girl Interrupted” alongside Angelina Jolie and Jared Leto. I absolutely love this movie, which was based on a book, for its intense portrayal of what life is like when battling mental illness and addiction. This movie, which earned Jolie an Academy Award, was based on a stay at a psychiatric hospital for borderline personality disorder by the book’s author, Susanna Kaysen.
On a side note, I want to thank the Boulder City Sunrise Rotary and Judge Victor Miller for everything they do with the local drug court program to help those with addiction and mental health challenges. They’re helping to break the stigma while being a resource for community families.
If you find yourself today in a tunnel without light to be seen, know that you’re not alone. Many face addiction. Even more struggle with mental health challenges. Help and resources are available. Like my friend Abby recently said to me, “Those mountains in your windshield will one day be in your rearview mirror. All you have to do is keep driving.”
Tanya Vece’s weekly Hollywood blog can be found at TanyaVeceBook.com. Tanya is the author of “The Meaning of Eclipse” and operates as an independent marketer.