Caldera: dream-like animated short about mental illness

Evan Viera's lovely short "Caldera" explores the ambiguous reality inhabited by people experiencing psychosis, through the tale of a young girl suffering from mental illness.

Viera, who also composed the film's lovely ambient electronic score, explains:

CALDERA is inspired by my father's struggle with schizoaffective disorder. In states of delusion, my father has danced on the rings of Saturn, spoken with angels, and fled from his demons. He has lived both a fantastical and haunting life, but one that's invisible to the most of us. In our differing understanding of reality, we blindly mandate his medication, assimilate him to our marginalizing culture, and entirely misinterpret him for all he is worth. CALDERA aims to not only venerate my father, but all brilliant minds forged in the haunted depths of psychosis.
Full credits here.


  1. “He has lived both a fantastical and haunting life, but one that’s invisible to the most of us. In our differing understanding of reality, we blindly mandate his medication, assimilate him to our marginalizing culture, and entirely misinterpret him for all he is worth. ”

    Now, if he was a six year old who dreamed about Jesus on the operating table, it would be different and he would have a best selling book, but fantastical creatures other than Jesus are just taboo..

    Very haunting and beautiful work. Altered states of consciousness should be mined for their richness rather than medicated away…

  2. The romance of untreated mental illness presented here looks cool, like a sexy Matrix. The reality is the piss-reeking, lice-ridden, disorganized panhandler who’s paranoid of their own shadow. How many people with schizoaffective disorder and not taking meds have any sort of meaningful approach to anything like their full human potential? Basically fuck all.

    1.  You lost me with the word “reality(singular)”.

      Sexy matrix, yes. Also, paranoia, yes. Calling us panhandlers is a tidy way of avoiding the poverty issue, easier to call it a mental health issue. Meds are a Faustian bargain that can hurt more than they help, (not always of course)

      If treated mental illness were a way home, if there was a realistic theory of how the meds do what they do, (and treatment *besides* the meds) then this wouldn’t be such a controversial topic.

      Mental illness is about the people who witness it as much at it is about the people who experience it.

    2. Thanks for pushing the stereotype further. Any other stereotypes you want to strengthen? Lesbians being manlike? Black people all being about the hood and poppin’ caps in people’s buttocks? All cannabis users being Seth Rogen from Pineapple Express? Women being dumb gullible kitchen dwellers?

      Seriously, people need to stop this.. I’m bipolar, and I’m sort of a stereotypical bipolar dude, but I’m the only one that I know of that fits the mold. A lot of people with mental disorders end up on welfare because the world is made for people who aren’t us. At all. Creativity is quashed from day one, so there’s a lot of our value right in the crapper. Society works on a super strict schedule, so that’s not going to go so well for a lot of us. Introversion is a character flaw in most peoples eyes, so that’s no good for us either. Luckily polymaths are being valued more and more these days, so we would have that going for us if it wasn’t for everything else stacking up against us, stopping us from getting our foot in any door in the first place. That is one of the reasons you have a lot of “crazy” artists out there. There aren’t a lot of venues for us to express ourselves in any way shape or form aside from going solo, and for many people, going solo is what they do every damn day in every damn aspect of life. So please, feel free to pound us into the ground with dumb stereotypes some more. Very productive.

      The reason the world has outcasts and stereotypes is that the ‘lowest common denominator kind of people’ tend to shun everyone else. This is behavior I thought would end after I was done with school and my teen years, but it persists far into adulthood. I’m 34 now, and it’s still really hard to be seen as anything but “that crazy guy.” Good thing is that after a while you just give up and accept being “that crazy guy” and move on with your life.

      As for meds, I use them and it helps a little bit. It’s not like ALL meds turn you into a zombie, although many of the anti-psychotic medications do. That’s why busting people for cannabis use is INSANE. For a lot of us, that’s pretty much the most effective medication out there, but it’s being kept from us. The result? A lot of angry people (weed, for many people, crush that anger and frustration) who have to deal with chronic psychological torment with very little in the way of treatment or any form of relief/break from being just..broken…

      Maybe next time you feel like talking about stuff you clearly have no knowledge about, just go on the int..ernet.. yeah.. damn..

      1.  Stereotyping? The idea that people with untreated mental illnesses are a cadre of “creatives” with sexy Matrix visions is the most pervasive and insidious stereotype being bandied about here. It’s a pernicious category error with an ideological drive. It’s like saying, for example, “Oh Michelangelo, he was a great artist because of his syphilis and those doctors tried to cure him and destroy his creativity”. He was a great artist despite his deficits, not because of them. And there’s a big difference in terms of organization, prognosis and functional status between bipolar disorder and schizophrenia/schizoaffective. And I’m not even going to dignify with a response the idea that THC is on aggregate beneficial for psychotically fragile individuals.

    3. There are a myriad of experiences that fit under the mental illness umbrella, and I sincerely did not get the impression that this was sexy, so much as empathetic. Your experience may be different, but for me it was cathartic.

  3. I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say the film is about mental illness. Two brief sequences with pills suggest that the main character has had encounters with Big Pharma. Cut those bits out, and it becomes a wonderful daydream set against soul crushing routine.

     Prozac does for humans what antibiotics does for livestock: allows management to put us in smaller more manageable pens. How lucky are those who don’t require medication to tolerate this?

  4. She makes the suffering seem so beautiful and illustrious. Those types of visions I would love to have. That sounds like a bad thing…but being one who is on Prozac, I would say that I wish I had to take it for these reasons. These visions are some of the beautiful dreams I pray to come true.

  5. Isn’t this a student film?  If so, remember that its primary purpose was likely just to showcase the talents of those who worked on it. And wow did it ever.  That it sparked such a rich conversation is a bonus.  

  6. I don’t think the author was suggesting psychotic people experience reality this way. It’s more a representation of the fantasies, delusions, and externalization of issues some experience. Yes the mentally ill suffer, but many also do build elaborate coping mechanisms that are very similar to what the video describes.

    And these elaborate experiences probably far exceed what most people will experience in their lives. Carrying on a conversation with god? Why not? Dancing on Jupiter? Why not? Interacting with hordes of fantastical otherworldly creatures? Why not?

    When it comes down to it, most of these people are discarded by society and by their friends and families,and are forced to invent these realities to cope, consciously or not.

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