Another day, another gutsy role handed to Leonardo DiCaprio. This time, Leo will be playing real-life controversial figure Billy Milligan—a sufferer of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)—in the upcoming flick The Crowded Room. Like most Americans, we too are wondering: Will Leo finally win an Oscar?
Naturally, this depends on Leo's performance. But it's hard to argue with the meatiness of the role, which will explore a complex and oft-misunderstood mental illness.
Leo's character—Milligan—is a real man who was born in 1955 and died just a few months ago. Milligan was accused of kidnapping, robbing, and raping three women at a university in Ohio back in 1977. He was found "not guilty" by reason of insanity. A psychiatrist analyzed Milligan, and found that he himself had not committed the heinous acts; rather, two of his 24 personalities had taken over. The argument was that Milligan had no control over the actions of the pair.
Though the ruling raises plenty of questions, DID is real (if controversial). Sufferers typically experienced abuse (or other trauma) at a young age, then "dissociated" from the events by developing an alternative personality. That being said, the cause is not always clear. (Isn't science great?) The alternative personalities, called "alters," deviate from the individual's sense of self—some have specific allergies, or represent a different age or gender—and operate independently of the sufferer.
If you remember the show United States of Tara, you may recall that Tara's alters spoke with identifiable inflections (like Buck, the male alter with a Southern drawl), had different talents (Alice's baking, anyone?), and even embodied distinct ages (like T, the teenager). Those who suffer from DID won't remember what events occurred when an alter takes over, and may not be able to control the alternative personality exerting its control.
Victims of DID can't correctly diagnose themselves. They seek help, usually, for inexplicable blackouts and time loss. Through extensive therapy—often with hypnosis—a sufferer's alters can "fuse" to a single identity. In this case, Milligan (supposedly) was able to accomplish this unity after spending a decade in mental hospitals.
Given that Leo will have to master 24 different vocal inflections, movements, ages, habits, and gender differences, it'll no doubt be a riveting performance. Plus, it's always nice to see mental illness explored on the silver screen. Provided it's handled correctly, that is.
We shall see.