Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen the movie Tully, and are planning on seeing it, this post contains spoilers.
First and foremost Tully is a movie that depicts a mental illness. It is not really a realistic picture of the typical motherhood experience (although the stepping on Legos is pretty accurate). What Marlo is experiencing is postpartum psychosis. She is seeing, talking and believing there is something and someone there who isn’t real. This is rare, super rare, but it’s the type of perinatal mood disorder that we hear about in the news, and makes the rest of them taboo.
There have been a lot of blog posts about how Marlo’s mental illness in the movie is defined incorrectly, this is not one of them. It doesn’t matter to me that they defined it wrong, or that they didn’t define it at all. What matters to me is that this movie has started a conversation about postpartum depression, anxiety, psychosis and the overwhelmed mother who is at a higher risk of developing symptoms. And, of course, it’s about how much better people can do when they are seen, supported, and treated.
And, of course, it’s about how much better people can do when they are seen, supported, and treated.
With all that said, let’s start with the beginning of the movie with Marlo’s son. He’s “quirky” (a definition sure to make all parents of kids with additional needs crazy). I’m not going to diagnose him, this isn’t about him, it’s about his mom. It’s about how parents who have children with different needs are overlooked. It’s about how we pay so much attention to what the kid’s needs are, that we forget about their parents. Tully said it perfectly. You can’t treat a child without caring for the parent. The parent is an extension of the child and you can’t expect one to get better without supporting the other too. This is the first conversation point in the movie. The first sign of a developing problem. An already overwhelmed mom, expecting a new baby. She should have been identified by her doctor. She should have been given resources early in her pregnancy. Someone should have seen that she may have needed some help and stepped in.
Then we have the birth, the hospital, and the nurses. They are not depicted too well in this movie, but nurses (most of whom are amazing) have the most contact with postpartum moms. Which puts them in a unique position to catch a mom who needs help. Many moms will say that their symptoms started before they left the hospital. In Tully, Marlo’s did too. She didn’t want to hold her baby. She didn’t smile. She wasn’t happy. And that is not typical. Again, another sign of a possible problem that was overlooked by everyone, including her husband and family. They easily explained this away as a mom tired from labor, having a newborn and raising two older children.
Now let’s move onto the house, it’s a wreck. While it is totally normal for your house to be a wreck after having a new baby (I know mine was). It’s also a pretty good sign of someone being overwhelmed and needing support.
And for the twist, Tully, the night nanny, is actually a 26 year old Marlo. We learn late in the movie that she has talking to herself for the entire movie. Believing that this person, who is actually herself, is coming in at night and doing all the things she is unable to do.
It becomes clear from their interactions that Marlo is missing the freedom that comes with youth. She misses having no responsibility, and the ability to do whatever she wants, whenever she wants. This is a completely normal feeling. It is normal to miss the life we had before marriage and children. And it’s important to honor and remember that part of our lives. It is important to talk about it, to keep it alive and remind ourselves that that person is still a part of the mother we have become.
It is normal to miss the life we had before marriage and children.
It’s time to spend a little bit of time talking about Marlo’s husband. He’s pretty important in this. Partners are the first ones to see that something is up, but partners can also be so overwhelmed themselves, that they don’t see the problem until it’s impossible to miss. So, for all the partners out there, if your wreck of a house is suddenly spotless, pay attention to it. If your not having sex and suddenly your partner is dressing up and really spicing things up, pay attention. If suddenly fresh baked goods are waiting on the table in the morning, pay attention. If there are things that are not typical and it suddenly seems like things are too good to be true, pay attention. Get curious, ask questions, be more present and make sure that you aren’t missing something. And if you are feeling overwhelmed yourself, reach out, get help, get support, and know that you are not alone.
And the end, my favorite part. Marlo and her husband are in the kitchen prepping their kids’ school lunches. No words, just two people connecting, supporting each other, and getting through it together. Does this mean she is fine, nope. Does this mean her stuff is figured out, not by a long shot. But it means someone knows. Someone sees her. Someone knows she needs help and she now knows she doesn’t have to and can’t do it alone anymore.