Legion: A Unique Take on Mental Illness


“X-Men” has been a popular film series since 2000. This series sets up a universe where mutants, beings born with a genetic mutation that gives them superpowers, are living among us. Some mutants can read minds, control the weather, shoot lasers out of their eyes, absorb other mutants’ powers, transform into any mutant or human they wish (including their voice), control metal matter, and protrude metal claws from their knuckles. The new FX series “Legion,” which premiered last month, is the first television series to be set in the X-Men film universe. This series focuses on a particular mutant named David Haller, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age, who soon discovers that there is more to him than mental illness. “Legion” explores the concept of mental illness in a unique manner.

In this series, David has been a patient in various psychiatric hospitals since he was first diagnosed with schizophrenia. In the very first episode titled “Chapter 1,” he is taken to Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital after attempting suicide, and while he is there, he meets his soon-to-be girlfriend, Sydney Barrett, a mutant with the ability to swap places with whoever she touches. The whole narrative of the series revolves around David learning to control his mutant abilities, as well as his mental illness. In fact, the entire series is filmed through David’s distorted view of reality. This gives the viewer a glimpse as to what it is really like to be living with a mental illness, such as the one that David has. The following trailer for the series shows exactly what cinematography techniques are used to portray the main character’s mental state. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SZ3rMMYBLY).

David Haller is presented as the series’ unreliable narrator, meaning that his credibility is seriously compromised. In the case of David Haller, his fractured psyche acts as a plot-device, and it warps David’s view of the world. That is one of the unique directions that “Legion” takes to portray the concept of mental illness from the perspective of David. Nobody really understands how or why mental illness happens the way it does, and “Legion” gives viewers an understanding of what is going on in the mind of a schizophrenic patient, while also adding a twist to it, and explaining that all that you see around you is actually shown through the gifts of an extremely powerful mutant. The series presents itself with plenty of visual cues to let the viewer knows that something is not right in David’s mind. One such visual cue includes the change to a widescreen view of the scene when the scene before it was presented in full screen view. This widescreen transition gives the viewer a feeling of suspense and that something is not right in the world that David is living in. Another thing I have noticed is the lighting during most scenes. When something bad happens, or another person dies, the screen would turn red to give it a horror-like feel to the series. But the series becomes truly horrific during the last act of “Chapter 5”. When the main characters enter David’s old home, their voices are muted. Every time you try to hear them talk, no sounds come out. That is another sign that something is not right, and that David’s world is even more messed up than you previously thought.

As the series progresses, we see some moments from David’s past that still haunt him. One of them includes a children’s book read to him by his adoptive father, called The World’s Angriest Boy in the World, where the title character murders his mother. Since then, he continues having hallucinations of that book, where the title character is actually real and is hunting him down, along with “The Devil with the Yellow Eyes”. There was also a time in David’s past when he and another friend of his, Lenny Busker (who dies from David’s uncontrollable powers in “Chapter 1” after David and Sydney switch bodies) take drugs to block out the voices in his head. The hallucinations, especially with the Angriest Boy and the Devil with the Yellow Eyes really do bring out the feeling of what it is like to be mentally ill, by presenting itself as a psychedelic trip to the viewer.

After David is rescued from Division 3, one of the government’s divisions focused on capturing and studying mutants, he is brought to Summerland, another facility who wants to help David control his mutant powers. During “Chapter 2”, he is put in an MRI scanner to see how his brain functions, and whether there is more to him than schizophrenia. While this happens, he accidentally teleports them to Clockworks, where his sister, Amy, is then captured and questioned by Division 3. He can also teleport the MRI scanner outside of Summerland. And because of David’s powerful mutant mind, he resists the powers of Ptonomy Wallace, a mutant working at Summerland who can take people back into their own memories. He can also project minds to other locations, such as the time where he loses control of his powers in “Chapter 3”, and he and Sydney are projected to Division 3, where Amy is being interrogated and tortured. There is also one time where his mind is trapped in the astral plane while his memories are working against him.

There is a lot of stuff that happens in “Legion”, requiring viewers to pay very close attention to all the little details about what is happening. But, like the “X-Men” films before it, the mutants do not have full control of their powers, so they never know what’s going to happen or when it is going to happen. In the case of David Haller, it is his psychic powers. When he loses control over his mutant powers, in most cases, the entire room shakes and objects are seen flying across the room, as seen in the trailer above. But as the series progresses, I believe that David will learn to fully control his abilities to save the ones he loves, and not let his mutant powers control him, as they seem to be doing throughout the first half of the season. The rest of David’s story is to be determined later in the season, so we are still left questioning whether David is going down the right path, as well as where his mutant powers originally developed. We are also left to question whether David is actually mentally ill, or if his mutant mind is just simply messing with him. The truth is yet to be revealed, but we can only guess which path David will take in controlling his powers.


-David McInerney

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