Throughout his life Sean Clifton was always different. Known to police because of his delusional tendencies, Clifton was viewed by many in the community as harmless. This view changed a little over a decade ago when Clifton savagely stabbed a woman, Julie, at the local Wal-Mart six times. What provoked such a violent assault? According to Clifton, a voice in his head told him to attack the prettiest girl he saw. Diagnosed as suffering from both schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder, Clifton is found “Not Criminally Responsible” for the crime and is committed to a psychiatric facility.
Twelve years later Clifton is on medication consistently and is showing significant signs of improvement. He has even started the process of slowly integrating back into society under supervision. Due to these advancements, Clifton feels that he is ready for a “conditional discharge” which would provide him even more freedom. Achieving this will be an uphill battle though as Julie, and others, fear that Clifton may lose control again and endanger more lives. There are also lingering questions as to whether Clifton is even sane enough to handle the daily strain of normal society.
NCR: Not Criminally Responsible explores the issues of what to do with individuals with mental illnesses who commit crimes, but seemingly learn to manage their illness? The workers at the psychiatric facilities admit that their hands are tied. Most psychiatric institutions can only treat a patient for as long as the court mandates. Once they are ordered to let someone go, they have no further obligation to ensure the patient stays the course and takes their meds.
The disturbing thing about this is that the only thing that stands between Clifton’s sanity and descending into madness are his medication. There is always an uneasy feeling that seemingly sweet-natured Clifton could snap at any moment. Director John Kastner emphasizes this brilliantly by focusing on Clifton’s friendship with roommate Will Bilow. A martial artist in denial of his own a mental illness, Bilow met Clifton while in the same psychiatric facility. Although the two men are cordial with each other, they are each aware that the other could become volatile in a flash.
Despite the fear that is associated with both Clifton and Bilow’s history of violence, Kastner ensures that he examines all the sides of mental illness. He does a good job of point out that our stigmas regarding people with mental illness needs to change. NCR: Not Criminally Responsible shows that even men like Clifton and Bilow can learn how to cope with their condition in a productive way. Clifton’s remorse for his actions cannot change the past, but it may help guide him in the future. Through NCR: Not Criminally Responsible John Kastner gives a voice to those who suffer from mental illness in a respectful and thought-provoking way.