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Review: Mental illness hits close to home in the documentary ‘That Way Madness Lies’

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Duanne Luckow in the documentary “That Way Madness Lies.”
(First Run Features)

Documentary filmmaker Sandra Luckow experiences the full extent of what it means to be her brother’s keeper in “That Way Madness Lies,” a disturbing portrait of the substantial emotional and physical price exacted when mental illness hits devastatingly close to home.

When we first meet Luckow’s brother Duanne, he has been involuntarily committed to the Oregon State Hospital (made famous in 1975’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”), after being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

The proprietor of a classic car restoration business whose symptoms didn’t begin to outwardly manifest themselves until he was in his mid-40s, Duanne rapidly falls into a downward spiral as his refusal to receive treatment further disintegrates his tenuous grip on reality, resulting in extended hospital stays, homelessness and incarceration.

Unsurprisingly, his descent takes a tragic toll on his aging parents as Luckow, whose 1986 documentary, “Sharp Edges,” followed an ambitious 15-year-old figure skater named Tonya Harding, places an understandable portion of the blame for Duanne’s condition on a broken mental health system that makes it virtually impossible to assist society’s most vulnerable.

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As her brother’s primary advocate — a position that becomes more adversarial as she finds herself in the crosshairs of his increasingly violent threats — Luckow, whose film takes its title from “King Lear,” ultimately finds not so much in the way of closure as she does a vital shred of self-preservation.

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‘That Way Madness Lies’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes

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Playing: Starts Dec. 14, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica

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