If you get drawn to this documentary looking for the real Godzilla, a Xenomorph, King Kong or that thing from Starship Troopers you are going to be disappointed. That is because the monster in the title refers to are of the metaphysical kind, the mental health variety. Some Kind of Monster also happens to be a reference to one of Metallica’s
most famous* songs – how clever.
What you are going to have to do right now though is get over your immediate dislike for heavy metal music as it is going to stop you from watching this thing. As it did me, for 13 years, and that isn’t going to get you anywhere is it?
Unlike the usual trope of band/musician documentaries which are 1 hour and 20 minutes of undulating back slapping advertisements that make the Disney channel look like an ISIS recruitment live streaming event. Some Kind of Monster, however, drops you in amongst the worst period of the band’s history – to its credit. The lead bassist for the band has just quit to a media frenzy and the two founding members James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich realise they have some deep-seated anger towards each other. Then you have the rather unfortunate guitarist Kirk Hammett in the middle who genuinely seemed to have the missed the memo that he should be angry at something. As if he has just been told by Willy Wonka that he is getting the factory only to run home to find his parents arguing.
The band make an interesting and extremely brave decision to employ a therapist, a group therapist at that. Then they decide to film the whole thing. So here you have supposedly the baddest most successful heavy metal band on the planet sitting around talking openly about their issues in group therapy. It is fascinating viewing from the moment it starts.
As you see the therapy sessions begin to shape the band on their recovery, one of the interesting side notes throughout the documentary is the role the of the therapist and how they view themselves. This is because it begins to have a bearing on the band as the therapist increasingly sees themselves as the starring role in the documentary. I have never studied to be a therapist but I’d say plonking yourself centre stage is not advised.
From the band perspective though you immediately see the vulnerabilities and frailties that are evident in so many men but who are taught not to express these feelings. The flow of mental health recovery which so many people can relate is seen on film as they seemingly bounce from low point to low and then as soon as recovery seems possible they immediately question whether the therapy is even needed. In very much the same way people with physical health conditions stop taking their antibiotics before they have run their course because they feel better.
With the suicide of Chester Bennington, lead leader singer of another rock, Linken Park, you would think that people would realise now that ‘success’ and ‘wealth’ are so unrelated to mental illness that they couldn’t even be referred to as a distant 2nd cousin. If you need it though, Some Kind of Monster will prove once again, being extremely wealthy, successful and physically healthy does not make mental illness disappear. It is an illness. Rich people get chicken pox, successful people get the flu, and healthy people get cancer.
One of the most important aspects of the film though is that it is about men. Men talking about their problems, men discussing what is making them sad, what is making them angry and what they think is causing the issues. This is important because suicide is one of the leading causes of death in young men. If they can look up and see big burly heavy metal rockers who ‘have it all’ crying and sharing, then there’s hope.
Despite the twists and turns of therapy drama, the breathing space allowed in the documentary is one of the features of its success. The directors Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger leave in the silences and dead moments, which conveys the extent of the tensions being felt. Behind the silences you know there is a mountain of issues that need to be let out.
Whilst I’m fairly sure the directors weren’t intending to make a mental health forebearer in the documentary world, it is what they managed to achieve. Rather, in the same way, Percy Spencer walked in front of a magnetron at work one day only to discover his chocolate bar melted in his pocket. In 1945, he used this technology to invent the first microwave oven. Sometimes it is lucky, sometimes it is skill, sometimes you just have to go and watch a documentary to get what on earth I’m on about.
I’ll give it 46.5 out of 53, a must watch for people interested in mental health, psychology or heavy metal.
*That was a guess, but a quick search of Metallica on Youtube showed that it is quite clearly not one of their most famous.