With much of the world seemingly out of control, these are challenging times for mental health. Movie history is full of titles about psychotherapy and emotional stability. The list below eschews more obvious, relatively recent films to explore the mental-health implications of (mostly) lesser-known works.

“And Then I Go” (2017; not rated, for mature audiences): There is a ticking time bomb (metaphorically speaking) in this drama about two middle-school outcasts whose desperation is so profound they begin making plans to retaliate against the clique-filled school of bullies that victimizes them every day. Yet the possibility of revenge killings isn’t necessarily the point of “And Then I Go.” The film is an examination of unbearable pressure on a young kid largely left alone to deal with it. (Amazon, iTunes, Apple TV)

“The Birds” (1963, PG-13): There are several exceptional films by Alfred Hitchcock that address trauma (“Marnie”), obsession (“Vertigo”), buried memory (“Spellbound”) and more psychological burdens. I have a soft spot for “The Birds,” which portrays a loving yet emotionally guarded family upended by the arrival of a newcomer (Tippi Hedren), whose drive for roots threatens that family’s, and its seaside community’s, self-protective status quo. The sudden, inexplicable instinct by a town’s bird population to attack humans makes for striking horror, yet also captures an unleashed terror and fury accompanying change. (Amazon, iTunes)

“Black Enuf” (2017; not rated, for mature audiences): Carrie Hawks’ award-winning short film is about the many skewed perceptions of what constitutes blackness in America, and the impact of that on identity and confidence. A light-skinned African American with an even lighter-skinned father, Hawks describes what her skin color means in a number of social and cultural contexts. She describes the confusing politics of which table to sit at in the school cafeteria, and whether it’s OK to like the Beach Boys or visit a ski lodge. “Black Enuf” is full of stories about living in the crossfire of conflicting perceptions about one’s place, value and identity as a Black American. (Vimeo)

“Cracked Up: The Darrell Hammond Story” (2018; TV-MA): “Saturday Night Live” star Hammond, best known for his sharp impressions of Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Donald Trump, wrote a memoir several years ago about the all-but-murderous tortures inflicted on him during childhood by his criminally insane mother. The legacy of those psychological scars extended to Hammond’s breakdowns behind the scenes at “SNL” and through multiple commitments at psychiatric hospitals. In “Cracked Up,” Hammond is seen preparing for the premiere of his theatrical monologue on the subject, interspersed with superb insights by mental-health experts about the soul-crushing toll of horrific abuse. (Netflix)

“Hope Gap” (2019; PG-13): Annette Bening is a force of nature as Grace, an emotionally tyrannical scholar married nearly three decades to the submissive, taciturn Edward (Bill Nighy), a teacher. During a reluctant visit to his folks, grown son Jamie (Josh O’Connor) is informed by his father that he’s leaving Grace that very day. As with Edward, Josh’s vagueness as a person results from constant retreat from Grace’s demanding nature. Writer-director William Nicholson is surgically precise in constructing Grace, a wounded queen of Shakespearean proportions isolated in a castle of her own making. (Amazon, YouTube)


“In the Aisles” (2018; not rated, for mature audiences): Shopping at Costco will never be the same after watching this surprisingly profound German dramedy. What starts out looking like an original rom-com, cleverly set in the long aisles, meat lockers and employee break room at a big-box store, gradually becomes more melancholy as happy endings for principal characters seem unlikely. But then, unexpectedly, “In the Aisles” goes deeper and deeper into existential angst, nurturing the wisdom it takes for any of us to get through our particular aisles in life, learning limits and accepting incremental change at best. In German, with English subtitles. (Amazon, iTunes, YouTube)

“Rafiki” (2018; not rated, for mature audiences): Two teenage girls fall in love — a socially forbidden and legally perilous situation in Kenya, depicted with low-key delicacy. Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) is a grungy skateboarder; Ziki (Sheila Munyiva) is an explosion of colors, more daring and ambitious than Kena. They bond, and their visibility as a couple shocks their community. Their naiveté makes “Rafiki” particularly horrifying when a mob mentality aroused by hatred of Ziki and Kena’s relationship turns physically and emotionally violent. In English and Swahili, with subtitles. (Amazon)

“Safe” (1995; R): Julianne Moore plays Carol, a San Fernando Valley suburban wife who contracts a mysterious illness, leaving her wasted. Stumping physicians and psychiatrists, she becomes convinced her ailment is multiple-chemical sensitivity.  Essentially, she believes herself to be allergic to her entire life. Bundling off to a New Mexico retreat for the similarly afflicted, Carol nevertheless continues to be sick, and some of those around her take profound measures to cut themselves off all the more. Filmmaker Todd Haynes (“Far From Heaven”) has made a startling allegory about indescribable modern dread seeping into us in a world seemingly beyond our illusions of control. (Criterion Channel, YouTube)