Insomnia awakens inspiration for film — Canadian actor's movie probes mental disorders

By Chris Atchison
Metro Toronto — September 8, 2005

Few would have thought that undergoing lots of sleepless nights would be the kind of experience that could lead someone to co-write and star in a film.

But it did so for Winnipeg native Jonas Chernick, and perhaps no one was more surprised than the actor himself.

In Lucid, Chernick plays Joel Rothman, an insomniac psychologist who tries desperately to learn the background stories of his three patients, all of whom suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

"The scariest thing about insomnia is the neurotic way in which we can interpret it as the end of sleep forever," Chernick explains.

He should know. Chernick admits to struggling with the disorder himself and watching his father — a severe insomniac — fill the long hours of the night with almost every time-passing activity imaginable.

Chernick took the combined experiences and worked with longtime friend and collaborator, director Sean Garrity, to produce the film over a six-year period. The writing process would see the two delve deep into the complexities of various disorders and also lead them to a few sleep disorder clinics.

"Your head just gets ruined", the 32-year-old says of the mental anguish that so many insomniacs endure. "You start thinking about the repercussions of it instead of just going 'Well, I'm not sleeping.'"

The film co-stars fellow Canadians Lindy Booth, Callum Keith Rennie and Michelle Nolden as the mentally ill patients whom Joel attempts to cure as he desperately searches for ways to make himself fall asleep.

Another part of Chernick's motivation for making Lucid came out of vivid dreams he says he experienced as a child — so vivid in fact, that he remembers being able to control sequences as if he were a director ordering around a cast and crew.

And then there was the issue of PTSD and its effects on the human psyche.

"I think PTSD was the perfect fit," says Chernick. "By its very nature it implies these characters have a past. Hopefully it stirs a curiosity about what kind of trauma has landed these people in the emotional trauma they've landed in."

Lucid makes its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, in the Contemporary World Cinema program.

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