In a scene about three-fourths of the way into her new Apple TV+ documentary My Mind & Me during a London press day in 2019, Selena Gomez is made to sit alone in front of her reflection and answer the question, “What do you see when you look in the mirror?” At this point, the pop star is at the height of her battle with her bipolar disorder—she is unable to manage her emotions and attitudes towards others, which is only exacerbated by the day’s hectic schedule. “I see… [I’m] still working on what I see in the mirror, I suppose,” Gomez responds, sounding defeated.
Putting out a documentary is often an opportunity for celebrities to set the record straight—whether by remedying a tarnished reputation or showing rare sides of themselves. Either way, public figures most often use the medium to appear more likable by showing viewers their most intimate, authentic selves. By these standards, My Mind & Me is unlike many films in the genre: Not only do we see Gomez at her most volatile and antagonistic, but even she still seems to have no idea who she is while trying to reveal herself to the public.
Filmed on-and-off from 2016 to 2022 under the direction of Alek Keshishian, what started out as a project to document the singer/actor’s Revival Tour (which was eventually canceled for mental health reasons) evolved into an exploration of Gomez’s journey through multiple harrowing health crises, both physical and mental. The film itself, which jumps around in timeline, energy, and mood, presents a disorienting picture of what Gomez went through over those six years, from her philanthropic efforts in Kenya, to her advocacy in mental health spaces, to her time in and out of the limelight, to her visits to her Texas hometown.
Even as it fails to cover rather momentous points of the past half decade—like her kidney transplant or her breakup with Justin Bieber, for example—what My Mind & Me does show is a celebrity whose limits are being tested from all sides. While on tour, though always genuinely loving to her fans, backstage, we see a frenzied 24-year-old Gomez fuming over the logistics of her costume changes (“Rip goes one sleeve, and rip goes the other one!”). In some of the most challenging scenes of the film, Gomez lashes out to those close to her over small comments, blowing accusations out of proportion during otherwise casual conversations (“Do you think I’m complaining about my job?”), or becoming enraged after unsatisfying interviews (“Fucking dumbest thing I’ve ever done…I’m done. I can’t do that anymore”). In these moments, everyone else in the room falls silent, the tension so palpable that you can even feel it through the screen.
At times, the whiplash from these drastic shifts makes it feel as though the film is on the verge of implosion. Without a clear storytelling structure, the different narrative strings feel hastily woven together—but this is exactly the kind of chaos that has characterized Gomez’s life. As someone who’s been working in showbiz since she was 7 and is also grappling with her own demons—including voices in her head that drove her to an episode of psychosis in 2018—Gomez has never been fully in charge of her own story. But instead of trying to control it, here, she surrenders to the messiness, laying everything bare for all to see.
As a viewer, it was only when I realized that this jarring, cacophonous montage of her life was the point of the film that I began to appreciate it more. In letting all of these publicly projected and self-bred narratives clash, mesh, flow into, and grate against each other, an honest—though at times grueling—portrait of a real, whole, struggling person emerges.
“How do I learn how to breathe my own breath?” Gomez asks in one of many diary entries that served as voiceovers throughout the film. It’s a sobering and daunting proposition for any person, let alone someone whose life has always been dictated by the unrelenting whims and impositions of others. Instead of telling us who she is from the get go, My Mind & Me brings us along in her efforts to find the answer to that question.
Gomez recently said in an interview with Rolling Stone that she worries the documentary is “too intense” for public viewing and that she almost refused to sign off on it. I would argue that the documentary’s intensity, and hers in it, is the whole reason to watch—she did something really brave, here.