Mental illness is never depicted honestly in movies. I don’t think even film makers can dare to be that real. The closest you can get to depicting dysfunction on the big screen is something like Little Miss Sunshine. Any deeper and people just turn off.

The reality is people want the good with the bad. Bitter pills coated in sugary gelatine. That’s why pills are so popular. We had to give the masses something to calm their nerves but the real stuff was so bitter, people were refusing to consume it. Enter sugar.

I always say that the guy who discovered refined sugar was a mega genius. The repercussions of discovering sugar go well beyond the discovery of atomic power. How would life look if sugar wasn’t as accessible?

My teeth would be healthier, for one. There’s be fewer dentists. Probably less obesity, because fat doesn’t taste as good as sugar. No diabetes probably. What else?

I should however commend directors for wanting to bring the topic of mental illness to the forefront of social discussion. I guess it always takes me by surprise how much people are actually led by the media/prevailing culture. But then, what do these movie makers bring to the limelight? Is it really an informed view of mental illness? How closely do they delve into the effects a mental illness has on the person, their loved ones and community at large. Is there a movie that journeys into the mind of the mentally affected?

I’m reminded of the song Flagpole Sitter.

paranoia paranoia everybody’s coming to get me.
just say you never met me
the agony and the irony
they’re killing me well

and then

put me in the hospital for nerves
and they had to commit me
you told em all i was crazy
they cut off my legs
now i’m an amputee

Much closer to reality. The imagery works quite well and can be related to an account of a person in a mental health facility, which it actually is. Much more educational than the film Silver Lining’s Playbook. But I guess poetry is always stronger than prose.

The movie is a solid attempt at drama and shows interpersonal relationships well. I like the way they create tension in the immediate family circle due to Pat’s illness. Pat is the main character played by Bradley Cooper. And the actual characterisation supports this reality.

The nerves coupled with the forced positivity in a family that probably never shared too many feelings across the dinner table is very nicely done. There’s also a certain commentary against the public health system and the film even sheds some light on sufferers who aren’t quite as fortunate as Pat via his friend Danny.

It also does a good job of showing how recovery is possible but must be self directed. However this is also the least believable part (after the romanticized ending). The two key characters, both affected by a different illness dedicate themselves to practicing a routine for a contest. This routine is their way out of their illness and a way to get a handle back on their lives. While the concept is sound and actually plausible, we never see either character go off the rails. They are unwell, but well enough to manage hours of daily practice sessions. There are no tantrums or other hiccups that get in the way. There is a very acute realisation of the importance of the commitment by both parties, even Pat whose interest is totally different to Tiffany, his dance partner’s.

But then again, each illness takes root in each personality and in every genetic makeup quite differently, quite distinctly.

It is clever though how the plot never reveals what the practice sessions are really sowing.

I wonder how the movie would have been different if Pat wasn’t so likeable, if he was uglier. If they actually showed his bipolar disorder manifesting in more than just him going on long runs covered with a trash bag. Although, you can now consider that there are potentially many sufferers of mental illness who simply blend in as “regular” people. It is hard to pick out in a crowd, but I guess you’d have to be trained in the art.

I’d like to see more discussion on mental illness in the public space, with specific focus on recovery. It’s a hard road and everyone doesn’t have a grasp on it. People coming from difficult backgrounds, how do they recover? What’s their family support structure? Is it easier on some?

There are so many questions. An open forum for not just the diagnosed but their families and friends would be a great way to bridge the gap. I really hope we can start one soon.

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