I had not posted my weekly post yet as I was thinking about a complicated post about new theories about sexuality and something called “sex scripts”, part of this new idea about how people’s “sex orientations” (my phrase to describe how people think about, view sex and their fantasy lives, very different from the concept of “sexual orientation”, but both are connected in that we do not choose them, they “happen” to us or get coded in us…)
More on that when I have time to craft a long and complicated explanation of the ideas in it. Luckily I saw the movie, “Silver Linings Playbook” last night on DVD, so I have a very short (well actually it turns out to be longer than I thought!) post to write about it.
Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen this movie, don’t read this post!
This movie really caught me by surprise, not the topics in it, but how much I liked it. I don’t often really absolutely love a movie and want to see it again soon. In recent years the last time I felt that way about a current movie was the moive, “Stranger Than Fiction”, from 2006. So I tend to be really moved and excited about a movie every 4-7 years, I guess. There was “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotted Mind” from 2004, so I guess those years I did not have to wait as long to be totally bowled over by a movie. Then before that it was “Being John Malcovich” which I saw over and over, maybe a total of 5 times! That came out in 1999, so I had to wait about 5 years to be that affected by a movie. It’s no surprise that Silver Linings marks seven years of no great movie for me; I have to confess that I have not seen that many movies out in the theaters since 2006 anyway, even though I have rented, bought and watched Netflix.
Anyway, I was prepared to watch with my therapist goggles on to see how they portrayed mental illness, especially bipolar disorder, but I wasn’t prepared for the portrayal of traumatic bereavement reactions in the traumatized “depressed” character Tiffany, or the portrayal of a very strange functional version of OCD in the father. There was another character from the hospital who had some kind of mental illness that was not clearly defined but seemed to have some OCD involved with his obsessions about his hair.
I was not prepared to be laughing out loud throughout the movie and of course, crying at the end.
Anyway, besides just being bowled over by the writing and how great all the performances were, I was really moved by the kind of love story they were telling. Yes, the portrayal of bipolar disorder was pretty good given the standard these days as set by the tv show Homeland, which I have a lot of problems with (why don’t they ever show her in therapy or with a psychiatrist? why did she have to get ECT which is sort of unusual for people with bipolar disorder? it seemed like they did not make clear that she was actually taking any meds and which ones and why they were not working.) For those who thought it was more realistic, I send them to the scenes when Pat in Playbook talks about not taking his meds, talks about which meds, and starts taking them despite not wanting to be “flattened” out.
The portrayal in Silver Linings was really much more realistic than the one in Homeland. I think the last time I saw such good portrayal of bipolar disorder was in the tv show “Six Feet Under”. The film actually managed to have some decent therapy scenes, with an actually pretty good empathic yet firm therapist. What a relief, as the TV and Film industry seems to love portraying therapy and therapists in a negative light or choose to portray very weird unconventional types of therapists for the sake of drama. This therapist did not have that many scenes to get developed the way Dr. Melfi in The Sopranos, another good therapist, was portrayed, but at least he was pretty much doing his job and wanted to help Pat, which is a victory for showing therapy in a good light. The film dealt well with the character’s initial avoidance of taking his meds, and came up with a very dramatic but not unrealistic scene of him behaving in such a way that he got it together to start taking his medications. (If I’m remembering correctly, it was after the flashback and hitting mom with dad hitting him at the end disturbing scene…) Also, bravo for the writers, we heard exactly what meds he was on and they made sense! He was taking lithium, seroquel and Abilify, which was also right on the mark for someone with Bipolar 1 to be taking post hopitalization for stabilizing mania, and as an example of a normal “bipolar cocktail” group of meds. Lithium as a mood stabilizer, one of the first ones discovered by accident, and seroquel, a fairly recent psychotropic medication used for bipolar disorder and at higher doses for any kind of schizophrenia disorder (schizophrenia, paranoid schizophrenia, schizoaffetive disorder, schizophreniform disorder…). Serquel is sometimes prescribed with depakote or lithium to add to mood stabilization and also as an anti-psychotic. It also acts as an anti-depressant. Abilify is a relatively new medication, not yet produced in the generic, that is used to increase the “ability” of the other meds’, usually moood stabilizers or anti-depressants, effectiveness. So, good for them, they got specific and realistic with the medication.
The reason I harp on the medication is that it is an opportunity for the general public to understand more about mental illnesses, such as Bipolar 1 Disorder, that are severe yet can afford the patient a “normal” functioning life if taken responsibly and under the care of a psychiatrist. And again, it is great for people to see what a difference the medication makes. As evil as people think the pharma companies are, these meds save lives, really they do! And they aid in people being able to have much fuller lives with less hospitalizations, etc.
I was also pleased with Tiffany’s character and the portrayal of her “craziness”, about which at one point the main character says says something cruel to the effect that he can’t see himself as being seen similar to her, implying that he thinks she is “crazier” than he is. There is a good scene where she points out that she is at least at peace with her “issues” and past impulsive sexual behavior (which was triggered by the sudden death of her husband) and can he say that for himself, which gives him pause, as he is not ok with his past violent eruptions and has not integrated the shadow parts of himself fully as she seems to have…
Now about the other main character with a kind of “mental illness”/ Tiffany’s narrative describing her “acting out” behaviors following the sudden death of her husband, was nicely placed in the film before you find out how he died, which makes for a realistic progression of things; we don’t know everything in a logical linear fashion about people when we enter any kind of relationship with them. Also, it affords the movie to cause uneducated and more judgmental people in the audience to have negative reactions to her description of having sex with 11 people in her office before getting fired after some kind of sexual harrassment from her boss (that last part I don’t remember the details of as by then I think Pat is so intrigued by her description). Perhaps without thinking about it, the writer or writers of the screenplay or book it was based on, are helping people understand why, after the events of 9/11/01, there was a lot of talk about 9/11 widows being rampantly promiscuous and even that people in their circles viewed them as “sluts” or even that men meeting them easily propositioned them assuming they were all promiscous and easy to score with. Obviously, not every widow surviving an extremely traumatic death of their partner gets so traumatically depressed that she engages in such kinds of impulsive sexual promiscuity and sexual promiscuity that is somewhat self-destructive (ie. either not using condoms or having sex at one’s work place and getting fired, etc.), but Tiffany’s character is well fleshed out and complex. The great twist is that she is not ashamed of her behavior or even regretful, which is also great at getting at stereotypes or archetypes in society of the “Widow Slut”. The situation is made more complex by the fact that she also engaged in sexual activity with women. There is a brief nod to the concept of partners not being understanding or open to each others’ fantasies from the scene in the diner when she starts elaborating on her experience with one older woman and both characters are aware that Pat is fascinated and turned on by it. At this point he says the only negative thing about his marriage in the movie, as he is idealizing the concept of marriage and his now broken marriage that, that his wife did not understand or want to participate in his fantasy life or at least he alludes to some closed mindedness in the area of her husband being attracted to women or wanting to talk “dirty” with her. This relates to the post I mentioned above that I have yet to write.
Anyway I diverge from the main important things that make this film so great. Thinking more about it, I see it as being part of the genre of a particular kind of romantic comedy that “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and even “Stranger Than Fiction” might belong to. It’s not the remarriage comedy of the Katherine Hepburn romantic comedies but it has the formula in which one protagonist is highly aware of being in love with the other one and frustrated by the blockages the other one is facing that cause him or her to not realize they are also in love, in effect described in the movie at the end as a kind of “catching up”. This “catching up” concept is actually very common in romantic comedies, and what makes us always expect the “running on foot” chase after the loved one at the end of the movie. How many romantic comedies have you seen with the speech from some other character about seizing the day and the “go after him or her or you will regret it for the rest of your life” almost word for word. In this movie the father wonderfully played by Robert DeNiro gets to make that speech which precipitates his son literally sprinting after Tiffany who has literally run out of the building. The running metaphor is well used in the movie as Pat goes for a run and literally “runs” into Tiffany or she goes out running when she knows he will be running in here neighborhood and she litterally runs after him as she does metaphorically throughout the movie, patiently listening to his rants about his wife who left him after the big “incident” and who has a restraining order against him, and patiently waits for the here and now of her interactions with him to cause him to fall in love with her as a real person. She is competing with a fantasy. He is competing with a dead man which is no competition at all as she begins running away from him and after him from the moment they meet. She interrupts the dinner at her sister’s house to run away, at the same time asking him to take her home.
Anyway, this running after him and his “catching up” at the end reminds me most of a really great classic romantic comedy with Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant, “Bringing up Baby”. The Hepburn character is not swayed by the fact that Grant is engaged to get married the next day. She spends the whole movie figuring out how to keep him near her and falling into one disastrous chaotic romantic event after another. A classic scene is when she has got all his clothes to the dry cleaners. He is forced to stay longer at her aunt’s house and don a very feminine white bathrobe with white fur on it. While he is in the shower, Goerge the dog finds his very valuable dinosaur bone and of course absconds with it and burries it in the garden. So the great scene is Hepburn and Grant running all over her aunt’s garden getting George to dig holes everywhere trying desperately to find the bone. The movie is hilariously full of mishaps, and Grant only “catches up” to Hepburn at the end by which time almost every character except the stiff and unadventurous fiancee is in the local jail with two leopards at large, both Baby the tame leopard and a wild leopard…
Really, Silver Linings most reminded me of that lovely film. The female characters are both equally memorable and have the same determination to somehow by keeping the man “involved” in their own daily life and keep the man with you and far away from the physical presence of the almost ex wife or the finacee. Physical presence and the charm and realness of these determined women win the day and they are rewarded with the slow minded but wonderful men finally getting it into their thick brains and hearts that they instead of wanting to run away from the women, actually want to keep them by their side for the rest of their wife.
To take this lovely cliche and still make us want it to happen and love to watch it throughout the film is just brilliant. That is what makes the film, that they can do it and I’m crying at the end. It’s a testamennt to the whole writing and buildup and chase throughout the movie…There is a great scene near the end when Tiffany convinces Pat’s father to change his mind completely about her by proving that every time Pat has been with her the Eagles have won the game; this sets off the rest of the movie being very reminiscent of the madcap old comedies like “Bringing up Baby”. I’m sure I could find several others. Philadelphia Story is a good reversal in which Cary Grant waits the whole film for his ex wife Hepburn to realize that she wants to remarry him, a slight twist on the waiting around plot that we see in every good and bad romantic comedy!
So basically, this movie works on so many levels one could go on and on about it. It’s making me want to find other such movies with the same romantic plot, but I realize even Spotless Mind works in the same way, except we the audience are waiting for both lovers to return to each other and each seems to have to catch up to the other equally…