Archives for posts with tag: Bipolar Disease

‘I probably set out to pay homage to Lucile, to give her a coffin made of paper – for these seem the most beautiful of all to me – and a destiny as a character. But I know too that I am using my writing as a way of looking for the origin of her suffering…’

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Lucile is the narrator’s mother, who commits suicide at the age of 61. From the first page, we are catapulted into the heartbreaking theme that overshadows the book:

‘My mother was blue, a pale blue mixed with the colour of ashes. Strangely, when I found her at home that January morning, her hands were darker than her face. Her knuckles looked as though they had been splashed with ink.

My mother had been dead for several days.’

The book is an exploration of Lucile’s life, a childhood overshadowed (and ‘disappeared’) by death, and an adult existence (for at times it reads as such, a non-being in the world), which was interrupted and disrupted by manic depression. It is also the story of what it was like for the narrator and her sister growing up in such an environment:

‘I am writing about Lucile through the eyes of a child who grew up too fast, writing about the mystery she always was to me, simultaneously so present and so distant, and who, after I was ten, never hugged me again.’

Shortly after discovering her mother’s dead body, the narrator, a writer, decided on perhaps the most intuitive way for her to confront and to explore the demons in her past and in her mother’s:

‘And then, like dozens of authors before me, I attempted to write my mother.’

‘Initially, once I had finally accepted that I would write this book after a long, silent negotiation with myself, I thought I would have no difficulty introducing fiction and no qualms about filling in the gaps…Instead of which, I am unable to alter anything…Unable to free myself completely from reality, I am involuntarily producing fiction; I’m looking for an angle which will allow me to come closer and closer still; I’m looking for a place which is neither truth nor fable, but both at once.’

Although the writing resulted in a ‘setting free’ of sorts, through the process ‘I grew a little further from Lucile in wanting to get closer to her.’

There are many serious and tragic themes throughout the book, including abuse, anorexia, and loss, both physical as the result of death through accidents and suicides, but also profound loss within enduring relationships.

Lucile seemed to gradually and progressively retreat from the world. A diagnosis of cancer provided the final challenge she could not face. The sentiments expressed in her final letter reminded me of an e.e.cummings phrase ‘Unbeing dead isn’t being alive’.

‘Lucile died the way she wanted to: while still alive.’

It is unclear from the book, and from interviews with the author, to what extent the story is autobiographical. It appears to be a combination of both fact and fiction. It matters little. This is a deeply affecting novel, and one which made me consider the stories into which we are all born, and the extent to which they can be rewritten.

CQ

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I went to see this film primarily as I was interested in how it portrayed mental illness. The experience of mental illness has often been skimpily and superficially dealt with in most fiction films, and so I was hoping for something deeper and more meaningful from this current release.

I was indeed entertained by the romantic, redemptive, uplifting storyline, where loves cures all (even crazy, which is not unusual in cinematic depictions of mental illness, for example Spellbound and Prince of Tides).

Undoubtedly, we need feel-good stuff in our lives.

But, and this is a significant ‘but’, I was not at all sure about the film’s depiction of mental illness, specifically bipolar disease.

Bipolar disease, or manic depression, can be devastating for the sufferer, albeit the severity of the condition varies from one individual to the next. What was reassuring in Silver Linings Playbook was to see those suffering from the condition leading a ‘normal’ life, which is certainly possible for many sufferers.

In the film, the sufferer Pat, played by Bradley Cooper, appears to be mainly affected by problems with anger management. We learn that his 8-month stay in a psychiatric hospital resulted from beating up his wife’s lover. Presumably this event alone did not lead to a diagnosis of bipolar disease, but we are kept in the dark as to what else defined his condition.

When he leaves hospital to live with his parents, we do see some (vaguely) manic episodes. Pat decides, for example, in an attempt to win back his wife, to read all the books on her teaching syllabus. Incensed by Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms, he wakes his parents up at 4am to espouse on all that is wrong with the book, and eventually hurls the offending tome through a closed window. Anger, inappropriate behaviour, yes, but mental illness, bipolar disease? I am not so sure that this is necessarily so…

I was also perturbed by the comedy. In parts, the film is funny, and cleverly so. But I struggled with the humour in places, particularly where it felt like the audience was laughing at symptoms of bipolar disease, the acting out and inappropriate behaviour that mental illness can entail, and which also alienates and isolates sufferers in real life.

A further issue that bothered me was compliance with medication. Pat didn’t like how the pills made him feel, which is a very reasonable and common management problem. However, there is so much evidence that bipolar disease can be contained, even controlled, with appropriate treatment, and this was such a golden (and missed) opportunity to stress the importance of compliance.

I suspect that Pat did eventually take his medication on a regular basis, but in the end the film leaves one with the powerful sense that love, not medication and compliance, conquered mental illness.

So, overall, a missed opportunity I felt, as the portrayal of mental illness, specifically bipolar disease, is rarely the subject of mainstream cinema (and, interestingly, most of what we have to date originates from the US), and also the fact that the director David O Russell has such a way of winning over his audience, so much more could have been achieved. Most fiction films that deal with the topic of mental illness portray sufferers as victims in a melodrama (for example Splendour in the Grass (1961)). Documentaries and autobiographical works, for example The Devil and Daniel Johnston, are different, and often much more harrowing, and need to be explored as a separate entity.

Silver Linings Playbook is a romantic comedy, which is also billed as having mental illness within its core focus. Observing Pat’s journey and recovery through the film may serve in some way to de-stigmatise mental illness, but I suspect that many of those in the auditorium with me a couple of nights ago will remember it as a sweet and endearing romantic story, rather than as a melodrama that dealt with the real, and less immediately solvable, issues that underlie the experience of living with mental illness.

CQ