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‘Silver Linings Playbook’ dismantles mental illness stigma
January 24, 2013
Recently, I’ve been making my way through the Oscar nominees for best picture. I’m a huge fan of the film industry, and I just really love watching good movies. If you need a recommendation, look up the nominations. The past year was a great year for movies, and they’re top notch.
This quest led me to the beautiful, wonderful, critic-favored “Silver Linings Playbook”. Besides being an absolutely stunning movie, this film brilliantly handled something very important to me. It’s an issue I brought up in the last edition of the Lycourier, and it’s one I find extremely important: the way we as a country view mental illness.
In the film, Bradley Cooper’s character, Pat, has recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, after an incident where he nearly beat his wife’s lover to death. The film opens with his character after a brief court-mandated stint in a mental health institution, trying to deal with his disorder and find a way to see his wife, who has a restraining order against him. In his quest, he meets Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Tiffany, who has also been dealing with her own fragile mental state after the death of her husband. The two come together and make a deal: Tiffany promises to take a letter to Pat’s wife if he agrees to be her partner in a dance competition.
The reason I am so enamored with this film, and why this isn’t just a film review, is the way it dismantles the stigma of mental illness. Never once are either one of these characters villainized or made to look cartoonish. These are real (fictional) people, living their lives.
This choice is so beautiful because it’s one that America needs to embrace. To understand the brain and how it works and why, we as a society need to get rid of the shame we attach to mental illness. The way this film so realistically depicts characters like Pat and Tiffany helps to show the public that people who struggle with mental illness aren’t complete whack-jobs or monsters or whatever you want to ascribe to them; they are people who love and feel and have people who love and care for them.
The way that writer and director David O. Russell handles these characters forces viewers to look at them in a light in which they may not have previously seen mental illness. Those who struggle with such afflictions could be as close as your next door neighbor, and aren’t bad people who should feel shame. Russell makes this movie with a particular closeness to the subject, and he was quoted saying he made the film to make his son, “feel like he’s a part of the world.”
This movie shows the difficulty of dealing with a disorder, and the importance of a good support system, but the best thing that I think it does is make you root for Pat and Tiffany the whole way through. Their respective illnesses do not define them.
Why, then, can we not view those who suffer from these illnesses in the same light when we encounter them in reality? Why does America still have a stigma against those who need treatment for a disconnect in their own brain, but not for the common cold?
It is my prayer and hope that movie-goers will be changed after seeing this film and that more like it will keep coming and chip away at the stigma so many people hold.
I just read a great review of this film by former congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, and I’d like to share a line that really hit home for me. Kennedy, who also has bipolar disorder, writes, “We need you to open your minds and arms, not shut your doors. And after all we’ve lost in recent months, our nation can’t afford any more belated realizations that we’ve missed the warning signs.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.