Most hollywood movies tackling the subject of mental illness tend to do so not from the point of view of the sufferer but from the perspective of those around them, and often in a rather one-dimensional way that values entertainment over accuracy. Writer-director Paul Dalio’s debut feature, Touched With Fire, sets out to depict those suffering from bipolar disorder in a more nuanced and less sensationalist light, reports the Washington Post.
Dalio (36) is more qualified than many to take on this challenge, as he himself has suffered from the disorder since he was in his twenties. The director says he set out to tell a different side of the story, inspired by his own experiences and frustrated by the way people with mental heath problems are often portrayed in the movies:
It frustrates me when the filmmaker isn’t aware of how displaying them in this way — from the outside — might affect the way in which the public sees them. That is to say, very easily, in a negative light.
The film follows the lives of two bipolar poets – Katie Holmes as Carla and Luke Kirby as Marco – who each undergo respective breakdowns and wind up meeting in group therapy. From there the pair are launched on a turbulent romantic adventure, hatching a plan to “teleport to the moon”. Concerned that the two lovers are perhaps not best placed to exert the right kind of influence over each other (indeed they frequently spur each other on to even greater levels of mania), the doctors decide to keep them apart for their own good. But the pair of poet dreamers refuse to be separated from one another.
The story unfolds by means of fast-cut montage sequences and frenetic, disorientating layered audio techniques that bring the viewer into the minds of the main characters as they ride the roller-coaster of manic-depressive episodes. And it does so without resorting to the “melodramatic, condescending, patronizing” and “idiotic” kind of approaches taken by many other movies dealing with mental health issues, says Johns Hopkins professor of psychiatry Kay Jamison, whose book Touched With Fire lent the movie its title.
In a recent review, the Chicago Tribune praised the refreshingly different perspective on mental health issues that the film offers, but added that to a certain extent the movie is let down by moments of melodrama and poor production values.