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Silver Linings Playbook (2012) starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence / 11 December 2012

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence both star as characters with mental illness

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This is a funny and honest look into the lives of two people living with mental illness. 

The film opens as Pat (Bradley Cooper) is being checked out of Baltimore mental hospital by his mother. He moves back into his family home with his parents and tries to get back together with his ex – wife, Nikki (Brea Bee). As he moves back into his parents’ home he tries to adjust to the world around him as he faces ups and downs with his health and shows that peoples’ prejudices affect the way people behave around him.

Pat has bipolar disorder and he feels that he wants to be “clearer” so does not take his medication. This is suiting to someone who has episodes of hypomania or mania, where they perceive themselves to no longer need the help of medication, as they are now able to make everything in their life more positive. This is where his idea of a silver lining comes from; he wants to see the positive side of everything. There is a sort of beauty in that and Pat is a very contiguous and dynamic character. Though it is true to the symptoms of someone with bipolar to go through a period where they do not feel as though they need medication, it is also a great device to see Pat’s symptoms without and later with medication.

Though the film does not specify, it is clear that Pat has Bipolar type 1. His tendencies to have more episodes of mania and hypomania rather than Depression indicate this. The film is less concerned with that and more concerned about depicting the wide spectrum in which bipolar encompasses. For instance, the film shows how he believes in a conspiracy, which leads him to have a panic attack. In one scene, he becomes fixated with the idea of finding his wedding video. It is the middle of the night and he is in the attic, panicking as he is trying to find it. In his panic he accidentally hits his mother. After this scene, he realises that he needs his medication and goes back on it. This shows a sense of responsibility that the character has for his family and for himself. 

A fantastic scene in the film is when Pat is invited by his friends Ronnie (John Ortiz) and Veronica (Julia Stiles) to dinner. When Pat is at this dinner, it is clear that Veronica is making judgements about Pat because he has been in a mental hospital and is quite condescending towards him. She has invited her sister, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) to dinner. It is clear that Tiffany is also suffering from a mental illness. This scene shows up Veronica’s attitude and makes this character revaluate the way she sees mental illness, as her own sister is suffering from it as well, so she can longer be so judgemental towards those suffering from it. The scene also has a refreshingly honest debate from Pat and Tiffany about medication. They both joke about the negative side effects of the medication they have used in the past, and from this it might indicate that Tiffany has bipolar type 2 (she is more prone to periods of Depression and social anxiety with less periods of hypomania and no periods of mania).

 Both characters’ illnesses are treated with respect from the director, there is no sense of a condescending tone but rather one where the viewer really can see what it is like to have bipolar or to live with someone with it. The scene where Pat looks for the wedding video is an example of how the film allows the viewer to have this degree of empathy. As Pat is panicking, the camera is in extreme close up, allowing the viewer to share in his sense of claustrophobia; the camera is also shaking and moving in a dramatic fashion, also allowing the viewer to share in Pat’s accelerated heartbeat and sense of anxiety.

Another moment where you can see the reality of Pat’s illness is when the film shows people’s reactions to the fact he has been in the hospital. As well as at the dinner party with Veronica, it is shown when he attempts to go back to work at the school. As he sees a woman he knows, Nancy, he goes up to her to ask if he can come back to work. She reacts as though he is about to attack him, even though he is just asking simple questions and she even starts screaming as he goes to hug her. This shows how some people have such a horrible attitude to mental illness, but it also does a lot to dispel these attitudes by making these attitudes seem outlandish. It also helps dispel these attitudes to mental illness by showing the viewer the reality of the illness, so they know the reality rather than a sentimentalised or distorted view of mental illness.

Not only are those suffering from mental illness are depicted in a refreshing and understanding way but also Pat’s family and friends are as well. Pat’s father, Pat sr. (Robert De Niro) shows signs of OCD, as he has to carry out repetitive gestures every time he watches a football game. He tries to get Pat to watch the game, saying that he brings good luck. Pat sr. reveals to Pat later on that this was an attempt to connect with his son. He explained that he often blamed himself and worried that it was something he did to make Pat ill, but he realised it was about Pat not him. He told him that he loved him and accepted him. This scene was very touching and played brilliantly by Robert De Niro. There is such empathy in relation to bipolar in the film that is not surprising to me that the director, David O. Russell based Pat on his son, who also has bipolar. 

The film shows the lows involved with the illness, even with those on medication. Someone with Bipolar is a mental illness for life, so there will always be bad days. For Tiffany, her way of trying to make these bad days a little easier is to try and enter in this dance competition and she gets Pat involved, who is at first reluctant, but then starts really enjoying it. The collaboration, hard work and getting the best score the can is what matters. It is also the fun they have as they come together and achieve something, which shows them they can do things they aim for. Their silver linings are possible; it just takes a lot of hard work to get there.