Feb 19

“Touched With Fire” Film: Inspired By the Book

Who would not want an illness that has among its symptoms elevated and expansive mood, inflated self-esteem, abundance of energy, less need for sleep, intensified sexuality, and — most germane to our argument here –“sharpened and unusually creative thinking” and “increased productivity”? Kay Redfield Jamison, Touched With Fire 

Psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison‘s 1993 book Touched With Fire, about “the profound and surprising links between manic-depression and creativity,” was a major inspiration behind writer/director Paul Dalio‘s new film of the same title (originally called Mania Days) about a romance between two poets with bipolar disorder. As Jamison’s book did for him, Dalio’s aim is that the movie will bring hope to others.

Reportedly, back when Dalio was struggling with his own diagnosis, finding per Jamison that there were famous individuals in history who had similar mood issues was revelatory. According to Christopher Rosen, The Huffington Post, “Dalio ends his film with a dedication to some of those people, including Ernest Hemingway, Emily Dickinson, Cole Porter and Vincent van Gogh.”

The trailer’s below:

John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter, introduces the two main characters of Touched With Fire, played by Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby:

The actors play aspiring poets Carla and Marco, who meet while institutionalized (she’s published; his outlets are street art and open-mic rap). Both are entering manic phases, and in long insomniac bouts of wee-hours bonding they egg each other on, constructing a fantasy that they are interstellar entities not meant for life on Earth.

According to Joe Leydon, Variety, it’s Marco, who has misinterpreted Jamison’s book, who “convinces Carla to embrace what others might call madness, and use her heightened sensibilities to see clearer, create more and live fuller. Just like he does.”

Elise Nakhnikian, Slant:

A simmering volcano doing her best to avoid erupting, Carla radiates self-conscious unease whether she’s pacing her mother’s kitchen like a feral cat or curling defensively into herself at the hospital. Marco, conversely, is always talking. Hyped up on manic certitude, he keeps ditching his medication, insisting that it just tamps down the fire that fuels his creativity and asking the nurses if they would have medicated Van Gogh, implying that he would never painted masterpieces like Starry Night if they had.

Marco’s father is played by Griffin Dunne; Carla’s parents, Christine Lahti and Bruce Altman. Each of them, understandably, shows worry about his or her child’s condition as well as their relationship.

More About the Film’s Perspective On Mental Illness

Katie Walsh, Los Angeles Times: “It revels in the beautiful, wild abandon of Carla and Luna’s shared mania, though it’s clearly unsustainable — and clear to the audience far before the film asserts that idea. Writer-director Dalio has firsthand experience with bipolar disorder, and his perspective sheds fresh light on the unique ways in which manic-depressive individuals experience love and creativity.”

Joe Leydon, Variety: “…never gives the impression of romanticizing mental illness as a special state of grace, and refuses to depict parents, doctors and other concerned bystanders as interfering scolds or, worse, control-freakish villains.”

John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter:  “As in films about drug addiction, it’s hard to convey the lure of bad choices without seeming to encourage them, and Dalio hasn’t cracked this problem. It’s not completely clear that he wants to.”

Elise Nakhnikian, Slant: The couple meets Jamison for real and “assures Marco that medication won’t alter his personality or diminish his creative gifts; it will just make him happier and far more productive.”

Andrew Lapin, NPR: “Jamison’s research is nuanced and fascinating, causing us to reconsider how we view both our society’s tendency to medicate and the possibility that madness can be channeled into something productive. But in attempting to distill such findings into a small-scale human narrative, the film that bears her book’s name reduces itself to lines like, ‘Think about if you would’ve medicated Van Gogh’.”

Aug 28

“Hateship Loveship”: Quiet Caregiver with Interpersonal Issues

In Hateship Loveship, a movie adapted from a short story by Alice Munro and directed by Liza Johnson, quiet and naive Johanna Parry (Kristen Wiig) starts working for a gruff elderly man, Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte). His teenage granddaughter Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld), who lives with him, cruelly tricks this new caregiver into believing that her father Ken (Guy Pearce) has romantic interest in her.

An important piece of the back story: Sabitha’s mom is dead because of an incident in which Ken was drunk at the wheel.

Justin Chang, Variety, explains how Sabitha’s con has roots in Ken’s kindness to Johanna: “…(H)e leaves the new housekeeper a note of encouragement — a nice gesture that Johanna, unaccustomed to being treated kindly or flirted with, takes it upon herself to answer. But her letter is intercepted by Sabitha and her troublemaking best friend, Edith (Sami Gayle), who, rather than mailing it as promised, write back to Johanna pretending to be Ken. With the unthinking malice that can come so easily to teens with technology at their disposal, the girls initiate a friendly and increasingly intimate email correspondence with the unsuspecting Joanna, who becomes thoroughly smitten with the man she thinks is keeping up his end of the conversation.”

Other notable characters in the film include Jennifer Jason Leigh as Ken’s drug-addicted girlfriend and Christine Lahti as a bank employee who might become a romantic interest for Mr. McCauley.

Watch the trailer below:


Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com“She has worked in the service of others, as a housemaid/nanny/nurse since she was 15. Her voice is soft and flat, and when she speaks, she uses functional practical language. She has feelings about the families with whom she lives, but you would never guess any of it looking at her face. She has no self-pity. And so, when Johanna suddenly awakens to love, early on in ‘Hateship Loveship,’ it is both electrifying and perilous. She is not used to being overwhelmed with feelings, sexual and romantic, and she doesn’t know how to behave; she doesn’t know where to put it all.”

Justin ChangVariety:It’s an on-the-nose metaphor, perhaps, but for this quietly capable woman, cleaning house isn’t just a responsibility but also an escape, a form of therapy, and a far more practical solution than sulking or lashing out.”

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “…(W)e’ve never seen a protagonist quite like Johanna, who on the one hand personifies female self-abnegation at its most domesticated, but on the other embodies the sheer will at its most stubborn. She knows the value of elbow grease, whether she’s redeeming a dirty kitchen floor or even a scruffier human soul.”


Sheila O’Malleyrogerebert.com: “His kindness to Johanna is not targeted or creepy, but automatic and casual. He is filled with self-loathing over his mistakes: his drug addiction, being a terrible dad unable to take care of his daughter, and knowing that everyone thinks he is a loser….’Hateship Loveship’ lets him be complex. It doesn’t ask us to come down on one side or the other. His actions are often reprehensible. And sometimes he is beautifully warm and accepting. Both are true.”