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’.”