Even as the film highlights mental illness and its struggles, it falls short of an accurate portrayal of bipolar disorder and anger management.
By Aliya Zainab
Silver Linings Playbook, a 2012 American romantic comedy-drama film written and directed by David O Russell, is based on Matthew Quick’s 2008 novel that goes by the same title. It has been praised for its sensitive portrayal of mental illness and its impact on relationships, families, and society. The themes of hope, resilience and redemption through the characters’ journeys of recovery and self-discovery make for a compelling story.
The film also had far-reaching impacts, as the director along with the lead actor, Bradley Cooper, had visited the then US Vice President, Joe Biden, to help introduce a new mental health act in America. However, despite having its heart in the right place, the film fails in giving us a medically accurate portrayal of the symptoms, treatment and management of bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions.
The movie narrates the story of Pat Solatano, played by Bradley Cooper, a man who suffers from bipolar disorder and tries to reconcile with his estranged wife after being released from a mental institution. Along the way, he meets Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence, a young widow who also struggles with mental health issues and offers to help him by giving Pat’s ex-wife his letter, but in exchange for Pat partnering with her in a dance competition.
In the movie, Pat is diagnosed with bipolar disorder after he assaults his wife’s lover in a fit of rage. Bipolar disorder is not usually triggered by a single traumatic event, but rather by a combination of genetic, biological and environmental factors. Moreover, bipolar disorder is characterised by episodes of mania (elevated mood, energy and activity) and depression (low mood, energy and activity), not just by anger or aggression.
Pat is frequently triggered by interactions with his father and brother. They all seem to be dealing with their own set of emotional and mental health issues; the relationships are strained, often escalating into heated arguments.
Therapy for bipolar disorder usually involves a combination of medication, psychotherapy (such as cognitive-behavioural therapy or interpersonal therapy) and psychosocial interventions (such as family therapy or self-help groups). When Pat attends therapy sessions with Dr Patel, played by Anupam Kher, we see a psychiatrist who tries to help him cope with his condition. However, the sessions seem too brief, superficial and infrequent. There is no psychoeducation about the disorder, or coping skills or strategies to manage his anger, thoughts and behaviours.
It’s only when Pat gains a deeper understanding of himself, his emotions, and the impact his actions have on others that he undergoes a transformative journey, learning to confront and manage his anger and bipolar disorder. He realises that the path to happiness and self-acceptance does not rely solely on reuniting with his estranged wife, but also involves embracing personal growth and finding joy in unexpected places.
The film suggests that one’s journey towards mental well-being and emotional stability is a continuous process rather than a one-time effort. It’s all about finding our own silver linings and creating a meaningful and fulfilling future.
All in all, Silver Linings Playbook is an entertaining and touching film that raises awareness about mental illness and its challenges. While it serves as a catalyst for deeper explorations and honest conversations, it should not be taken as a definitive source of information or guidance on bipolar disorder and anger management issues.