My review of ‘Touched with Fire’, a film about bipolar disorder.
I saw it twice. Last weekend, and again today. I don’t get to see many new films and I hardly ever go to the movies. But I’ve been waiting for this to hit theaters. And hit it did. For me anyway. The first viewing of TWF ignited so many emotions in me. I admit my expectations weren’t high considering the media doesn’t paint mental illness too favorably. I guess my guard was up. I was rooting for this film so much before even seeing it. I was rooting for the bipolar audience.
Meet Marco, played by Luke Kirby, and Carla, played by Katie Holmes. Both of are incredibly talented writers. Both of them are diagnosed with bipolar disorder. From my educated opinion, research, and personal experience, I would say they have bipolar type 1. Bipolar disorder type 1 is characterized by extreme highs (mania) and extreme lows (depression), and can be accompanied by psychosis. Both Marco and Carla are patients in a psychiatric hospital when they meet and they form an intense bond. Together they ignite each other’s fire. They sneak around in the hospital, and eventually form a relationship on the outside, which is front and center to a whirlwind rollercoaster.
Writer/director, Paul Dalio based the characters off of himself, and the film from his own experiences with bipolar. He incorporates the strong influence of art, poetry, famous people with mental illness, and the bipolar queen, Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison. Dr. Jamison even has a cameo in the movie.
One reason I saw TWF a second time is to make sure I wasn’t going to review it based solely on my rush of emotions. But the truth is, Touched With Fire is actually very emotional. Dalio represents a very realistic insight into the bipolar life. Manic episodes are unruly, impulsive, unbelievably creative, and indescribably passionate. These episodes are just as defiant and destructive. We see this in both Carla and Marco. We also see them crash. Again, each action and thought from the characters ring into true suicidal depression. As someone who’s lived with type 1 for over 16 years, I could absolutely relate to where these characters were, in each moment. I can’t imagine that the rest of the audience didn’t feel this spilling from the screen as well.
Another area that Dalio dove into is the realities of medication non-compliance. Non-compliance is a serious symptom of the illness. (I still fight my wife about taking my meds.) The film gives Carla and Marco an opportunity to demonstrate their views on why they don’t like to be medicated. Once off of the meds, there is a gradual deconstruction of their mental states, showing what happens when someone with severe bipolar disorder is not accepting treatment. It also involves their parents, who all seem to be pretty supportive and caring, while showing how the manic and depressive episodes affect them.
Katie Holmes makes a return to the screen, playing Carla, and her performance really did give me goosebumps. Luke Kirby was born to play the part of Marco. Both actors portrayed the challenge of channeling the characters’ emotions, actions, impulses, thoughts, desires, and talents. They nailed it.
My only less than positive critique is that this film is not for everybody. I guess this isn’t really critiquing the film, but rather the audience. For people who know absolutely nothing about mental illness, or who are not here to learn about it, go see something else. I was biting my tongue each time the woman down my row would obnoxiously laugh at the psychosis Marco was experiencing or the manic love the characters had. She took no social cue that nobody else was laughing until about a third of the way through the film.
The first time I watched Touched With Fire, I got choked up so many times. I felt Paul Dalio was pulling material from inside my head. The moon plays a heavy influence in the film, and I have a huge obsession with the moon. And I’m sure many, many bipolar folks are writers with moon obsessions, but in the moment, it spoke to me. The frustration of Holmes’ character as she tries to learn of her life prior to becoming sick, to Luke Kirby’s character philosophizing every single thing. My mania has dragged me to that point too many times. I was crying at many points during the film. I was scheming on which medications to stop taking. The second time I saw the film, it was much more cognitive. I studied their behaviors and of course, compared myself to some, but mostly just watched the transformation from hypomania to mania to severe depression to being stable to impulsively triggering instability.
Overall, an excellent film. I will be adding it to my personal library. It’s only in select theaters right now, but if possible, go see it.