Verdict: 3 / 5
Bipolar director Paulo Dalio aims to break the disorder-stigma as a poetic gift through the imaginary cosmos of a fractured mind that longs to paint with words in a manic state of wonder. We review Touched with Fire.
In short, our two bipolar romantic leads are: published poet Carla(Katie Holmes), who’s frantically trying to find any source of her former self. It’s like a glimpse of herself before her manic years would restore some hope or reason for being. And Marco (Luke Kirby) a man obsessed by the cosmos, who embraces the apocalypse, but is convinced he’s not from this planet.
Carla and Marco find themselves admitted to the same hospital, and inevitably they’re drawn towards one another. A beautifully hypnotic relationship blooms in a dream like state, with Van Gogh’s Starry Night as a leit motif. They plan their great accent to their true planet with secret late night meetings. Marco has it all figured out, with convincing scientific jargon that would sound logical to anyone desperate to find escape. He refuses to accept that they are in the wrong and that their minds are fractured. Instead, he believes they are gifted – naming various infamous artist and literary figures that were supposedly also bipolar (these are listed at the end of the film too).
Holmes and Kirby deliver impressive performances and complement each other well. They enable empathy so you’ll want them to prove the doctors wrong. But the family and professional opinion is that they are co-dependent and will enable psychosis, which will set their recovery back by 6 months at least. In defiance of societal pressures, to normalise the gifted with pharmaceuticals, they stop taking their meds. To truly experience every moment in it’s most heightened form, the couple venture off on a wonderfully playful childlike adventure, lacking in sense of logic, responsibility or fear of consequence. What is really beautiful is how, for a brief couple of days, nothing matters, they are truly happy and accepted in a way they never thought possible – as they have been alienated their whole lives because of their diagnosis. This rings true for all mental disorders, and it is cruel that they are always reminded of their ‘fractured-ness’. It looks so freeing but, unfortunately, the law doesn’t allow for such free spiritedness. Being ripped apart by force several times, takes a dreadful turn. Dalio successfully uses the camera to demonstrate the various stages of mania and euphoria.
Dalio offers a romantic look at being bipolar, unfortunately, the term ‘crazy in love’ rings all too true. A positive note is that while most use metal illness as a tool for dramatic effect, Dalio shows that the stigma is false. It is treatable, and like most things in like, you choose to not let a diagnosis control your life. Films and stories that break the stigma, should be encouraged, to educate people on a subject many cower from. However, it doesn’t ever reach that breakthrough.
Touched with Fire is beautiful, but a little too forceful in its need to convince it’s audience of it’s a gifted nature. Inspired by Kay Jamison’s “Touched with Fire: Manic –Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament”, one can see the artistry and appreciate it’s complexity.
The lyrics of the Starry Night song ring true:
Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
How you suffered for your sanity
How you tried to set them free
They did not listen, They did not know how
Perhaps they’ll listen now