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Bipolar Disorder On Film


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Posted April 7, 2015 by


So far, films in 2015 have included many excellent portrayals of leading characters with mental illness and disorders. In Imitation Game Benedict Cumberbatch plays real life Alan Turing who suffered from Asperger’s syndrome. Julianne Moore won the Oscar for her role in Still Alice, playing someone afflicted with Alzheimer’s and young actor Asa Butterfield gives an impressive turn as a maths genius with Autism in X+Y. Many films feature one or more characters with a mental illness although few feature bipolar disorder specifically. The few films that do can show the very best to the very worst of the disorder. Cliff Curtis’s compelling performance as real-life chess champion and bipolar sufferer Genesis Potini in The Dark Horse (out now) has been universally acclaimed for its startlingly accurate depiction of the symptoms and also of Potini.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
For many, Bradley Cooper has been the funny guy or straight man in comedies such as Wedding Crashers or Limitless. Others see him as a thinking man’s romantic lead. In either case, Cooper broke the mould when he played Patrick ‘Pat’ Solitano, a man with bipolar disorder. It was a fresh approach to mental illness from notoriously difficult director David O. Russell – whose own son has the condition. Though his issue is not front and centre as it is with other similarly-styled narratives, we do get a feel for the effects of the disorder and his desperate attempts to maintain relationships. Equally amazing is how Cooper keeps it simmering just beneath the surface.

Michael Clayton (2007)
Starring George Clooney as stoic ‘fixer’ Michael Clayton, this tense and cerebral thriller centres on Clayton’s colleague – attorney Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) who suffers from bipolar disorder and whose behaviour sees him ejected from his firm. In the film, Edens is seen having a bizarre outburst in court and then requiring bail-out by Clayton. It is later revealed that Edens has come into possession of a client’s confidential document and is building a case against his own client to expose a carcinogenic weed-killer. Edens stops his medication, resulting in a meltdown and an awakening, propelling him on a quest to right the firm’s wrongdoings. The film has come under some criticism for an arguably inaccurate representation of a bipolar sufferer with full blown mania, given Arthur Edens ability to think and act logically. Thought Tom Wilkinson’s performance is undeniably brilliant.

Mad Love (1995)
The classic of all teen movies about bipolar disorder. This is a better film than many of the reviews suggest. Though the film full of clichés, screen darling Drew Barrymore is able to use the source materials to give an outstanding performance and really captures the desperate sadness of someone with bipolar suffering from manic depression. The story correctly observes that that she is depressed as opposed to manic depressive – therefore acts like stealing cars plus her other impulsive behaviour and manic outbursts are clearly bipolar, not symptoms of unipolar depression.

The Informant! (2009)
Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant! tells true story of Mark Whitacre’s (Matt Damon) corporate whistle-blowing while a vice-president at Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). It also gives us an illuminating look at bipolar disorder. What usually comes to mind, when this condition is mentioned, are alternating cycles of depressed, and then manic, episodes. In truth, bipolar disorder can be manifest in several ways, such as mostly depressed with rare and mild manic phases, or predominantly manic with little observable depression. This is expressed in this dizzying account that that spans several years in Whitacre’s life when the stresses worsened by investigation, combined with undiagnosed and untreated bipolar disorder to induce manic behaviour.

The Dark Horse (2015)
Cliff Curtis has often remarked how ‘natural’ the mania aspect of his performance felt when he undertook the part of New Zealand chess champion Genesis Potini. He studied chess furiously round the clock to master the game and do Potini’s legacy justice. Curtis has also revealed as part of his method preparation and physical transformation he gained much of his weight drinking beer everyday up to and during production. All this obsession and overconsumption fed into his terrific portrayal of the real life inspirational chess mentor and opened Curtis’s mind to reveal his own mania and demons for us all to see on screen. Potini’s family, friends and protégés who have seen the film have praised Curtis’s performance as the bipolar sufferer Potini.




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