Appropriately enough on this day after the Oscars, I went to the movies. I'd already seen Argo and Lincoln. So today I saw Silver Linings Playbook, which received eight Oscar nominations, and for which Jennifer Lawrence won Best Actress. It has a happy ending (which, however, up until the last I worried it wouldn’t have). Before the happy ending, however, it explores the sad and dark territory of mental illness. The hero (played by Bradley Cooper) has been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, lacks appropriate emotional filters, and easily gets violent. (He’s just spent 8 months in a mental institution by court order after beating up his wife’s lover, who has since moved on and has an order of protection to keep him from making contact with her). The widowed heroine, Tiffany, has neuroses of her own, and it is their shared mental suffering that bonds them together – and in the process makes them so good for each other. How true it often is that fellow-sufferers may often do more for each other’s healing than institutions and therapies. Of course, the world around them isn’t all that much healthier, starting with Pat’s obsessive-compulsive, football-fan father. Angry and violent emotions may routinely be better filtered by others – although even among them not always – but they too mostly seem to live lives of anxiety and desperation. As is so often the case, the difference between the well and the sick is largely the former's better capacity to function in spite of suffering - or perhaps the latter's more acute sensitivity to suffering which impedes their routine functioning.
The movie is a veritable parable of anxiety and desperation, highlighting the pain and suffering of ordinary people stuck in failing or failed marriages and problematic careers, for many of whom the closest thing to vicarious meaning and fulfillment in life is found in the bizarre rituals of being fanatic football fans. Love conquers in the end, but it is a love that becomes real in the small ways in which marginalized people can help each other, which may be the most powerful and beautiful element in the story.