“Touched with Fire” (2015)
In Paul Dalio’s “Touched with Fire” we quickly learn that Marco (Luke Kirby), a part-time rap/poetry performer at a local club, not only knows that he is bipolar with manic episodes, he embraces it. Fed by a book by Kay Jamison, named “Touched with Fire,” he is convinced that like great writers such as Lord Byron, Emily Dickinson and artists like Van Gogh, his manic episodes are when he is at his best, at his most inspired and creative self. Because of this, Marco has gone off his meds. His father, George (Griffin Dunne), comes to his apartment to check on his son when he finds out his son is not taking his meds. He finds that his son is not sleeping, has “gone off the grid” by not paying his bills and has rearranged his apartment by spreading out his sizable book collection across the floor, so that he can find any book at a moment’s notice. After attempting to get his son to see his doctor, Marco runs away, ultimately ending up on the rooftop of a building so that he can stare at the moon and hope to be transported away. He ends up getting arrested for trespassing there on the roof and after displaying to police that he isn’t in his right mind, is assigned to a mental hospital.
We first meet Carla (Katie Holmes) as she reads her poetry aloud to an unappreciative audience. Her poem is met with silence, and this seems to spin her down a hole of depression. She spends her days, writing furiously into journals, sometimes so fast the pen can’t keep up with her thoughts. Unlike Marco, she feels that her manic episodes are shameful. She is aware of her mental illness, and it makes her uncomfortable with the outside world. Carla has a habit of showing up at her parents’ home in the middle of the night, pacing around the kitchen as she explores the origins of her mental illness with anyone that will listen. Her mother, Sara (Christine Lahti) tries to reason with her daughter, trying to convince her to see her doctor and to take her medication, but usually, these visits end up with Carla storming off into the night, attempting to find answers to questions that may never be answered.
Both Carla and Marco end up in the same mental hospital and go to the same group meetings. At first, Carla can’t seem to stand the talkative Marco. She feels that he is forcing his will and ideology on the group and challenges him. Marco uses his skill at rhyming and rapping to overrun Carla and the group takes break. That night neither can sleep, and they meet and slowly start a dialogue on the creativity a manic person can have if left unrestrained. Soon they begin meeting every night at 3 am to further explore that topic and many more. Could love spring from such an unlikely place from two broken people who can barely function in society?
Writer/director Paul Dalio brings us an unusual love story based on his real-life experiences that gives us a realistic insight into the world of the manic personality and how it not only impacts their lives but their loved ones as well. I liked that we see their condition in multiple ways. Carla, as she falls under Marco’s spell, loses her inhibitions and starts to embrace her condition, letting herself go further down the manic slide. We know that eventually they will have to come down, we just hope that they can survive the fall. Dalio explores their world with a loving and understanding touch, never letting the audience pass judgment on the couple but lets us let us view in depth two very complicated people. The film never romanticizes having a mental illness, as we see the consequences of some of Carla and Marco’s choices that they make under the influence of being manic. Dalio’s real-life experiences contribute to the story to make this film feel more real for the audience, and it also helps that the principals are not star-crossed teens (that mainstream Hollywood would probably offer) but older adults that have lived with the illness for a while.
The two leads, especially Holmes, are impressive in their ability to convey such deep emotions and meaning through their many mood swings, some of which are painful to watch. Holmes has the tougher route to take, as her character is the one that is a bit more grounded in reality. She also has further to go in accepting the mania of her life, since she starts out being ashamed her illness and her possible actions. Kirby is convincing as the man who is so sure his mania will lead to great things that he is willing to risk it all to achieve them. Kirby and Holmes play off each other incredibly well, with Holmes’s character being more reserved and moodier than the always talkative Marco that Kirby portrays. While the supporting cast are acceptable in their performances, I did find that their characters were a little shallow, making it too easy for the film to use as pawns to move the story along.
While not a perfect movie, “Touched with Fire” feels real, giving us insight into a world of mental illness that we rarely get to explore to this existent. The film, due to the excellent performances of the two leads, and the genuine way it deals with its characters, gives us a way to understand what it’s like to deal with such a frustrating and sometimes deadly illness. My Rating: Full Price
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
The film is now playing at theatres in the Atlanta area.
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