Silver Linings Playbook – A BA Thesis Analysis

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Silver Linings Playbook (Russell, 2012) was adapted for the screen by David O. Russell. It is based on the novel The Silver Linings Playbook (2008) written by Matthew Quick. The context of mental health treatment in this book and eventually in the film is community care facilities which began to be described in Isaac and Armat’s (1990), and Nelson and Prilleltensky’s (2005) studies. However, due to the overwhelming need and unpreparedness of the community for mental health patients, it took a number of years before these became firmly established on the landscape.  Hester Parr (2008) identifies how there was a failure in the process involved in closing the asylums, which has been described in both medical and academic literature, which require further investment for what she calls ‘Cinderella’ health services in the UK. On the other hand, she goes on to discuss this in a US context, and given the legislation I previously described in the literature review, further acts in the 1990’s and the early 21st century found Community Care developing at a faster rate (Parr, 2008). Also provided are training and recreational facilities, as well as access to GPs and hospital based provisions which is co-ordinated (Parr, 2008). Despite all of these aspects however, failures also exist. There is a lack of “effective co-ordination and management of community and hospital teams, lack of available community care options, cumbersome bureaucratic approach, risk of putting some patients under tight surveillance and binding them into a network of multi-institutions” (Parr, 2008: 34). As well as all of this, the services are highly rationalized, and are still primarily based on hospital based treatment, still incorporating this socio-political emphasis on social control (Parr, 2008). As such, despite the process of deinstitutionalization, care is still present in hospitals and many flaws exist within the community care realm.

The main character of SLP, Pat Saltino Jr., has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, otherwise known as manic depression, a type of psychosis. The person suffers symptoms involving lengthy periods of experiencing both emotional and social stability mixed with times of over activeness, severe low mood, and being extremely excited (Kinsella and Kinsella, 2006).  The level at which each of these occur varies, with some only experiencing “occasional extremes of mood during a lifetime” (Kinsella and Kinsella, 2006: 23). This is helped by mood stabilizing medication, and the active involvement of both family and mental health professionals (Kinsella and Kinsella, 2006). It does not offer the same degree of debilitation and social withdrawal as schizophrenia (Kinsella and Kinsella, 2006). Most individuals with this disorder manage to live a normal life, but if the mood swings occur more frequently, it can leave them disabled from the alternating moods and psychotic symptoms for much of adult life with significant life disruption (Kinsella and Kinsella, 2006). However, it is not unusual to have intervals of many years between symptoms (Kinsella and Kinsellla, 2006).

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SLP is a romantic comedy-drama, and as such there is more than one expectation that the audience will have about this film. As it is a romantic film, a love story is already posed to have some presence. On the other hand, the fact that it is part of the comedy-drama genre as well means that it will involve a serious topic with humorous intent. The narrative of the film is just that, but revolves around Pat dealing with his bipolar disorder having spent six months at the Baltimore psychiatric hospital after claiming insanity after seriously assaulting the man his wife was having an affair with. He meets a young woman named Tiffany Maxwell, who has experienced and is experiencing similar problems to him. In that, she has experienced the loss of a spouse, but also, the fact that she is clinically depressed joins them in a mutual understanding of mental illness. They both form a bond, which eventual changes Pat’s entire outlook and hopes for his life. The message about mental illness that the film presents to the audience is that individuals that suffer from mental illness need to be given just as much chance as everyone else. It does this in particular by not isolating mental illness as much as that seen in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (OFOTCN) or Taxi Driver (TD).

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Pat’s spatial situation is located in Collingswood New Jersey and he is living with his parents. Pat has just been released from the confines of a psychiatric facility in Baltimore, and is now faced with a new spatial freedom. However, due to his parents concern for him because of his bipolar disorder and the fact that he could end up back in Baltimore if he does anything out of the way, Pat’s space is regulated. Despite this, Pat manages to develop his own space through daily jogging, reading books and eventually, dance training with Tiffany. Pat’s parents eventually realize that his own endeavours outside the house are more beneficial, then confining him in their house. Thus, this identifies different community care spaces as varying, as he is treated by his parents, by a community facilitated therapist and through the dance training.

(L-R) JENNIFER LAWRENCE and BRADLEY COOPER star in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

Approaching the theme of ‘other’ in a film on community mental health care, in this case SLP, the differences between it, OFOTCN, and TD must be taken into account. SLP occurs within a period which attempts to make mental illness more socially acceptable, to not isolate it as much as in OFOCTN, but also to not make it unknown by people as in TD. As such, while the interactions that occur within SLP between the main characters of Pat Saltino Jr. and Tiffany Maxwell, and other characters, portray a higher understanding than in previous periods of mental health treatment, ‘othering’ is still evident. This can be seen in the scene where Pat arrives home from the psychiatric hospital to find his picture on the ground, with his brother’s still on the wall. Or when he goes to the high school he worked at on a Sunday, and meets a teacher named Nancy at the door. This scene clearly identifies society’s view of him, after the incident with his wife. By exclaiming “O God, O God” when Nancy sees Pat, and “Get away from me, get away!” when he tries to help her, demonstrate a level of fear attached to his identity as being mentally ill. She leaves by saying to Pat that it will all work out and people will get over it. Pat responds by saying “It’s a silver development Nancy”. This and the title of the film in general develop a sense of hope throughout the film, and serves as a positive perspective on mental illness. The camera angles in this scene are from Pat’s of view, and the shot shows how he is treated by Nancy, but his presence in this scene as ‘other’ is also shown in this way.

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The entire dinner scene at Pat’s friend Ronnie and his wife Veronica’s house offers a major point in which ‘othering’ and mental health is also evident, as the audience is introduced to Tiffany for the first time. She is Veronica’s sister, and plays a key role in the ensuing conversations and exchanges at the dinner table. Pat and Tiffany have a conversation about medication, followed by Tiffany exclaiming that she wants to go home and asks Pat to walk her.  This scene develops the interaction between Pat and Tiffany, as they are the ‘other’ in this situation, and experience ‘othering’ only to find solidarity and equality from each other. The shot is quite strikingly viewed as Pat and Tiffany are seated away from Ronnie and Veronica, with varying camera angles which continue to emphasize Pat and Tiffany’s space in the scene as socially ‘different’.

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In terms of power and agency, the film presents a more complex picture than the previous two examples.  Pat’s treatment being in the community gives him a sense of freedom, but the understanding and concern from the other characters about his mental illness leads to different relationship dynamics then that displayed between Randle and Nurse Ratched. Power holds good and is accepted in society because it not only weighs “on us as a force that says no, but that it traverses and produces things”, and “needs to be considered as a productive network which runs through the whole social body” (Foucault, 1980: 119). The power dynamics in SLP however, occurs between Pat and his parents. Debates occur in the home about Pat taking his medication, watching the games with his dad, spending time with Tiffany, but also frustration and anger during Pat’s violent episodes.

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This even comes down to Dolores, his mother, saying “you have to take your medication. I will call them, they’ll come for you”, in order to police him because of the concern about his disorder. Power dynamics are most evidently seen the night Pat looks for his wedding video. Pat wakes his parents up looking for it, and his dad starts screaming to not go into his study; “Don’t go into my study. Are you going in my study?” Dolores follows him into the study, while Pat is saying; “Seems to me like you wanna hide my wedding video.” Dolores pleads with him to stop yelling as Pat is getting annoyed and frustrated. All of this leads to her saying that he will wake up everybody, causing him to start screaming that he’s not ashamed of it, only leading to an accidental violent act towards his mother and a physical fight with his father. Pat shows agency in dealing with his mental illness, but also we see his parents, legitimate concern for his wellbeing. Both of these scenes also display Pat’s own sense of agency, as he doesn’t want to take his medication because it makes him “feel weird”. Pat’s parents eventually realize that when Pat starts dance training with Tiffany it is good for him. As it is a romantic comedy, the use of a person’s own agency in this case serves to bring Pat and Tiffany closer together using their own agency, as they both try to navigate this theme and the theme of ‘other’ with relation to mental illness through their interactions with other people in SLP.

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