A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Touched with Fire is a drama about a couple with bipolar disorder. It includes images of patients being dragged away -- kicking, fighting, and screaming -- in a hospital, as well as acting out in other ways and hurling objects across the room. In another scene, both main characters attempt suicide (by razor and shotgun). Language includes a few uses of "f--k" and "s--t" and other words. Prescription drugs are everywhere, one character smokes pot, and another drinks wine and whiskey. The main characters kiss and have sex; he's shown shirtless, and there's a side view of her breast. The movie makes the claim that many great artists may have had bipolar disorder and that their manic highs resulted in great artworks. The movie seems fascinated with this idea but at the same time advocates for those with mental health issues to take their medication. It's a mixed, complicated message.
What's the story?
Published poet Carla (Katie Holmes) finds it difficult to cope with her wild mood swings, so she goes to the psychiatric hospital to read a report on her condition and winds up checking herself in. Meanwhile, performance artist Marco (Luke Kirby) also lands in the hospital after a manic episode concerning his father (Griffin Dunne). The pair connect instantly and bring each other to new manic highs, but they're eventually separated and crash into depression. After checking out, they want to see each other again -- over the protests of Carla's mother (Christine Lahti). Things change when Carla becomes pregnant and the young couple agrees to moderate their moods with medication. But Marco's belief in the artistic purity of his condition makes him unpredictable.
Is it any good?
This drama attempts to open an earnest discussion of bipolar disorder, and it can be informative, but its message is muddled and indecisive. Plus, everything hinges on a deeply unsympathetic character (Marco). The movie draws inspiration from Kay Redfield Jamison's nonfiction book, which argues that the greatest artists were bipolar and that their manic highs caused extraordinary creativity. Writer/director Paul Dalio seems in awe of this idea (the closing credits pay tribute to several artists), but at the same time, he seems to feel that he must show the disorder's downside, too -- the crippling depression -- and to insert a message about taking medication.
Dalio has a wonderful eye for intuitive, emotional compositions, and the lovely, tinkly music score helps. The actors are terrific: Holmes anchors the movie with her sympathetic character, but Marco projects anger and hatred at anyone who doesn't see eye-to-eye with him, which eventually wears thin.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Touched with Fire's intense scenes. How did they make you feel? How does the filmmaker achieve this effect? Do you consider these moments violent? Why, or why not? How do they compare with other forms of media violence?
Why do you think the characters drink in this movie? Are they enjoying it? Numbing themselves? Does it look appealing? How does the way alcohol is depicted compare to the way the movie depicts the use of prescription medication?
What is bipolar disorder? Do you know anyone who has this? If so, how accurate do you think the film's portrayal is?
Do you think there's a right answer to the question the movie addresses about whether it's better to take medication prescribed for bipoloar disorder or to ride out the highs and lows?
- In theaters: February 12, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: June 7, 2016
- Cast: Katie Holmes, Luke Kirby, Christine Lahti
- Director: Paul Dalio
- Studio: Roadside Attractions
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language, a disturbing image, brief sexuality and drug use
- Last updated: November 3, 2020
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