“The Silver Lining Playbook” and Mental Illness

Oh I just love mental illness! How could I not, having been a “mental health counselor”. You see, many eons ago, human culture realized that they had a bunch of people on their hands who “just didn’t get it” and started calling them…for lack of a better term…”nuts.” So, they rounded them all up, tossed a ton of money their way, and said, “Go amuse yourselves.” (One might say, “Go pleasure yourselves!”) So, the “village idiots” congregated on the hinterland and shortly thereafter divided up between the “mental health providers” and the “mentally ill.” I fortunately managed to gain admission to the former group though I’m sure that some of my family and friends would beg to differ with me!

But, seriously, I find mental illness fascinating on so many levels. I’d like to discourse on the subject with regard to a recent movie, “The Silver Lining Playbook” starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert DeNiro. Cooper has the lead role of “the crazy guy” who has just been released from a mental hospital back to his family which proves to be rife with dysfunction itself. (Who would have thunk it!) He is sure it is going to be different this time and has convinced his family, his father being played by Deniro. But problems start immediately. “The crazy guy” notes at one point that he has trouble “filtering” what he says and this is apparent early on when, shortly after an awkward greeting by his father, he discloses that his mother had told him only moments earlier that his father was a bookie. His mother was stunned. Deniro was stunned and angrily asked his wife, “How could you tell him that?” Well, she could tell him that because she had forgotten something she should have known from this first 30 years of “the crazy guys life”–he does not have this “filter” which allows him to use good judgment in what he says and does. He discloses inappropriately routinely. He behaves inappropriately routinely. His judgment is glaringly deficient in most social situations. He does not know how to “filter” and participate in a social moment with regards to the subtle social arrangements that are in play. He merely says what is on his mind. That, in this story, is a vivid illustration of mental illness—the inability to exercise judgment, control internal impulses, and behave appropriately. One could even say it is the inability to be insincere as the social façade that is day to day life is just that—a social façade designed for more or less smooth functioning of the group. But when someone like “the crazy guy” can’t fit smoothly into this façade, the whole enterprise is jeopardized and he will be labeled “crazy” as he should be.

But, in this movie “crazy guy” has met “crazy gal” (Jennifer Lawrence). They negotiate their craziness and the minute they start to “negotiate” with each other….as in “negotiate” with another individual…they are less crazy. And they learn to love each other, to respect each other, and in so doing probably…I would assume…learn to love and respect the rest of the human race.

And I close with a lovely snippet from an Edgar Simmons poem:

Proofrock has been maligned.
Hamlet should have waived revenge,
Walked with Ophelia domestic corridors,
Absorbing the tic, the bothersome twitch.

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