A pretty accurate glimpse of Bipolar
Posted June 19, 2015
It's always amazing when movies get things right, particularly when depicting something like Bipolar Disorder. Often people articulate the behavior of another as “Bipolar” when describing someone’s moodiness. I don’t love the flippant use of such a serious diagnosis, the reality of which is a condition marked by mood extremes and disturbances in behavior and functioning. Yet the Sony movie Infinitely Polar Bear, directed and written by Maya Forbes, was a remarkable depiction of the real thing. As a clinician who has treated Bipolar Disorder, it was great to see it pretty accurately represented. Interestingly enough, the film was about Maya Forbes' real-life father and how his Bipolar diagnosis impacted her family. The chronicity of the condition is probably the most difficult part for families to accept and this movie was a poignant glimpse of that reality.
Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal of Maya’s Bipolar dad is Oscar material, respectfully providing an opportunity to walk a mile in someone's shoes knowing that you will never really know what it is to be in someone else's reality. The ability to convince us that sometimes warm and charming trumps bizarre behavior was an important part of providing insight into how confusing and paradoxical mental illness can be for the rest of the family. Famiily members do not choose to whom they are born and therefore despite mental illness, that person is "family." What is important is that mental illness is about a condition with symptoms manifest in behaviors and not about a label. Infinitely Polar Bear highlights the intricacy of having someone close to you suffer from mental illness and still fulfill their famiilial role complete with dysfunction, unorthodox behaviors and lifelong impact.
What was probably the important take away was how, symptomatic or not, the main character was "Dad." And doesn’t everyone, at some point in their lives, question the mental health of their parents or family but love them anyway? That is the ongoing lifelong challenge for any family Bipolar or not.