The latest entry into the mental illness movie genre is Paul Dalio’s “Touched With Fire,” which could have been aptly titled “Bipolar Disorder: A Love Story.”
Katie Holmes stars as Emily, a.k.a. Carla, a poet who inadvertently checks herself into an institution while in the beginning throes of a manic upswing. There she connects with another poet, Marco, a.k.a. Luna (Luke Kirby), who turns their shared mania into an adventure. He has strong beliefs about abandoning his medication in favor of the creative energy of which he is possessed during his highs. The notion is liberating for Carla, and once the two come together, it’s almost impossible to tear them apart, as much as their parents (Christine Lahti, Bruce Altman and Griffin Dunne) might try.
The film is directly inspired by the book “Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament” by Kay Jamison, which explores the link between great art and bipolar disorder. The film asks of its audience to reconsider the ways in which the disorder has been pathologized and medicated, or at least ponder how it has contributed to the art that we revere.
It revels in the beautiful, wild abandon of Carla and Luna’s shared mania, though it’s clearly unsustainable — and clear to the audience far before the film asserts that idea. Writer-director Dalio has firsthand experience with bipolar disorder, and his perspective sheds fresh light on the unique ways in which manic-depressive individuals experience love and creativity.
‘Touched With Fire’
MPAA rating: R, for language, a disturbing image, brief sexuality and drug use
Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes
Playing: Arclight Hollywood, Landmark Theater, Edwards Westpark 8.