Mental illness is a really difficult subject to portray within film – skirting around the issue can end up causing offense and failing to include pivotal details, yet too much emphasis can somewhat trivialise the matter. ‘Touched With Fire’ is one of the few films that I’ve seen that thankfully depicts it in just the right way.
Directed by Paul Dalio, who suffers from bipolar himself, ‘Touched With Fire’ is the story of two bipolar sufferers who meet each other within a psychiatric ward. Carla (Katie Holmes) is a poet who can’t understand why she has bipolar and so spends a great deal of time trying to work this out; Marco (Luke Kirby) is also a poet, who is convinced that the apocalypse is nigh and that he doesn’t need to live within society in order to survive. The two initially don’t get on so well but, after forming a connection over the Van Gogh painting ‘Starry Night’, a strong, yet intense, relationship is formed. After a situation occurs in which the two need to act maturely and responsibly, the two start to struggle and destruction begins to occur.
The film itself portrays bipolar beautifully – there’s no dressing it up, as what we see is as raw as you can get. There’s no insulting or degrading of the illness, but it doesn’t tread carefully either. Instead, Dalio has shown up both the positives and negatives of bipolar to the extreme, meaning it’s hard to get a clear, concise message from the film, but then that reflects bipolar and its conditions perfectly.
Holmes gives a wonderful performance as Carla, as does Luke Kirby as Marco – the two grow quickly into their roles and create an entirely believable couple. The intensity of their relationship is built up through the dialogue and the extremities of each situation, completed by beautiful, harrowing imagery of pain and suffering. It’s quite an emotional ride which will challenge even the most stoic of us not to shed some indicator of empathy.
What really tore me apart over ‘Touched With Fire’ was just how much I was praying for a happy ending for them both – naïve of me really, as their very relationship was what was getting in the way of this happiness. It’s this that really makes the film impressive though, with Dalio gaining such a powerful response from the viewer that we’re left feeling unsure about mental health issues and what they actually mean. Sure, we know that a mental health disorder can be a very bad thing for a person yet, by seeing all the positives that occur at the same time (such as the feverous creativity that both main characters experience during their worst moments of the illness), it brings about a whole new perspective on the topic.We’re even provided with a list of famous artists, writers, and composers that also suffered with bipolar, and this really does make you thing.
‘Touched With Fire’ is a stunning film that certainly achieves what it set out to do. It’s highly relatable for anyone who has experienced mental health issues (first-hand or otherwise), and manages to come across as both gentle and hard-hitting. It’s definitely not one to watch if you want something light and cheery but, with such a difficult subject portrayed so effortlessly, it’s hard not to recommend. 5/5
Touched With Fire at CeX
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