In a world where having a mental disorder is treated as a hugely negative and stigmatized scenario, actor, writer, and director Paul Dalio hopes that his film, Touched With Fire, might help change people’s minds about people who are bipolar, and who have mental illnesses in general.
Starring Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby as title characters Carla and Marco, the film features two poets who are bipolar and fall in love in a hospital after getting into some trouble when trying to live on their own. Soon enough, they go through various stages of emotions and relationship statuses until they have to bring their relationship to light with their parents, played by Christine Lahti, Griffan Dunne, and Bruce Altman.
The remarkable aspect of the film is that it is the thesis film of Dalio, who wrote the film after reading a book of the same name by psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison. The book explores one of the most underpublicized advantages of being bipolar, in that it makes the person far more creative, and sees a common “negative” such as a wide range of emotions to be useful in fostering creativity and utilizing art.
A common yearning that the characters express in the film as well as the actors have expressed in real life is that they wish the words “illness” and “disorder” would stop being associated with bipolar people. The case is made numerous times that the characters embrace their being bipolar so that they may explore the world and discover news things that others might overlook or never care to notice. They are creative people and want others to understand that there is nothing to be stigmatized with being bipolar.
The film was an exciting display of visual cues that reminds one of Life of Pi when digital filmmaking really took off. Holmes and Kirby showed off their acting skills with playing manic-depressed people at times and overtly happy ones at others. As far as acting goes, the actors superbly showed what it felt like to be bipolar, and what it felt like to be related to someone who is bipolar and always worry about their constant wellbeing. Whether it was Kirby and Holmes running around wild through a forest or whether it was Altman, Dunne, and Lahti constantly worrying about their children and not being able to control them, the film was believable and awe-inspiring nonetheless.
However, it could have been cut down a few minutes. The hour and 45 minute film, typical for films nonetheless, kept constantly nagging you to keep an eye on the clock. The scenes were all visually appealing, that’s for certain, but after the fifteenth time you hear someone telling you that they are bipolar, or that they want to act a certain way or they don’t want to take pills—you get it, you want the film to stop already. It’s a constant revisiting of the same idea that just drowns the audience in the message of “we’re special normal people too.”
And there’s nothing wrong with that, since it works the first three times Dalio tells the audience. But again, once the characters escape, come back, escape again, come back, get an apartment, and escape again, you’re tired of watching the same short film three times in a row. It would have worked with a simple continuation of a story line instead of introducing a new impulsive idea that just overthrows what was already shown in the scene earlier, but instead, we are stuck with a short 30 minute film elongated into a 50 minute featured, shown twice back to back.
Besides the traceable amount of pill-talking and hospital visits, the film was a great watch. I’d give it a 6/10 and that’s being somewhat nice. I wouldn’t go out of my way to go see it, but if it’s on Netflix and I’m going through a series-withdrawal, I’d say watch it. Watch the trailer for the film below.