Analysis of Bipolar Disorder in 'Silver Linings Playbook' Essay

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“But you, you’re not exactly the everyday man on the street, but you’re not nuts.” ~ Randle McMurphy

Madness throughout time and culture has been portrayed as a dissociation from the ordinary perception of the real world otherwise known as mental illness. Mental Illness is present worldwide resulting in severe marginalization which furthermore develops the broad interpretation that the mentally ill are merely ‘incorrect pieces within a jigsaw puzzle’ who are incapable of ‘fitting in’. These ideas are reflected within David Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, which narrates the burdens the mentally ill face to fit into society. Alongside this such ideas are also evident within Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest which highlights the difficulty the mentally ill face to conform when faced with unconventional and unethical means of treatment. Both controversial texts represent madness as a hindering mental state that damages society as a result of inadequate support methods and treatment.

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An overarching presence of inadequate authority and a widespread negative perception of mental illness burdened the 1950’s causing large-scale opposition towards authoritative figures and sparking a ‘writers revolution’ referred to as the beat generation. Ken Kesey reflects these counterculture views alongside his personal experience with psychiatric wards in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest using the intricately developed characters and setting to highlight the core beliefs of the Beat generation and expose society’s ill-informed view of mental illness. Kesey successfully demonstrates the mentality of the beat generation through the character of McMurphy who takes the role of a Christ-like figure who unveils the twisted desire of the ward and tries to lure his ‘followers’ away from the unconventional and inhumane ways of the institution and the corrupt authority, represented by the Nurse Ratched. Kesey narrates the story through Chief Bromden, a mentally ill Native American with a warped sense of reality, to encapsulate the historical issues of the time through symbolism and metaphors. A symbolic reference to society and its negative perception is seen when Bromden refers to society as “The Combine” to encapsulate the oppression society burdens upon the people within and depict the ward as a facility to repair the damaged members of society or merely to “just to keep them from walking around the streets giving the product a bad name.” (Chief Bromden, Part 1). This quote helps encapsulate the views of society and in particular highlights the perception that the mentally ill are damaging to society as a result of being different.

Showcasing the transfer of society's negative perception of mental illness from the 1950s to the modern day, David Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook follows the everyday struggles faced by Patrick Solitano Jr. to reintegrate into society after being institutionalized to cure his long-term bipolar disorder. Patrick finds himself struggling to mold to society’s demands due to the broadscale negativity towards his illness alongside poor means of treatment. While struggling with the harsh treatment of society Patrick ultimately finds satisfaction and clarity through Tiffany Maxwell who suffers from extreme grief as a result of her husband’s death and faces the same marginalization from society being labeled as crazy and a “slut”. While Patrick and Tiffany occasionally behave irrationally, audiences are inclined to almost feel a sense of sorrow for the pair as a result of the marginalization he experiences. Patrick voices his struggle with society deeming “The world hard enough as it is. It's hard enough as it is. Can't somebody just be positive?” this statement truly highlights and identifies the crippling nature of modern-day arrogance towards mental illness and the effect its negativity has on those who are in recovery. Alongside this, it encapsulates his desire to feel accepted without the pressuring back-breaking demands of society. Ultimately David Russel encapsulates twenty-first-century views towards mental illness and allows audiences to contrast the film to the real world and how the perception of mental illness has been retained through generations.

Kesey utilizes his characters’ relationships to further demonstrate the dominant perception of madness. Within the novel McMurphy and Nurse Ratched together form one of the most impactful relationships due to being polar opposites of each other’s desires for the patients in the ward, where McMurphy represents rebellion and anti-conformism and Nurse Ratched represents society’s emasculation. This ultimately results in frequent headbutting of the two with the main goal of having the patients support them. Nurse Ratched’s crusade to control the patients is reflected in the music within the ward. Even though McMurphy makes a direct request for Ratched to turn down the music she ultimately defends the use of it stating that “Mr. McMurphy… I think you’re being very selfish. Haven’t you noticed that there are others in this hospital besides yourself? There are old men here who couldn’t hear the radio at all if it were lower… Old fellows like Matterson and Kittling, that music is all they have.” However, Harding explains to McMurphy that the patients do not require the music and tend to ignore it after being in the wards for so long. This is an implicit attempt of Nurse Ratched to maintain power as the music symbolizes her dominance within every meter of the ward. Alongside this, it highlights Nurse Ratched’s hold on the ward and the detrimental effect on the patients as a whole and hinders their recovery through torturous means of treatment and fear. Overall the relationship between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched is formed around the dominant perception of mental illness and helps highlight the negative effects of inadequate support.

Meanwhile, within Silver Linings Playbook the relationship between Patrick and his parents is explored and highlights the damaging effects of mental illness, as he returns to society, he is forced to integrate back into his parents’ house which burdens Patrick Solitano Sr. and Dolores. Both of Patrick's parents become weary of him once he returns to society being officially diagnosed as suffering from bipolar. They struggle to find ways to aid him during his various episodes which is most prevalent during his outburst in which he knocks over his mother and gets into a physical altercation with his father. The two desire greatly for Patrick to reflect that of an ordinary individual and rid himself of his illness. Patrick’s relationship with his parents ultimately highlights the negative perception of mental illness and the ever-demanding ideals of returning to being a normal citizen.

Treatment for mental illness within the 1950s saw various methods implemented to restore a patient’s brain function and rid them of their condition so they could once again be ‘normal’. The most common means of treatment were the use of lobotomies and electroshock therapy. A lobotomy is the process of severing connections within the brain with the intention of damaging neurological connections to stop mental illness. Meanwhile, ECT involves electrically induced seizures to alter the brain’s chemistry to reverse the effects of mental illness.

These treatments were reflected in Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to demonstrate the dangers they withheld when used incorrectly and immorally as can be seen when Nurse Ratched uses the methods as punishment for patients who fail to conform to her desires and demands. The damages of such punishments are evident throughout many instances within the novel in which characters such as Ellis and Ruckly who are former acute turn chronic as a result of botched procedures. Alongside this, the unconventional use of ECT being repetitively used as a torture device is what ultimately leads to McMurphy’s Christ-like sacrifice on the cross-shaped bed which signifies his death to save the patients of the ward. This is most evident when Nurse Ratched states that she may stop the treatment if McMurphy admits his wrongdoings indicating the therapy is unorthodox and used alternatively to cure him. Overall One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest entails the damaging effects of treatments being used unethically and as a means of punishment rather than a cure.

With Silver Linings Playbook being a modern-day insight into mental illness, the film features modern-day forms of treatment and therapy, ranging from prescription drugs to alternate forms of treatment such as dance therapy however it provides the argument of the effectiveness of treatment when it is used accordingly. Although both Patrick and Tiffany occasionally behave sporadically it can be determined that the treatment, they are receiving is positive and is used to ease the effects of mental illness. Possibly the most effective treatment, dance therapy makes a noticeable impact on both Tiffany and Patrick which can be identified when the film highlights the pair enjoying themselves while practicing to dance being evidently more exuberant and fulfilled compared to alternate scenes where they are seen struggling to get through the day. This successful treatment aids in unveiling the possibility it has on helping the mentally ill when it is used solely for curing mental illness rather than agonizing punishment for failing to conform. Overall Silver Linings Playbook features the positive nature of treatment in comparison to the destructive effects within One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, highlighting its ability to restore those who suffer from mental illness to a state of happiness and clarity bordering that of “normality”

Ultimately both the novel and film unveil the aligned perception that mental illness is hindering mental state as a result of unconventional and inadequate. Both texts expose the stigmatization of mental illness that is still apparent within the modern-day 58 years after Ken Kesey highlighted the flawed perception within One Flew Over the Cuckoos and allows audiences to re-examine the current treatment the mentally ill face alongside feeling sympathetic for the suffering they face as a result of such a negative perception as a whole. Furthermore, it helps audiences grasp the brighter side of mental illness and recognize that it’s not all bad. “Never before did I realize that mental illness could have the aspect of power, power. Think of it: perhaps the more insane a man is, the more powerful he could become.”

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Analysis of Bipolar Disorder in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ Essay. (2024, February 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 25, 2024, from
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