Silver Linings Playbook: Mental Problems Galore

Posted: April 30, 2013 by John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. in Comedy, Drama, Romance
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SLPlaybookIf you’ve read some of my other posts, you know how much I love “mental illness” movies.  As a Biblical counselor, I often weirdly wish that I could have the opportunity to offer help to the fictional characters in these films.  And, when an entire dysfunctional family is on display on the big screen, it really gets my attention!  So it was inevitable that I find the time on our recent family vacation to watch Silver Linings Playbook.  Even though there was way too much foul language and one sadly explicit sex scene, it was worth seeing.  The acting was outstanding.  Bradley Cooper impressed from beginning to end as the lead mentally ill character, Pat Solitano.  Pat’s parents, played by Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver were superb.  Although I’m not a big fan of Jennifer Lawrence, she did play her part extremely well.  The only thing lacking was I wish that the very funny Chris Tucker would have had a bigger role!

Silver Linings Playbook centers on Pat’s life after a stint in a mental institution.  He moves back home with the dual goals of getting his teaching job back as well as his wife (mainly his wife).  This is Pat’s “silver lining playbook”–his master plan to find a way to better himself and find the little bit of sunshine amidst the clouds of his life.  Instead, his silver lining turns out to be Tiffany, another person with significant mental problems.  And, in the middle of all of this, the drama unfolds with Pat’s OCD father and co-dependent mother, as well as sundry other characters with issues.  The bottom line is that there really isn’t a “normal” person in Silver Linings Playbook, including Pat’s psychiatrist, Dr. Patel.

And I really think that’s one of the main messages of the movie–that we all have mental problems.  Or to be more specific: We all have mental problems and there are very good reasons for them, thank you very much.  For starters, Pat became labeled as having Bipolar Disorder after he caught his wife having a steamy affair, beat the man senseless, and lost his teaching job.  Tiffany developed all of her problems after her husband was killed (she blamed herself for it).  We are also led to deduce that Pat developed issues from growing up in a family with an OCD father and enabling mother.  His friend Ronnie, one of my favorite characters, was immensely stressed out from his job and marriage.  And, the list goes on.  Silver Linings Playbook really captures the Biblical reality that all human beings are fallen, weak, and broken.  What is most refreshing about Pat and Tiffany is that they don’t try to hide it, but attempt to deal with it instead.

A second major message in the movie (although some may disagree) is the futility of the various methods of dealing with mental problems.  Pat Sr. and Dolores (Pat’s parents) represent the approach typified by denial and avoidance of the problems (wonderfully connected to professional football, I might add).  The mental institution seemed pretty ineffective, as well as psychological medication (the side effects outweighed the help).  At one level, Dr. Patel was a very “normalizing” influence on Pat, but his counseling was fairly useless.  Pat’s “positive mental attitude” efforts to get his health back,  job back, wife back also fall short.  This futility motif really made much of the movie very depressing!

The last message of Silver Linings Playbook is a worldly form of redemption and restoration.  Due to one last complicated gamble, Pat Sr. gets his money back so he can finally start his own restaurant.  The family as a whole appears to open up and be  a bit more functional. Even Pat’s friends seem to solve their problems.  At the center of this redemption is the new-found love relationship between Pat and Tiffany.  Sure, Pat doesn’t get his wife back, but at least he gets to move on and find love again.  And, to be honest, Tiffany really manipulates and deceives Pat in order to help him fall in love with her.  Even his family helps her out with this strange “intervention.”  But, hey, these are people with mental problems living in a fallen world, so what do you expect?  A little silver lining is better than constant cloudiness!

All this pseudo-redemption (falling in love seems to be the primary form of the world’s redemption) should lead Christians to be deeply thankful for the better redemption in Jesus.  We are all broken and fallen, with no hope in this world.  Jesus is more than just a silver lining in our altogether cloudy lives.  He is the Light of the World!  He is the Bright Morning Star!  His life, death, and resurrection dispels all of the clouds and darkness and hopelessness.  Our “playbook” reveals our eternal victory in Christ!


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