Silver Linings Playbook

Everybody’s mentally ill! A dysfunctional romantic comedy about Pat (Bradley Cooper in his usual flexible acting excellence) is home from the mental hospital after 8 months. He was sent there because he had a hostile outburst beating up his wife’s adulterous partner after catching them at home. Pat is delusional in that he thinks he can fix his marriage and his wife will return to him. But when he meets brutally honest Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence is phenomenal), who goes sexually promiscuous crazy after her beloved husband died, he gets sidetracked into discovering what is reality, and it ain’t what he thought.

This is all about how funny mental illness can be. Of course, I’m being facetious, because the mental illness becomes a hook for the storytellers to have fun with the ironic contrast of honest crazy people versus the delusionary dishonesty of normal people. In the real world, this stuff is not funny, but movies are not the real world, they are parables using a fictional world to make us see ourselves through different eyes and therefore learn something about ourselves.

There’s certainly room for some to see this as the dysfunctional Hollywood worldview of reality that is so jaded and cynical that it must have antiheroes and dysfunction to be entertained because the storytellers are themselves nihilists who are numb to hope and goodness. You know, the juvenile pseudo-philosophizing of “how do we know WE are not the insane and the insane are the normal?”

But I think that is too simplistic. Because this is in the end a very traditional love story in terms of discovering one’s selfishness and learning to love the person who cares for you, not the fantasy you’ve created of someone else. It is about facing reality and giving up false pictures of the world in our minds. It does have that element of showing how some of the people in the “normal world,” like Pat’s OCD gambling father, and his doting mother, and best friend and wife are as mentally screwed up or unhappy as any inmate. It also shows a certain insanity that is a part of sports fans (“Fan-atics”). The family’s father is an Eagles fan who has superstitious religious like behavior he lives out in his devotion. But that craziness is also on display in many fans who paint themselves up and get in fights at the sports arena without reason – just like the neurosis and explosions in the asylum. Let’s be honest, there really are things in “normal life” that are acceptable, but are in fact crazy.

And here is what I like about that. There is an element of honesty in Pat and his love interest, Tiffany, that is not in the “normal” people around them. Their frankness, their lack of social filters in saying inappropriate, but truthful statements in public, their open misery and inability to play the game of being happy or normal when they are not, are all reflections of an honesty of facing their flaws that is the beginning of a fully human life.

I could not help but see this movie as a metaphor for Christian faith – not the movie’s intent, but in my own triggered thoughts. I believe that the more one gets closer to God, the more one sees how bad in our soul we really are. How inherently selfish, but in clever secret ways that make us look “normal.” It’s like the closer you get to God, the more screwed up you see that you are, and the less willing you are to try to deny it, so the more honest you become in confessing it. But also, the more vulnerable and trusting in God that you are because you consider yourself more and more helpless and unable to be that “good person” that everyone aspires to be, but no one truly is. This does lead to some changed behavior of course, but it does not get rid of the “diagnosis.”

And that looks crazy to the world. To the world, that’s low self-esteem, that’s neurotic negativity or “fear religion” or “worm theology.” They think that it hampers our human potential. I mean, after all, if a religion is healthy, it should result in us seeing ourselves as basically good, which would make us become better people with positive thoughts, right?

Wrong. The belief in humanity’s inherent goodness is the delusion of the “normal world” with all its facades and games of cover up. This unwillingness to face the truth is the worst sort of dishonesty, it’s lying to ourselves and it is the true insanity. It creates the very self-righteousness that such people accuse Christians of being. It is not the Christian who sees himself as increasingly sinful before a holy God that is crazy and self-righteous, it is the fool who nestles in his normality of innate human goodness.

Before you can live fully human you must face the tragic honest reality that everybody’s “mentally ill.”