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Bipolar Characters in Movies

Updated on January 12, 2018

We like to recognize ourselves in others. It’s comforting, it makes us feel not so unutterably alone. How do you feel when you learn that someone else is also bipolar? I feel some camaraderie and yet the complete loss of trust. A combination of two bipolars is highly volatile. What if we lose our minds at the same time? We always need the sane surroundings to check the reflection and be assured that everything is going to be fine. We need some extra safety.

How often do we see bipolars onscreen? Well, maybe on occasion. I can remember two films. “Biutiful” that I watched precisely because the main character, who was played by Javier Bardem, was struggling with his bipolar ex-wife. He did not lose love, he lost patience and we all know how it feels. I like foreign films and I like Javier Bardem, so this one certainly helped to put things in perspective. Was she recognizable? Yes, yes, and yes. Painfully so, unmistakably so. The best thing that Javier Bardem said to her in the end (not verbatim) was “I am sorry; I did not know how to help you and how to help us.” Yes, it comes down to understanding of what bipolar illness is and how to treat it. That there is a difference between a person and the ailment. This family had two children and seeing them affected by this tragedy was devastating. But I don’t regret watching the film and I highly recommend it. Yes, it is tragic, yes, it is dramatic. But that’s what bipolar is - tragic, dramatic, embarrassing, unpredictable. The Disorderly Disorder. No, it is not a Beautiful Chaos, quite the contrary. Pain is painful, not beautiful.


Another film that portrayed a manic-depressive man was “Michael Clayton”. Michael Clayton was played by George Clooney, but his friend, the bipolar character was played by Tom Wilkinson and he delivered a masterful performance. He was stunning and more than believable. If you never saw the film, watch it. I am sure you won’t regret it. When you identify with a character so much, it acquires a new undertone, maybe even more so – a new significance. I certainly did not forget either of those films.

"Michael Clayton"

Girl, Interrupted

I am writing this now, but this article is not about “Biutiful” or “Michael Clayton”. It is about how interrupted I always feel. The natural flow of life has been broken. When I abandon something, I forget. When I forget I repeat the same experience. I feel like I am losing the most precious thing that I have – my mind and my health. When I get depressed I let go of my connections and I lose them. When I am manic, I don’t even want to say what happens. I hate manic stage for losing control. Interruption is a pattern. Forgetting is the norm. If not for writing I would have forgotten too much.

I started writing in 2008 and I was doing it sporadically from time to time on my own web-site. In 2010, I joined HubPages and I left my site for good. I did not leave, I abandoned. I did not come back for anything let alone reading. But everything that is written can be viewed as a diary or a photo album of the past. Keep it, keep everything.

Le notti bianche (1957)

And now I came back to some of my November 2009 entries. I have completely forgotten that I have ever written about “Two Lovers”.

I have watched the film, I wrote about it in 2009, I came back and I want to see it again. I strongly recommend it. I have looked it up now and have learned something new and something interesting for myself. “Two Lovers” was inspired by a short story “White Nights” by Fyodor Dostoevsky and there is another film by Luchino Visconti: Le Notti Bianche. I hope you follow my advice and watch the film. Or maybe at least start writing your Bipolar Diaries.

What I wrote about “Two Lovers” is not so much a review, but a memory. It was certainly not my best effort, but there is a bipolar quality to my writing as well, for many of us so painfully recognizable and identifiable.

Traveling back in time. November 2009

Everything became a problem now, even picking a film. Maybe I just do not want to waste my time watching some garbage. The major difficulty is, of course, in defining what garbage is.

Maybe it simply has been awhile since I was aware of what is out there. There is no list in my mind of what I should watch. So I feel like a blind person in a forest at night. I go to the local video store (that has been closed since then) and feel absolutely lost there. Then I go to the “Hidden Gems” category and try picking something suitable. Then I get stuck with what is exactly suitable.

Suitable for what?

For my mood?

For improving it or for reflecting it?

Or neither?

When I picked “Two Lovers”, it is hard to say what exactly I expected. I think instinctively I knew it would not be a simple comedy you forget right after the film is over. I like Joaquin Phoenix who was so highly praised for his performance, that it was hard to resist. The fact that Gwyneth Paltrow was there was almost a turn-off, but you can’t have everything. So there, the choice was made.

After having watched “Two Lovers”, I haven’t thought much about the film. Not because I would say it was not good. It was not thrilling; I would even say it was boring to a point. But I kept thinking about it, which is always a sign, that the film is really not bad. Anything that makes you think is worthwhile. This film really gets under your skin without you realizing it. There is subtle power to it, the power of truthful emotion.

I read the reviews later. The critics sympathized with Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix) and commented how likeable he was and how the critics knew what he should have done and how he should have behaved in order to make the right choice in love. Pick somebody familiar and safe (and boring) and forego flashy, unstable and instantly attractive. Save yourself trouble, trade excitement of love and a possibility of heartbreak for security, stability, maybe friendship.

“However, while it is clear to the audience which of the two women Leonard should focus his attentions on, he instead pursues the other one.”(Cinema Autopsy, Thomas Caldwell)

Of course, there is truth and merit to that, but I wonder how many people could actually resist falling in love and how many of us sit and calculate the odds and the possible outcomes. Maybe those who took the decision-making courses like me, you know, those ones - “What-if analysis”, “Strategic Thinking”. But I still prefer to be in love rather than not and maybe I’ll chose to have two lovers as well, if not all forty two of them.

We are never in doubt of the truth of the characters

Maybe that is why Leonard is so likeable and charming in his vulnerability. Not because he is bipolar, because he is very human.

That is the word – BIPOLAR.

The film does not put such emphasis on his diagnosis and Leonard is only shown as a depressed person, rather than manic. The diagnosis is mentioned in one of the reviews and whether it is an assumption or not, there is no way of knowing.

“Very little is explicit. The audience is left to infer much from spotty information, and yet a full and specific picture emerges. We are never in doubt of the truth of the characters and the absolute solidity of the world being depicted.


Watching "Two Lovers" is like life in the sense that you only get the tip of the iceberg, but you see enough to figure out all you need to know, and you're never in doubt that the iceberg is really there.”

(Mick LaSalle, Movie review: Phoenix masterful in 'Two Lovers', San Francisco Chronicle, February 27, 2009)

But one point was so touching, so it took me a few weeks to really come back to it and remember. Subtlety and gentleness of the film is chiefly responsible for the fact that I cannot stop thinking about it. The first scene – Leonard is either going home or on his way to deliver dry-cleaned clothes – and he jumps into the ocean. It’s freezing cold outside and he is not walking, he is shambling. The scene is as bleak as depression itself and I still see it before my eyes. The water? The Blue? A Suicide out of the Blue? There are no suicides out of the blue. They all come after the long and excruciating emotional pain.

Here critics should have said that it was not advisable to jump fully-clothed in freezing water. Oh, no, I never jumped. I only thought about jumping from the balcony from the 20th floor. Oh, yes, I can sympathize. Or empathize? That scene is now somewhat haunting and yet a relief really. To see it from a different perspective. You do have to jump in order to see the light of day. To realize that there actually will be another day and …who knows what.

It is still a love story. And even though a critic might think such behaviour is crazy, “blind, stupid and inconsiderate”, it takes a person who had similar experience to say… I don’t know what you would say; I guess you have to watch the film.

Just do not ask the film critics what is right and what is wrong. Whom to pick and fall in love with. Make your own decisions. That is the only way to learn, bipolar or not.

© 2012 kallini2010


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    • kallini2010 profile imageAUTHOR


      16 months ago from Toronto, Canada

      Thank you, Vocalcoach, for your comment. The best film (in my opinion) I saw about bipolar disorder was "Filth" with James McAvoy. Maybe you'll like it too - it's a tragicomedy, more tragic than funny, but the most honest of what I saw so far. Have a great week-end!

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      16 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      I enjoyed the movie Michael Clayton. You've provided a good list of movies focused on Bipolar disorder. I enjoyed this article and will share with others.

      Thank you.

    • kallini2010 profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Thank you, Audrey!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      4 years ago from California

      Such an interesting hub! I really enjoyed this!

    • kallini2010 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Thank you, visionandfocus, for your comment. Yes, it might seem quite strange to pick a theme that puts supporting roles into focus.

      It is hard for me not to notice that it is very little known about bipolar illness by the general public. Even though most bipolar patients live the majority of time with depression (condition that is familiar to many and accepted), it is their high stages that put them into the category of CRAZY people. People are afraid of crazy and unpredictable, even dangerous.

      We know more about alcoholics, drug addicts, people with depression..., but not bipolar. It is not a new illness and people lived with it from the beginning of times, but now all this medical advances shed more light and, all of a sudden, it seems like bipolar is on the rise.

      It is not, it was simply not recognized/diagnosed before. Not to say, that antidepressants are often the very thing that provoke mania.

      But all that aside, I am glad that you feel like watching the films that I mentioned. Making recommendations to see certain films is a risky enterprise - because most of our tastes in everything and cinema - are so subjective.

      Yes, I don't like Gwyneth Paltrow, but I realize it is just me, not because she is a good or bad actress.

      Similarly, I like Joaquin Phoenix or Ralph Fiennes - I just do and watching films with them makes it a pleasure.

      I recently saw Phoenix in a couple of films - "Buffalo Soldiers" and "We own the night" - both about drugs, but done from two completely different aspects. I probably loved him in "Walk the line" the most and "Inventing the Abbots" - I don't know, there is something about him... his characters always seem moody and not telling you the whole story, not everything is on the surface.

      I even checked out the film that is fairly old where Joaquin is a only teenager - "Parenthood" - he was cute, yet you can already see the depth, the moodiness, the understanding, his beautiful husky voice...

      I might be very subjective. But I pride myself for never having any crushes on actors. I don't even like to know about their private lives - I don't want to ruin the magic that they create on screen.

      And to finish my comment -

      someone recommended a new film where a bipolar character takes the center stage - "The Silver Linings Playbook" - I have not seen yet, but you can check it out if that theme interests you.

      Take care,

      I noticed that we are neighbours or so it seems, do we live in the same city?

    • visionandfocus profile image


      5 years ago from North York, Canada

      As a movie buff, I'm awed by your thematic choices. I'm definitely going to put the ones I haven't watched on my to-watch list. Funny you should say having Gwyneth Paltrow in the movie was almost a turn-off. I feel that way too but, as you say, we can't have everything. lol

      Your review convinces me to check out all the movies and have a theme weekend or something. Great job! Thanks for sharing. Voted up and awesome.

    • kallini2010 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Ralph, thank you for mentioning the film, I am definitely going to watch it. Being bipolar is no fun, but I know I don't constitute a "weird minority of one". It's nice to see that someone out there in the world can understand it as well and share with others. We tend to feel empathy towards lovable/human/vulnerable characters.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 

      5 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Bradley Cooper's portrayal of a bipolar character in "Silver Linings Playbook" was outstanding and frightening.

    • kallini2010 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Thank you, aykianink, for your comment. I even can say that I after I stopped taking mood stabilizers and antidepressants, I do feel differently as well. I am not sure if treating my illness was such a good idea after all. Before medical help, I was able to manage. After it my life fell apart. Now I am back to picking up the pieces. Maybe there should be movies about that, too.

      By the way, there is another film that mentions bipolar (manic depression), a classic movie - "The Devil's Advocate". It's only a short reference, but now I am paying closer attention. Understandably enough.

    • aykianink profile image


      5 years ago

      Powerful statement: "That there is a difference between a person and the ailment." Good hub.

    • kallini2010 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Thank you, Ryan, for your comment. I guess there is nothing much can be added. Yes, we are merely human and that is why like stories - every life is a story, watching others can bring joy and tears when we recognize ourselves in others or simply when we need a diversion or even a thread to hang on. Sometimes, films are my only escape...

    • RyanMeyers profile image

      Ryan Meyers 

      5 years ago from Dunmore PA

      I would never go with the safe bet because truthfully I’m not the safe bet either. If you trust yourself you will always have the courage to go for what you really want. What we have to be careful about is the good old oxytocin shot that can really get a hold of what seems like a boring life. Being lusted in someone’s eyes can really boost your ego but your ego will always lead you down the path a life lesson… sometimes a nasty one. As I get older I realize a beautifully, level life can be misinterpreted as boredom. No one is completely stable so it would be wise to only have faith in self and a higher power… or maybe just a higher power! We are merely human and failure is imminent AND our best teacher.

    • kallini2010 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Thank you, MsDora!

      There are actually three of them

      1. "Biutiful";

      2. "Michael Clayton";

      3. "Two Lovers".

      You might enjoy at least one of them or maybe all three. Even to see a bipolar is much more interesting and engaging than reading the diaries of a struggling mind. I think.

      Best regards from Toronto, Canada.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      You taught us a lot from your own experience in this hub. Thanks for that and also for the review of the films, both of which I would like to see. Voted Up and Useful.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      5 years ago from South Africa

      Oh, this is a beautiful song, and beautiful lyrics. Thank you so much, Kallini!

      I hope you'll have a pleasant weekend ")

    • kallini2010 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Yes, so often we echo each other...

      I don't know if I ever shared this song with you (I might have), it is a song from my childhood "Echo of Love". This singer, Anna German, was Polish and she sang in Russian as well without an accent which is rare. Her story is very tragic and very inspiring.

      I used this song in one of the hubs that I like, but it was never really read. The same thing - who has the time? for submerging into the lyricism of another?

      The only thing left is listening to echoes....



      The specks of stars will cover the sky

      Branches will curve in resistance

      I will hear you from one thousand miles

      We are an echo, we are an echo

      We are a long echo of each other.

      No matter how far away you are

      I'll touch you with my heart

      Love has called us again

      We are tenderness, we are tenderness

      We are eternal tenderness of each other.

      And even in a place of crawling darkness

      On the other side of the circle of death

      I know we will never part

      We are memory, we are memory

      We are star memory of each other.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      5 years ago from South Africa

      Oh, how wonderful to read a comment like this one of yours, Kallini - every sentence reflecting my own thoughts and convictions. Yes, who the hell has the time to do everything they have to do, not even talking about what they would like to do?

      I found myself often opposed to the crowd - liking a movie or book while 'everybody else' regard it as 'gibberish'. When it comes to entertainment, the crowds prefer to be sketchy.

      Take care, Svetlana!

    • kallini2010 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Thank you, Martie, for your comment and, especially, for the compliment.

      I cannot promise, of course, that you will necessarily like the movies, because the taste in art is the same as the taste in food. It is neither right nor wrong, there are things you like and there are things you don't like.

      I prefer watching and forming my own opinions before I read too much about a film as well. Because once you start reading reviews, you are already under the influence of them. Especially, if everyone likes the film and you don't, and vice versa.

      We'll see if anyone will be interested in that kind of hubs at all and if anyone will get to watch at least one of the movies. That is another trouble - who has the time?

      Take care,


    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      5 years ago from South Africa

      Kallini, for the first time in a very long time I actually enjoyed reading reviews of movies. Normally I prefer to watch the movie and form my own opinion. (Which I will of course share with everybody and all. ) I am definitely going to make an effort to view all these movies. If they are only half as insightful and interesting as this hub of yours, I will enjoy them. As Maria already said, to view movies that are done with sensitivity and authenticity, we can learn and empathize. This is the kind of movies I considered to be worthy to watch.

      I must compliment you, Svetlana - You have a lovely sens of humor in all your bipolar phases. I just love this sentence of yours: "But I still prefer to be in love rather than not and maybe I’ll chose to have two lovers as well, if not all forty two of them."

      Please take care of yourself. Fortunately you know what is good for you and what not - and you will certainly not forget them....

      Lots of love,


    • kallini2010 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Thank you, Teresa. I hope you like those films and maybe your students as well. Even though I don't meet too many Canadians who tolerate subtitles, but I think foreign movies teach us more, they broaden our horizons.

      "Two Lovers" and "Michael Clayton" are safer choices, one is a romantic drama and the other one is a political thriller and who does not like George Clooney? I love Tom Wilkinson, I think he is a great actor.

      On the other side, I have to watch "Girl, Interrupted". I always wanted but never got around to it. I just love the expression.

      You are right, with this hub I tried to continue no matter what. It was not on the list "Hubs to publish". I discovered it on my old web-site and naively thought that it can be just used without editing. Well, no such luck. It still took me time, for additions, editing and such.

      But going on means - better something than nothing.

      I started reading "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron and was pleasantly surprised that I was crawling in the right direction after all.

      I mean the direction of soul-searching and pursuing dreams and believing in my own creativity.

      One of the assignments there - to frame compliments whether I believe them to be true or not. So, the likelihood of publishing "The House of Wonderfulness" has increased. It still feels inappropriate and narcissistic, yet there is only one way to overcome fear - do it.

      The other exercise is less exciting - to remember who criticized me and for what, to get to the root of insecurity with the aim, of course, of weeding it out. I am surprised at things that come up and how painful they are still.

      Well, anyway, I am trying to continue and trying to do it systematically.

      Thank you, Teresa, you are always a great support!

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 

      5 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Dear Svetlana,

      I am grateful to have these movies to check out and ultimately share with my Nursing students. I think to view movies that are done with sensitivity and authenticity, we can all learn and empathize.

      I happen to love the movie 'Girl, Interrupted'... actually seeing you more as 'Girl, Continuing'...

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts now and from your diaries...always thinking of you. Hugs, Teresa


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