INFINITELY POLAR BEAR [2015]

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Directed and Written by Maya Forbes

Starring:  Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Keir Dullea


I know before even beginning to type this that I am going to be displaying massive bias towards this film. Just keep that in mind when reading the following ravings…. though also keep in mind that these ramblings come from a personal place. I apologise in advance for what is sure to be an essay of a post. 🙂

anyhow, lets write about this great fuckin’ movie eh?

I went to see this with my mother, as I am bi-polar as well as epileptic, and, well, needless to say, we had much to talk about after it had finished. Mum found it more of a heartbreaking story, which unfortunately I was somewhat expecting – I mean, she was watching what I was like when I was untreated. I’m sure it brought back some memories of some really shitty things I have done over the years. As for me, I felt like I was watching myself. So many familiar actions, familiar scenes…. I’ll be honest, the very first scene had me tearing up; Ruffalo screaming “I’m not manic! I’m not!!”, despite only wearing swimming trunks while riding a bike. He then scares the bejesus out of his family, suddenly realises what he has done, and he crashes. Hard. And fuck I feel chills right now just writing about that scene simply because it’s so fucking real. It is such an accurate depiction of bi-polar, right down to the smallest details, it almost, almost, felt like a documentary. Everything was spot on, everything, such as the bigger, more obvious aspects of what back then (the movie is based in the 70’s) was known as manic depression, “or whatever the hell they are calling it these days” as Cam puts it bluntly at one point. The movie doesn’t constantly remind you of it, but back in the 70’s there wasn’t a huge amount of people who tried to respect people with this illness. But what truly amazed me was the smaller things, tiny details that I bet only someone with the illness would pick up. All of it so accurate. Not a stereotype, just…. the truth. These smaller details are what make the film go up another level. From the cigarettes that he does not cease to smoke, to the constant mood swings and irrational decision-making, and everything in-between, it is all so accurate. 

This isn’t a film exploiting mental illness. This is a film about a family man who just happens to be ill. No gimmick, no psycho-killer angle, no absurd plots based only on mental illness. This is a realistic film that I feel needed to be made, and I am glad that I saw it.

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Two ciggies in hand, note the piece of paper his children have taped onto his chest

Despite this extremely real portrait of bi-polar, what is so heartwarming about this film is that his wife is one of the few who does understand, and over time their kids begin to understand as, after his breakdown at the beginning of the film, we flash forward quickly – first seeing him over-loaded on medication barely able to communicate, in a psych ward – that scene gave me chills too – next we see him in a half-way house, then six weeks go by. He is back on his feet with his own apartment. He is making a proper effort to get his life back together, for his family. I can’t imagine a bigger motivation to get better – as when it comes to mental illness, the patient has just as much responsibility as anyone when it comes to healing. His kids come to see him at his new apartment every weekend, but the poor guy can’t help but wonder why his wife can’t stay, just for one night, together. According to her, they are ‘a family’, but there are no moments of real affection between them. That one really hit home for me as well. What a total mindfuck!

Things take a massive swing as the mother – Maggie – now needs money. Whether Cam had a job beforehand or not isn’t explained, but it seems Cam’s family is loaded, but they obviously don’t think much of him as his family is living in poverty and these loaded grand-parents don’t seem to give two shits. Consequently, his wife makes the unbelievably hard choice of leaving Boston for New York to spend 18 months getting a qualification. Something to do with accounting…. something-BA, I forget the acronym, but you get the idea. The big issue though is the kids – despite it all, they love their father to death. To her credit, their mother realises this, and makes an extremely hard decision.

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See – we are not easy people to trust. I’m the first to admit that. Not for any malicious reason, but when suffering from wild mood swings and occasional hypomanic episodes saying hello, it is hard to make any promise. But this is a big one and Cam is ready for the task. But being up one minute, down the next, functioning perfectly one day then a complete wreck the next… Can he look after his kids for eighteen months? His wife plans to come visit every weekend (sleeping on the couch), and two young girls aren’t going to make it easy for him (“You are so EMBARRASSING Daddy!!” was one of my favourite lines). Despite looking quite bad, horrible hair, a cigarette dangling from his lips, his wife is the one who pumps up his confidence, saying something to the effect of, ‘well the doctors all said that you need routine – this is perfect!”. Which is actually true. Not just that every doctor says it, but also because it is the truth, much harder for some than others though. Routine is hard when you have spent an entire life where chaos reigned.

I think a lot of people kinda miss that aspect of mental illness – bi-polar in particular – but all severe mental health problems have their effects, and that effect is usually chaos. It is when family becomes involved that it becomes especially tricky, which I have experienced with my parents my entire life. But Maggie is a special person who, despite the pain that she knows will probably occur occasionally, understands and cares. To me she represents the evolving parts of society that are more empathic in their line of thinking. Their children are fantastic, their character progression is so well written, and again to me – that represents the change in understanding that has occurred over the last 30 or so years. But they have 18 months to deal with someone whose illness they don’t fully understand. They start off well, but soon, the 18 months certainly have a bi-polar-like rhythm to it – the ups are fabulous and there are smiles everywhere, I’m smiling now, while the lows are…. well, low. The kids gradually adapt, which I also thought was a great little comment on how the innocence of youth can see through ‘weird’ behaviour and mental health problems. The films ending is tricky and filled with ambiguity – it is sure to stir up a conversation, regardless of whether you have had a connection with the illness or not.

IN A NUTSHELL?

This entire movie is filled with heart. The best thing about it is Mark Ruffalo. He was good in Foxcatcher, fucking -great- in Zodiac. But I don’t think he has ever played a better role than this one here, not one that I have seen anyway. He was constantly filled with character and heart, and if I am honest, he played a manic-depressive as if he knew of it personally. He did some studying, or the director did…. someone did their fucking research, or has a personal connection to it. Major kudos has gotta go to Maya Forbes – a name I did not know – and obviously Ruffalo, as the depiction of mental health problems, bi-polar in particular obviously, is spot on. A movie like this needed to be made, and I am glad it did. Zoe Saldana as his wife Maggie was also really great, as were the two kids! It was fun watching them adapt to this new, sorta crazy but it all works out in the end life-style, and their reactions to Ruffalo’s impulsive, sudden behaviour were gold. But Ruffalo certainly steals the show and for good fucking reason!!

Watch this film!!

An absurdly biased 5 out of fucking 5! Maybe knock off a point as this is still a fantastically engaging film. But for me it was personal, so any flaws it may have, I did not see them.