INFINITELY POLAR BEAR [2015]

infinitely-polar-bear-poster

Directed and Written by Maya Forbes

Starring:Β  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. πŸ™‚

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.Β 

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.

28 Comments on “INFINITELY POLAR BEAR [2015]

  1. Great review. I really like Mark Ruffalo and I have bipolar type 2 (only diagnosed a couple of years ago but definitely present for a long long time previous to that). I will be watching this movie, Thank you. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey there, thanks for reading! πŸ™‚

      I have sliiiight feeling you will like it hehe. Especially if you like Ruffalo. I bet you’ll be watching it like I was watching it, kinda ticking off the boxes…. yep I remember doing that… and that… and that and that… y’know? Haha I for the most part found it funny because I like to laugh at myself, and hell, I’m writing a book about my time in rehab anyways so my life is an open book really. There’s a linky up the top of my page if you are interested in reading that, I am always looking for constructive feedback =) I’ve spent pretty much the entire time since I got clean writing and re-writing it… Now almost four years I’m finally in that place mentally where I can write it and polish it and be happy with it. If any of that made any sense!!

      I know what you mean about being sick looong before the diagnosis. I am 28, was diagnosed epileptic at 23, before that was total chaos. Even now five years later the epilepsy has just calmed down to where my doc has realised, shit, he’s bi-polar as well as epileptic, which i bet makes his job w/me that much harder!

      really love your pics btw, if you ever make one that is wallpaper size I’d love to have it as my PC-background πŸ™‚

      sorry for the super long reply

      Like

      • First of all: don’t be sorry for ‘the super long reply’. It’s a very nice welcome you’ve made to me.
        I’m 55 so I spent an awful long time wondering wtf was wrong with me; why my depression so constantly came back, why I had such trouble sleeping, why I got so anxious, why I sometimes felt anxious and depressed at the same time, why sometimes I just couldn’t shut up, why I wore myself out and worried about wearing everyone else out too. Etc.
        I’d say being you is harder than your dr’s job with you is.
        One of my meds is an anti-epileptic (Lamotrigine) though I’m not epileptic. That’s a hefty lot of stuff you have to deal with.
        I think you’re right about my enjoying your blog. I’m a (non-drinking) alcoholic. 9 years without except for a binge about 6 years ago. I am so glad that I don’t drink anymore, it really brought out the worst in me and I loathed myself, which in itself is a terrible thing.
        That’s all from me for the moment, I’m a bit computered-out at the moment. I’ll definitely be back.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Its cool to meet someone who has gone thru similar stuff. I remember everything you said… three nights without sleep on no drugs, going out, actually NOT being shy, talking to girls easily, then crashing super fucking hard. Manic for three months, ten days awake, no drugs, thought Bill Hicks the comedian was talking to me from the grave. It certainly can get scary.

        My doc said its the temporal lobe epilepsy fucking with the bi-polar, so its a kinda double whammy. I am also on Lamotragine and also Leviracitum – almost certainly spelled that wrong but the brand name is Keppra. Also take one mood stabiliser, forget the name, small doses help the bi-polar symptoms. My doctor says things like look at how far you have come in four years and when I thank him he’s almost won’t accept it and tells me I did all the work. He is crazy good, I am very lucky.

        Like

      • Oh blimey! That sounds truly awful. Much worse than what I went through. The longest I’ve been awake was 40 hours and that was bad enough. Tired and wired and anxious and depressed all at the same time. I think the major difference between bipolar 1 and 2 is that with 1 there is only hypomania not full blown mania so there is less chance of hospitalisation. I don’t get psychotic. But way more downs than highs. When I first started the Lamotrigine it definitely stabilized me – constantly down! So then Seroquel (atypical anti-psychotic/mood stabilzer) was added to that and the antidepressant that I’ve been taking for years. Symptomatically 1 is worse than 2, but prognostically, 2 is worse – because of the more frequent depression people with 2 tend to suicide more often than those with 1! Anyway it’s all horrible. Having TLE added to your mix, well, what a burden for you. It all must be very scary and I feel for you.
        Bill Hicks was talking to you?!! Were you laughing or crying?! !
        So, yes, well done you, it does sound like you’ve done a lot of work. I’m really glad that you have a good doctor, it helps a great deal, doesn’t it?
        Other than all that, you are in Australia! Me too! I’m in Sydney! Where are you?
        So pleased to meet you. x o x

        Liked by 1 person

      • ha! How cool. I’m down in Adelaide…. the most fun town ever! And I mean town, this isn’t a capital city!
        Yeah, you know Bill Hicks? He is my avatar everywhere I talk on the internet for a reason hahaha. Back in ’09 it was three months long, ten day stetches of being awake and, I guess naps in between. I drew a photo perfect picture of my dad’s cat that had died a year or two earlier for my sister’s 21st… in three hours. It doesn’t just looks like a real cat, it looks like Jessie. Its insane and I still don’t know how I did it!
        I felt like Superman. I listened to Hicks material and every. single. joke meant something specific to me. I remember bein on the beach with my dad and some friends, in some shack, they were all sleeping and I was up, listening to Hicks, shining the torch around spastically cos I thought I was communicating with other people with a torch, in some sort of crazed manic morse code. I still don’t know if there were people over that hill with a torch… Pretty sure I was a giggling, crying mess, every single emotion all balled up into one.
        Hahaha I can’t help but laugh, cos it was all so fun, I really felt like a superhero. After three months tho the crash was so hard. I deleted EVERYTHING I had written – we are talking tens of thousands of words. I’m reeeeally surprised that I didn’t get hospitalised if I am honest. And hell the only reason I did crash is cos I relapsed on painkillers. I’d been clean for so long but it had been my medication, and shit was just getting too fast and scary. Music literally sounded slower that normal. It felt like a proper acid trip gone bad.
        And yeah it was getting a good doctor that saved me – no one ever thought of epilepsy the dipshits, one day I go see my friends GP and he diagnoses me with TLE in five minutes!! I’ve barely begun the inevitable 4 hour story, I’m hypomanic as all hell, I’m telling HIM i’m bipolar and he sends me off with mood stabilisers to keep me happy, but he also sent me to get an EEG. Bang, case solved. By a GP.
        Makes you wonder what they teach at universities to these shrinks really

        Like

  2. A great and insightful post man, I’ve been hearing a few things about this but Infinitely Polar Bear has seemed to have been a tricky little one to find. Me? I’m a huge fan of Mark Ruffalo; I think he’s one of this generations’ greatest and he can tackle pretty much anything thrown before him.

    I myself suffer from pretty ridiculous mood swings and I haven’t ever been diagnosed with anything but that doesn’t mean I won’t be ever. I try not to think that one day I’ll be pegged as this, that or the other. Doctors sometimes don’t know shit. And then they offer these medications as if that’s going to make life simpler. I’ve gotten addicted to pain pills in a hurry so the last thing I really want is to have another issue like that.

    I guess what I’m really saying is that I see this movie experience as being an intensely personal one for me as well. But I’m looking forward to that experience. They don’t happen very often.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah dude. Its so tastefully done. And Mark Ruffalo, fuck man, he nailed what a manic depressive gopes through!! To the tiniest detail. Her has a personal connection or perhaps suffers himself, because it brought soooooo many memories back, a lot I’d forgotten. Its crazy accurate.

      As for pain pills, that’s what landed me in rehab bro, or what started the 8 year year trip that eventually got me there.

      Medications though, most aren’t addictive and doctors with brains (not enough of them unfortunately) don’t just hand them out, I’m lucky enough to have one of the best neuropsychiatrists in the world. He knows everything. Medication changed my life bro, so there are pros and cons.

      And he doesn’t label me bi-polar or anything. I asked out of curiousity and he said he thought so, but he’s never said anything. It means nothing to him, he helps me with the symptoms and how to get through it. The meds help, and his knowledge helps me help myself.

      Doctors who just tick boxes and say yep you’re depressed, you are this you, you are that etc etc are complete fucking idiots. Find a good one tho and it can change your life.

      Like

  3. Great article dude – love the passion and your perspective. Manic Depressive is what bi-polar is still mostly referred to in the USA from what I can remember when we put up our article.

    Liked by 1 person

    • probably ‘cos there is a bloody fantastic Hendrix song called Manic Depression πŸ˜‰ Its touchin my sooouuu-llll!

      And thanks for the kind words mate! Yeah a movie like this is bound to strike a chord with me.

      I read in Sight and Sound mag that there is a UK film called Electricity. Its about epilepsy. Bet ya 50 bucks that won’t distribute here

      Like

  4. I just saw an older rom-com w/ Mark Ruffalo and he’s just so darn likable! I’m definitely gonna give this a rent, sounds like it’s quite heart-wrenching at times.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My mother found it hard to watch at times, but that is cos of the personal reasons I mentioned. The top reason for this is cos it is very, very real. Its an intense family film, if ever such a thing has been made before!!! Talk about genre-splicing! I mean we’ve got intense emotions, a family film, and a daaark comedy all rolled in to one!!!

      Like

  5. I don’t usually like Mark Ruffalo but your review is so stirring I’m going to track it down right now so we can review it too – sounds like the kind of movie that needs to be seen. Thanks for sharing it, and a bit of your own story as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope you get to see it. It is odd that a movie I was able to see down under isn’t screening overseas. Its always the other way round!!

      Like

      • Yes usually but it’s nowhere here yet! I’ve read conflicting info, some said it was released in March while their Facebook seems to imply not until June. Definitely not available on VOD!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow, damn… that makes it even more bizarre. It isn’t an Aussie movie!! I hope you get to see it, its a great movie that really can’t be pigeonholed onto one or even two genres.

        Like

      • Good luck!! You won’t regret it πŸ™‚

        Hey, for once Australia gets to see something first!!

        ner ner na ner ner!! πŸ˜›

        Like

    • Thanks bro! I never knew Ruffalo much but Foxcatcher and now this, he is one of my favourites. To mimic bi-polar is so goddamned hard…

      You know its crazy, I’m sure you don’t know this, but you were the first person to comment on a post on this site. I honestly thought I’d just be writing to myself the whole time!! Just wanted to say cheers for that πŸ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: ELECTRICITY [2014] | epileptic moondancer

  7. Pingback: Infinitely Polar Bear | Assholes Watching Movies

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