Directed by Bill Pohlad

Written by Oren Moverman, Michael A. Lerner,

Starring: John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti

Is madness the key to genius?

While history often tries its best to say otherwise, I don’t believe the notion for a second. For every mentally ill genius, there are thousands of sufferers, experiencing their pain silently every day. What, if anything, does this movie add to the discussion?

I wasn’t familiar with Brian Wilson before seeing Love and Mercy, though like most I have heard their classics at some point, often while held captive in the back seat of a stinking hot family car.

However, this didn’t erode the power of the film, and despite a few missteps, it portrays Brian Wilson in an honest and confronting way. We can immediately see that something isn’t quite right with Brian as he awkwardly tries to talk to a car saleswoman, who later becomes an important part of his life.

The decision to show us two versions of Brian is a little jarring at first, but it quickly becomes a comfortable ebb and flow, the film effortlessly transitioning from earlier periods, when arguments began to grow within the band while Wilson’s health declined, to a later period in his life where he is medicated, under the care of a legal guardian, a doctor who has labelled him a paranoid schizophrenic – an illness that still carries a heavy stigma in today’s society. The film aggressively displays the stigma that was apparent around Brian in the 1980’s, as it quickly becomes questionable if this doctor is truly acting in Brian’s best interests. He takes it upon himself, for example, to warn the woman Brian met earlier of his illness, doing his best to scare the woman into the sunset.

The film accurately shows us that anyone with mental health issues needs support, and that support needs to be positive and not overwhelming. During the scenes based in the 1960’s, Paul Dano is incredible to watch as his character begins to hear things that no one else can hear, often looking terrified. I am epileptic, I can certainly understand what this is like, and the film portrays it in an unsettling, realistic fashion, using audio-editing to depict the auditory hallucinations; what Brian is hearing compared to everyone else. It gave me chills.


So does this movie perpetuate that old suggestion that madness can equal genius? I would say no. Rather, it shows us the support a person in this state needs. During the scenes based in the 60’s, there is no empathy or understanding, leaving Brian unsupported, his health wavering constantly. While he does speak of hearing melodies in his head, helping him to write music, one has to wonder: what if he wasn’t so ill?

Mental health almost always hinders a person’s life, whether it is going shopping or being creative. Would The Beach Boys have exploded into popularity if it weren’t for Brian’s illness? Given that the 60’s scenes are based after the band had sold albums, I think the movie is suggesting that his ill health wasn’t what made him great; if it is suggesting anything like this at all. Perhaps it is just a simple music biopic that I am reading too much into.

But hey, the film involves mental health, it is sure that my twisted epileptic mind will find things that perhaps aren’t there. What I am certain of is that the movie portrays unstable mental health in an understanding and not at all condescending way. Any film that pulls that off is a good film in my mind, not to mention the film has actually gotten me into their music. Win win, as they say.