There is a significant link between mental illness and creativity. The human brain is a fascinating machine and can generate works of art that are profound and utterly beautiful. Vincent van Gogh is one such artist who possessed bipolar disorder and his creative works are some of the most well-known and appreciated today. The new film Touched with Fire explores this relationship and does so in a way that is not only smart but unique and simply out of this world. Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby star here and their chemistry onscreen is really something to marvel at. Few films this day and age delve into something so sensitive as mental illness but this film does so in a way that audiences will not only enjoy and walk away having learned a little something.
Carla (Katie Holmes) is a poet who is increasingly hyper and showing significant signs of mania. Her behavior is worrisome to her parents (Christine Lahti and Bruce Altman) and she eventually checks in to a psychiatric unit. At about the same time, Marco a.k.a. Luna (Luke Kirby), a pot-smoking rapper with conspiracy theories also checks in to the same unit. Eventually the two bipolar-afflicted individuals develop feeling for one another and once released from the hospital do whatever it takes to be together, much to the dismay of their deeply concerned parents including Marco’s somewhat helpless father (Griffin Dunne).
Young filmmaker Paul Dalio (Faith, Love and Whiskey, Heartless) has pulled quadruple duty here as writer, director, editor, and score composer and the film is really a labor of love. The indie feel is alive and well and every shot is well-crafted and well-thought out. Dalio also has bipolar disorder and has been stable for quite some time now so this film is certainly near and dear to him. In addition, Katie Holmes brings significant star power and male lead Luke Kirby is without a doubt, the best element of this bittersweet cinematic effort. He and Holmes share the screen and their romance is the stuff of movie magic. Bipolar disorder is a very serious illness and these two star-crossed lovers are embracing every creative impulse and wild behavior they conjure up.
The supporting cast of Touched with Fire is also quite strong with Christine Lahti, Bruce Altman, and Griffin Dunne. Middle-aged and tired of their children’s antics, they show sincere concern for them and wish them nothing but good mental health. Holmes’ Carla and Kirby’s Marco don’t really care about much except for each other and the delusion that they may be from another planet. This is heartbreaking for their parents and leaves them with little to no choice but to accept their manic-fueled existence. Griffin Dunne is especially effective here as a father who is at the end of his rope, fed up with his son, and hoping desperately that he can help him.
While Touched with Fire is not the “feel good” movie of the year, it does shed a light on something many people struggle with and that is mental illness and unfortunately there is a stigma associated with anyone possessing one. This film is important because it highlights the extreme importance of taking medication and knowing that creativity and art can still prevail even when one is no longer manic. Psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison actually wrote a book talking about this dynamic (also named Touched with Fire) and she appears toward the end of the film, explaining the mental illness/creativity relationship. The main characters in this film both enjoy and experience the pain and beauty of mania and Marco makes it his mission to keep his mania alive to enjoy live to the fullest and keep his artistic flam burning. The message here is that that flame can still burn bright but the illness needs to be controlled. This film does an excellent job at getting that message across.