The title of Kay Jamison’s book, Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, doesn’t exactly scream “movie version,” but writer-director Paul Dalio has been blessed with an intriguing premise and two superb leading actors in Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby to make Touched With Fire a stirring and engaging film. Roadside Attractions is rolling it out in theaters slowly with about 25 more markets and 60 theatres this coming weekend. It will be available on VOD in May. It is worth checking out wherever you can find it.
The film is not just as a wrenching study of two people afflicted with a mental illness but also as a heartbreaking, but ultimately impossible, love story. As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), Holmes and Kirby have irresistible roles for any actor and really run with them without ever going over the top. The film deals with the effects of bipolar disorder on the creative mind as Holmes and Kirby both play poets whose work and personal lives are driven by their long-standing illness. After a setup where we see them separately trying to deal with flare-ups of their condition, they meet in a treatment facility. The combination is combustible almost immediately, especially when Marco aka Luna (Kirby) discovers Emily aka Carla (Holmes) is a poet just like him. Despite efforts of their parents as well as a hospital administrator to keep them apart, their relationship grows deeper, with each getting high off the other’s shifting manic moods.
At the height of all of this, they become mutually enthralled with Vincent Van Gogh’s painting Starry Night, as well as the story of the Little Prince. They imagine they, like that prince, are just visitors from another planet. Complications arise when Emily becomes pregnant and they go on the run after stealing her mother’s (Christine Lahti) car and setting off an adventure that looks like it can’t end well. Drama also unfolds when Marco insists on going off his meds in a search for more creative freedom. In some ways, Touched With Fire has much in common with Romeo And Juliet, as the pair are drawn toward each other even as forces and family around them try to keep them apart. Their parents are understanding and loving but also know their condition means they are too dangerous for each other to ever stay together.
Dalio deftly weaves in and out of the fantasy world they create with each other and the reality of the world around them. He explores the bipolar illness as I’ve never seen it portrayed, and thankfully he has Holmes and Kirby, both simply terrific, to thank for making this all work as well as it does. Lahti, Bruce Altman and Griffin Dunne are very capable and empathetic as the parents who try to save their grown offspring from themselves and each other, but the film belongs wholly to Holmes and Kirby. Author Jamison makes a brief cameo in what is essentially an onscreen plug for her book. A crawl preceding end credits lists several legendary artists and writers from Van Gogh to Ernest Hemingway who have suffered from bipolar illnesses and still managed to create classic and lasting works. The film makes a strong case for the creative mind of artists who triumph despite this adversity. Jeremy Alter, Kristina Nikolova and Jason Sokoloff are producers.
Do you plan to see Touched With Fire? Let us know what you think.