To see or not to see: Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

By Ng Chen Xi (19J05) and Hannah Soh (20J18)

“Silver Linings Playbook” movie poster (Photo credits: Wikipedia)

This is the third of our seven-part series called To See Or Not To See, in which we review some of our favourite films that deserve revisiting, especially in a time when it's best for us to stay at home.

You may have heard of the expression “every cloud has a silver lining”, but have you heard of the unique romantic-comedy film, Silver Linings Playbook? From its title alone, you might expect it to be an uplifting story – and you wouldn’t be wrong!

This Academy Award-nominated film stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, and follows the journeys of Pat, a man who embarks on a journey to discover the brighter side of life in his fight against mental illness, and Tiffany, a widow who convinces Pat to enter a dance competition with her.

The film employs humour to address the stigma that is typically associated with mental illness, allowing the film to deal with the complexities and nuances of the psyche with candour and grace, making the movie not only a worthwhile watch, but one that makes it relevant to our everyday experiences.

So... what are the three ways in which the film can teach our society more about mental illness?

#1: By exposing us to a range of mental illnesses with varying symptoms that do not fit into a specific mould.

Pat suffers from bipolar disorder, yet the swing between manic and depression associated with bipolar disorder is less prominent in Pat’s experiences. Instead, he is seen in an almost constant state of mania, interspersed with mild depressive episodes. This is one such common misconception of bipolar disorder; while some do alternate between extreme mania and depression, others experience one more than the other, and may spend more time in one state, with milder episodes of the other.

Tiffany, on the other hand, suffers from an unnamed mental illness, yet her symptoms, such as her self-destructive behaviour, are indicative of a range of mental illnesses. About half of those who suffer from psychiatric disorders suffer from more than one mental illness, and this is implied to be the case in Silver Linings Playbook, as both Pat and Tiffany take a number of drugs, each treating different mental illnesses. Furthermore, the fact that Tiffany’s illness is not named highlights how it would be premature to judge someone based on a singular diagnosis or by their symptoms alone, and the varied manners in which one may respond to trauma make a listening ear more important than attempts to name and resolve one’s suffering.

And how does this relate to us?

In Singapore, the social stigma around mental illness causes many to be unaware of the various ways in which mental illness can manifest. Mental illnesses rarely conform to a singular set of symptoms, yet there are still common stereotypes regarding the behaviour of those suffering from mental illnesses. The range of illnesses, and the accurate portrayal of their symptoms, can help to raise awareness regarding mental illness by deconstructing these misconceptions that have plagued our society.

#2: By reducing the stigma surrounding mental health

Considering the existing stigma surrounding mental illness, Pat and Tiffany’s interactions are particularly poignant, as they are able to discuss their illnesses and relate to each other in an accurate and candid manner. Presenting viewers with the perspective of those affected by mental illness encourages them to question their own preconceived notions of mental illness, and even how they perceive their own prejudices. It also diminishes the taboo nature of mental illness, and reminds those who are struggling with it that they are not alone.

Pat and Tiffany in the diner in “Silver Linings Playbook” (Photo credits:

#3: By offering us a better understanding of mental illness patients

As Pat’s day-to-day experiences are shared with us, viewers begin to understand the possible reasons behind the apparently defiant or unreasonable behaviour of people suffering from mental illnesses. Through the scene where Pat refuses to take medication, we learn that patients often do not comply to taking these as they do not think they need it, or because they find the side effects burdensome. However, we also see his condition improving and even a blossoming romance with Tiffany soon after taking medication and going for therapy, which further highlights the importance of mental illness patients adhering to medical treatments. This might aid us in understanding mental illness patients better, enabling us to provide better support for them.

Now, as we conclude…

Silver Linings Playbook encourages us to place our perceptions of mental health under a microscope, and emphasises that our society needs to do more to improve our understanding and treatment of the sensitive topic of mental illness. While this movie may not have explored mental illnesses in exhaustive detail, it is certainly able to create conversation, which is key to moving towards a more inclusive and compassionate society.

This road of growth may not be easy, but as Pat insists, ‘You have to do everything you can, you have to work your hardest, and if you do, you have a shot at a silver lining.’

Photo credits:

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