This movie hit me like a ton of bricks. Be warned, you need tissues.
Like much of Russell’s work, it’s a story about family and loss. And like A Beautiful Mind, it deals with schizophrenia, or more specifically, bipolar schizoaffective disorder. More about that later. What’s not often done in movies that deal with mental illness and loss, is to recognize that much of what’s lost to mental illness, you can’t get back. There are no Hollywood endings in psychiatric care. And that’s something this movie gets right. The wrenching cost of separation isn’t softened in any way.
Even in the flashbacks to a period in Jake’s life when aggressive psychiatric care hasn’t totally removed him from his daughter’s world, there is a palpable distance between reality and memory, between the present and the imaginary, that is painful to register – even without spoilers. On a second viewing it is well nigh unbearable.
This poem is addressed to Jake’s imaginary presence later in his daughter’s life, if the imaginary can have a presence to whom we can address our thoughts, our anger, our despair. If the imaginary can choose whether to stay, or to fade away.
(If you) go to where the need is greatest,
go and hang on the bell.
Say to the weary gatekeeper
you have no trade to sell,
that you’ve come to meet the wretched
without a tale to tell,
that you’ve come to take the measure
of that near place called hell.
(You can) tell him you know no magic,
have nothing to conceal,
say that you don’t trade in secrets,
have no cards left to deal.
Show him your fancy credentials,
you haven’t come to steal.
Admit that they furnish little,
there’s no wound you can heal.
(And then) he’ll tell you about the curfew,
he’ll show you to your chair,
the locals will take no notice,
except perhaps to glare.
This is the spot, make no mistake.
You’ve finally gotten there.
The loudest hoot and drown out shouts
with laughter coarse and bare.
But who have you come looking for,
what is there here to see?
Which of these forgotten strangers
once bounced on your knee?
What if she only begged you now
to go – and leave her be?
What if your music angered her
with love’s relentless plea?
Would you know how to make your way
back up the winding stair?
Would you remember sunlight, stars,
forgiveness, hope and prayer?
Would you relent, or would you stay,
and try to make her care?
Would you return, or pass your days