Hope Springs – reprint of review and analysis of ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ by Keith Oatley Professor of Psychology University of Toronto

Professor Oatley has granted us kind permission to reprint his review here:

If you want to view the film and discuss it at the next meeting of Freudian Clip – The Film Club – register here: http://www.meetup.com/The-UK-CBT-Group/events/114951052/


Issue: Volume 58(15), 10 April 2013, [no page #] Copyright: © 2013 by the American Psychological Association

Publication Type: [review: Film Review] DOI: 10.1037/a0032351

ISSN: 1554-0138 Accession: 2013-07374-001

Keywords: Bipolar Disorder, Life Satisfaction, Teachers [review: Film Review]

Hope Springs

Oatley, Keith

Silver Linings Playbook (2012) David O. Russell (Director)

Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) used to be a high school history teacher, married to an English teacher. But he beat up, and nearly killed, a fellow teacher whom he discovered in the shower with his wife. By court order, he was confined for eight months to a psychiatric institution, with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Pat is the main character in Silver Linings Playbook, directed by David O. Russell, who also wrote the screenplay based on a novel by Matthew Quick.

In the film, Pat has completed his compulsory detention. Having no job and nowhere else to live, he goes to stay with his parents. He hopes to get back with his wife, who has taken out a restraining order against him, and he hopes to resume his teaching career. Despite his recent disasters, he thinks that if he stays positive he can have a shot at a silver lining.
Pat not only has bipolar disorder, but also what the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–IV–TR; American Psychiatric Association, 2000) calls an intermittent explosive disorder. Kessler and colleagues (2005) have estimated the lifetime prevalence of bipolar disorder at 3.9 percent and of intermittent explosive disorder at 5.2 percent in the United States. During the film, Pat flies into several rages, hits his parents, and gets into a fight at a football game.

His father, Pat Sr. (Robert de Niro), also an intermittently violent man, has an obsessive-compulsive disorder and a gambling disorder. He is sunk deeply into superstitious patterns by which he thinks he can win unlikely bets and also impart favorable influences on games played by his beloved football team, the Philadelphia Eagles. Pat’s brother, too, seems to have his own problems. The only normal member of the family is Pat’s affectionate mother, Dolores (Jacki Weaver), who had to vouch for Pat to enable him to be discharged from psychiatric care against medical advice.

Too often, films that treat subjects such as mental illness have an earnestness about them that makes them dreary. This film is different. Its subject matter, of how one might recover from destructive effects of mental illness, could hardly be more serious, but the film is a comedy. It is charming, written with wit and verve in a way that makes the issues easy to perceive, to reflect upon, and to discuss.

Pat’s plan involves losing weight to become more attractive to his estranged wife, and he does this by taking up running. It also involves reading all the books in his wife’s literature courses. Early in the film, Pat is in bed on the top floor of his parents’ house, reading a hardcover copy of Hemingway’s (1929) A Farewell to Arms, which he has borrowed from the library. As he reaches its end, he breaks a window by throwing the book out of it in a fury because Hemingway has the protagonist’s woman-friend die. It’s four o’clock in the morning; Pat wakes his parents by bursting into their bedroom and inveighing against Hemingway. Here, not only is the sleeplessness of bipolar disorder depicted, but also the less frequently discussed lack of consideration for others.

Not long after Pat arrives at home, he is invited to dinner by a friend’s wife to meet her sister, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who has suffered from depression and whose husband has died recently. During the dinner Pat and Tiffany discuss side effects of the various psychiatric drugs that have been prescribed to them. They agree on how these drugs befuddle the mind and seem often worse than the illnesses that they are meant to treat.

Pat’s invitation to dinner to meet Tiffany is one of several schemes instituted by women in the movie for purposes which, in a rather deft way, are good for both the schemers and for Pat. Tiffany has been fired from her job, due to depression and to behaving badly at work, and she is living in a converted garage behind her parents’ house. Her scheme includes inveigling Pat into becoming her partner for a dance competition. She has been dancing for a while, and she is not bad at it. Pat has never danced and would need to start from scratch.

One of the conditions of Pat’s release is that he take his medication and have regular therapy. His therapist is Dr. Cliff Patel (Anupam Kher). He is amiable but firm in the manner of a parent telling a nine-year-old how to deal with difficulties at school. In the film, a network of people who include not just Pat’s mother, Tiffany, and Patel, but also a sympathetic police officer assigned to see that Pat doesn’t break the terms of his release are all looking after him. In psychology, this is called social support. It is one of the most important factors in mental health, with beneficial effects that have been found, and with implications that have been discussed, in study after study for 35 years (e.g., Tsai, Desai, & Rosenheck, 2012).

Pat makes a commitment to Tiffany to work with her for the dance competition. He does this in return for her promising to take a letter to his estranged wife. As he works harder and harder at dancing, he becomes more focused and calmer. The film builds toward Pat’s father making an outrageous bet of all his money, which he has been saving to start a restaurant, that the Philadelphia Eagles will beat the Dallas Cowboys in the last game of the season and that Tiffany and Pat will score at least five out of 10 in their dance competition in which professional dancers will also take part and at which Pat has been told his wife will be present. I won’t give away the outcome.

It could be said that the meaning of life is having a plan and doing it. Oatley and Perring (1991) found that recovery from episodes of diagnosed depression was associated with developing and successfully carrying out plans. More recently the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) has been found effective in enabling mentally ill people to establish a sense of hope and to reduce psychiatric symptoms (Fukui et al., 2011).

People who suffer mental illness can lead satisfying lives, and they are much helped by planful activities. Although she has a diagnosis of schizophrenia, Elyn Saks conducts a successful career as a law professor, and she married in her mid-40s. She and her colleagues (Glynn et al., 2010) interviewed 21 people with schizophrenia who had worthwhile jobs, were stay-at-home caregivers, or were students. Common elements in their coping included hope, management of symptoms, and social support. Bipolar disorder has symptoms that can compare in severity with those of schizophrenia, but the prevalence of the illness is four times higher.

In an article in the New York Times, Saks (2013) wrote that she controls her symptoms by means of work, which, she says, “is my best defense. It keeps me focused, it keeps the demons at bay” (p. 5). She concludes her article by saying that “those of us who have schizophrenia and other mental illnesses want what everyone wants: in the words of Sigmund Freud, to work and to love” (p. 5). This film is about that idea.


American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author. [Context Link]
Fukui, S., Starnino, V. R., Susana, M., Davidson, L. J., Cook, K., Rapp, C. A., & Gowdy, E. A. (2011). Effect of Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) participation on psychiatric symptoms, sense of hope, and recovery. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 34, 214–222. doi:10.2975/34.3.2011.214.222 [Context Link]

Glynn, S., Marder, S., Cohen, A., Hamilton, A., Saks, E., Hollan, D., & Brekke, J. (2010, August). How do some people with schizophrenia thrive? Paper presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association, San Diego, CA.[Context Link]

Hemingway, E. (1929). A farewell to arms. New York, NY: Scribner’s. [Context Link]

Kessler, R. C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., Merikangas, K. R., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM–IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 593–602. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.62.6.593 [Context Link]

Oatley, K., & Perring, C. (1991). A longitudinal study of psychological and social factors affecting recovery from psychiatric breakdown. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 158, 28–32. doi:10.1192/bjp.158.1.28 [Context Link]

Saks, E. (2013, January 27). Successful and schizophrenic. The New York Times, p. SR 5. [Context Link]

Tsai, J., Desai, R., & Rosenheck, R. A. (2012). Social integration of people with severe mental illness: Relationships between symptom severity, professional assistance, and natural support. The Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research, 39, 144–157. doi:10.1007/s11414-011-9266-7 [Context Link]


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4 Responses to Hope Springs – reprint of review and analysis of ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ by Keith Oatley Professor of Psychology University of Toronto

  1. Pingback: Mental illness on screen – a new world of hopes and aspirations | PNCAU

  2. Pingback: Mental illness on screen – stigma, cliches, and questions.

  3. Mockingjay says:

    Thank you so much for this! 🙂

  4. You ought to take part in a contest for one of the most
    useful blogs online. I’m going to recommend this website!

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