Put in the cinematic dustbin since its screening at Sundance
in 2001, Jordan Melamed's Manic is deserving of an audience.
It is an honest and touching film about the conflicts of life as seen
by patients in Northwoods Mental Institution in California, a psychiatric
hospital for adolescents. Brought to life by a brooding and intense
performance from former Third Rock From the Sun star Joseph Gordon-Levitt,
Manic addresses important questions about violence and alienation
among young people.
The film is inspired by Albert Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus,
which ponders the modern significance of the figure from Greek mythology
condemned to roll a boulder up an incline forever, only to watch it
slide back down. Screenwriters Michael Bacall and Blayne Weaver pose
the question of whether people can find meaning in a seemingly absurd
existence without melodrama or unconvincing epiphanies.
Lyle (Gordon-Levitt) has been brought to the facility
after brutally assaulting a boy with a baseball bat, and the story is
about his slow discovery of the reason he is there. Most of the film
takes place within the psychiatric ward run by a life-affirming staff
David Monroe (Don Cheadle). Monroe wrestles with his own demons, while
treating the teens not as patients with labels, but as human beings
whose lives have meaning and value. The adolescents are hospitalized
for assorted behavior problems, and many have endured abuse and neglect
at home. In addition to Lyle, the ward contains his bunkmate, 12-year
old Kenny (Cody Lightning) a sullen Native American who is alleged to
have molested younger children; Mike (Elden Henson), a volatile white
rapper who pretends that he is black; Chad (co-writer Bacall), a teen
diagnosed with bipolar illness; and rape victim Tracey (Zooey Deschanel),
who wakes up screaming each night.
teens have the same problems as many of their peers, only magnified
beyond their endurance to cope. Some of the acting is improvised, but
even when scripted, the film has a documentary feel to it. The hand
held camera ratchets up the tension, capturing the pent-up emotions
that are ready to explode at any moment -- in a basketball match, a
pillow fight, or a fist-swinging free-for-all. Although the camerawork
increases the immediacy, its excessive use eventually detracts from
the film's power, becoming intrusive and distracting.
our understanding of mental illness has changed in recent years, the
treatment shown does not go much beyond pills or group therapy sessions.
There is also no acknowledgment of alternative therapies such as Gestalt
or psychodrama that are geared to deal with this type of anger. David
asks the patients to talk about why they are there, but he can't get
them to go beyond victimization and have them feel responsible for themselves
or each other. Indeed, most cannot articulate their pain or come to
terms even with the fact that they need help. It is only when they see
the sadness and extreme solitude of Van Gogh's last painting "Wheatfields
With Crows" that the first awareness of mutual need begins to emerge.
Manic is an uneven film, but its sincerity, and good acting,
provide enough rewards to make it worth a look.
Pyaasa (1957) director Guru Dutt plays Vijay, a writer
whose poems are not taken seriously, presumably because they are about
hunger and unemployment rather than romantic love. Distraught by lack
of recognition from publishers interested only in profits, and condemned
by his brothers as a good for nothing, Vijay is a forlorn figure, his
only friends being his mother and the prostitute Gulabo (Waheeda Rehman).
by Srikanta, a novel by Sarat Chandra, Pyaasa dramatizes
the poet's rejection by society and his resulting bitterness toward
a world he sees as corrupt and materialistic. The film captures the
universal longing for love and recognition, while attacking the idea
of art as only a commodity. Original music by S.D. Burrman denouncing
the hypocrisy of society is interspersed throughout the film, nicely
forwarding the narrative rather distracting from it, as movie music
too often does.
the picture opens, Vijay encounters Gulabo and discovers that she bought
his poems after they were sold as waste paper, and has fallen in love
with him. Many poems are dedicated to Meena (Mala Sinha), an ex-girlfriend
that he met in college. When Meena's husband Mr. Ghosh (Rehman) discovers
this, he hires Vijay as a helper to find out more about the connection
with his wife. When Vijay, seemingly on his way to commit suicide, offers
his coat to a beggar who is hit by an oncoming train, the coat he is
wearing leads to the assumption that Vijay has been killed, and the
story about the dead poet is printed in the papers. When the poems are
finally published on Gulabo's pleading, they turn out to be very profitable,
and Vijay's posthumous status is raised to legendary proportions.
Pyaasa is a film of utmost sensitivity with moments that are
quite moving, Dutt's character comes off as self-righteous and self-destructive.
He has perfected a hangdog expression, displaying endless variations
on the image of the put upon, world-weary artist, and he would rather
be right than attain satisfaction. When he is down and out and invited
to recite a poem on the stage of a happy reunion party, he puts a damper
on the proceedings by delivering a maudlin verse. When Meena pledges
her love and wants to run away with him, he righteously refuses to forgive
her for her original decision to marry someone else. Again, when he
finally gets the recognition he seeks, he rejects it because his friends
did not appreciate him when they knew he was alive, singing "Why revel
in a shallow world that ignores human beings and idolizes the dead?"
Vijay is a perfectionist and wants the world only on his
terms. Perhaps this may have also been true of the director Guru Dutt
who, it was claimed, was never satisfied with any of his works and committed
suicide at the age of only 41, only seven years after this, his most
©2004 Howard Schumann