YOU KNOW that one friend who tells you depression shouldn't be treated with medication, because you could just cut out gluten or eat more kale?
Touched with Fire is 110 minutes of that friend, and it's just as insufferable as you'd expect. Ostensibly a love story between poets with bipolar disorder who meet in a psych ward, it is actually an extended infomercial for the book it's based on (by psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison) and also maybe for not taking your meds, even though Jamison herself doesn't advocate that.
Also featured prominently: Winter as a metaphor for depression! No discussion of insurance coverage or the difficulty of accessing mental health care! Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby chomping the scenery, as their characters somehow publish books with alarming frequency, despite never writing anything worth publishing! (I suppose inane rhymes about the sun and moon technically qualify as poetry, but in real life, they'd deservedly end up in a slush pile.)
It all boils down to an offensively cartoonish depiction of bipolar disorder as a gift that needn't be medicated—which, like, have you ever known someone with untreated bipolar disorder? It's not all flights of boundless creativity and reckless passion. Untreated mental illness is debilitating.
Breaking down the stigma attached to mental health disorders is a huge, important undertaking, and this is not the way to do it. The crazy artist is a stereotype, right up there with the hard-drinking artist. Addiction and bipolar disorder are diseases, not artistic best practices. Drinking did not do Ernest Hemingway or David Foster Wallace any favors. Clinical depression was not what made Sylvia Plath's poetry great; it was her incredibly disciplined drafting process. The idea that taking care of yourself is somehow the antithesis of making art is an insidious myth; one can't exist without the other. That isn't romantic, but I guess neither is breathing? Both are required if you hope to have a sustainable career.
The world is hard enough on artists, and by romanticizing the very things that kill good art, movies like this one make it even harder. If you want to watch an ill-conceived screed against taking medication for bipolar disorder, and a massive oversimplification of what it's like to live with mental illness, please enjoy Touched with Fire.
But if you want a story that takes mental health seriously and depicts the challenges of seeking treatment, you'd be much better off staying home and rereading The Bell Jar. We should envy Plath's genius, not her pain.