After attacking another player with a bat during baseball at school, Lyle's sent to the psych ward. He meets other teenagers with problems. Will group therapy help?After attacking another player with a bat during baseball at school, Lyle's sent to the psych ward. He meets other teenagers with problems. Will group therapy help?After attacking another player with a bat during baseball at school, Lyle's sent to the psych ward. He meets other teenagers with problems. Will group therapy help?
Lyle, the lead character vividly realized by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, was certainly mad, although his face ingeniously was always comported into an expression of a questioning sadness and resignation, like he was rather surprised that life had turned out to be this way. And he was violent, although for those who are squeamish, his violence was never really clearly shown face-on, but was revealed in an almost subliminal way via quick frames that suggested a fiery atmosphere of angry voices, relentless punches, and splatters of blood--this is the world he has lived in externally and now it demonizes his inner world. And the actor, even when at rest, continued to maintain the demeanor of a coiled spring so tightly wound that it was a wonder his body didn't implosively burst or rip itself apart like a case of tetanus. And yet he was entirely sympathetic, and the groundwork for that sympathy was laid the very first moment when we met him, getting his wounds dressed in a medical clinic. The camera moved behind him and casually revealed him sitting there in a hospital gown that had fallen open in the rear, revealing a vulnerable, skinny back its spinal cord nodules, a smooth back that perhaps his mother when he was a baby or a current lover ought to have soothingly and reassuringly rubbed, if only there had ever been someone who had actually loved him.
I wondered at an institution that so casually mixed up different patients with such diverse problems--the criminally violent with those who cut only themselves, or the changeably manic with those who have an almost invisible self-esteem, or, the relentlessly demeaning with those who are deeply suffering to the point of catatonia or austism. And yet it soon became clear that beyond the realistic and compassionate guidance of a truly dedicated counselor (played to standing-ovation intensity by Don Cheadle), the only hope for them was to be stimulated into opening their hearts to each other and in this way discovering meaning beyond their personal demons.
The patients in the adult ward separated from the youths by a chain-link fence seemed to be irretrievably lost; the freedom of the crows that soon became a symbol of flight out their tight corners for the youths, became only a mocking crowing absorbed by one of the adults. Madness in this institution metaphorically became a clear, legible story, such as the beautiful girl who hid herself behind black lipstick and heavy black eye-liner, or the boy who relentlessly tried to build a house of cards, and yet never seemed to manage to set up the first three.
Without a doubt one of the best scenes was a spontaneous mosh pit that erupted around the playing of a cassette of the Deftones. As I am at least one whole generation older than kids who would smash around in a mosh pit, it might be easy for me to be repelled by this kind of music and scene, and instead I am fascinated and can see how perfectly expressive and either dangerously visceral or benevolently cathartic such music really is and this scene in the film, which to me was like a ballet, was enlightening on many levels. Ultimately, it is clear that the suffering of these youths in the mental institution is metaphorical of the suffering that we all experience in real life and demands a relief of some kind--rage against the machine, indeed.
All in all, Manic is a movie for those who truly care about the craft of film, care about collaborative, creative skill that can come from a work of the heart, care about humanity's relief from suffering, and care about compassionate answers for otherwise seemingly unsolvable problems. For all these reasons, I highly recommend this film.
- May 10, 2003