Silver Linings Playbook, Subtext and Character Development

SPOILER ALERT: Movie Plot Discussed

I highly recommend Silver Linings Playbook, if anyone has not yet seen it. One of the things I love most about the movie is the wonderful character arc of Pat, played by Bradley Cooper. The story (script by David O. Russell available here) allows us to experience his evolution, from a man completely lacking in self-awareness yet self-centered, out of touch with the world and normality, incapable of having a normal relationship… to a caring person fully in touch with the world and equipped to handle a loving relationship.

Of course there are the big scenes with Pat’s freak-outs, waking his parents in the middle of the night to rant about Hemingway, and again in a state of panic over not being able to locate a wedding video. Or reacting hysterically to hearing his wedding song. But the more subtle signs of his mental illness in the film are even more telling for the audience.

Pat’s disorder, as described by him, is Bipolar “with mood swings and weird thinking brought on by severe stress.” But Pat’s behavior at the outset shows that he does not really believe that he has a problem or understand his own altered thinking. The truth is all deftly conveyed to the audience through subtext, even as Pat lives in his world of denial.

In fact, as Pat retells the story of “the incident,” we see his cloudy perception in action.

I come home, what do I see? I walk in the door and I see underwear and pieces of clothing and a guy’s pants with his belt in it, and I walk up the stairs, and all of a sudden I see the DVD player, and on the DVD player is the CD and it’s playing our wedding song, and then I look down and I see my wife’s panties on the ground and then I look up and I see her naked in the shower… and I think, “Oh, that’s kinda sweet, she’s in the shower. What a perfect thing. I’m gonna find her and maybe I’ll go in there…”

In the film, we see the trail of clothes and the strange man’s pants on the ground, and yet Pat continues about his altered reality of considering that finding his wife in the shower could be a good thing. We get a hint at a bigger problem as he glosses over other problems, such as a fight with the high school principal and the strange accusations he made about his wife and her lover.

Pat is shown as oblivious to how other people see him in the scene where he frightens the principal but feels afterwards that their conversation went well. He lectures about how the toxic-sounding relationship with his wife was normal.

Yeah, we wanna change each other, but that’s normal, couples wanna do that, I want her to stop dressing like she dresses, I want her to stop acting so superior to me, okay? And she wanted me to lose weight and stop my mood swings, both of which I’ve done. I mean, people fight. Couples fight. We would fight, we wouldn’t talk for a couple weeks. That’s normal. She always wanted the best for me.

He speaks delusionally about how pefect everything will be with his wife when they get back together. And in a tense encounter with Tiffany (played by Jennifer Lawrence), he scoffs at the idea that his mental illness is as bad as hers.

But once Pat is on his medication, we see him making clearer choices. The ultimate moment of clarity is when he gets a rational wake-up call that he has been clinging to a fake letter. The trigger phrase about “reading the signs” is actually a moment when he himself is finally reading the signs. We, as the audience, know then that he has changed. The unheard, farewell conversation with his wife is the final proof that Pat is a healthy, new man. And we know that Pat is finally ready to be with Tiffany. What a satisfying conclusion.

I believe the ending is especially satisfying because we truly feel we have been through Pat’s journey along with him. He was a completely different person at the start than he was at the end. A very good lesson for us as writers.




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