Updated: Jan 5
by Ira Kansal
Infinitely Polar Bear, directed by Maya Forbes, surrounds the journey of a family and their struggle with Bipolar Disorder. Set in the 1970s, it showcases a psychological disorder in an individual and collective sense. It conveys that mental health is not a simple paper, it’s a rich painting including diverse issues, consequences, emotions, behaviour and environment. The theme of Bipolar disorder, previously called Manic depression, is handled delicately. Clear distinctions between depression, mania, occasional normal moods, frustration and pressure are present.
Cameron, played by Mark Ruffalo, suffers from Bipolar disorder. His wife, Maggie, played by Zoe Saldana, mentions her failure to recognise his condition due to widespread stress reactions in the 1970s. This throws light on the difficulty in accepting the identification of psychological disorders. When almost naked, Cameron rides a bike towards his family, we see the extremeness of his condition. Even after therapy, Cameron is often shown convincing Maggie to be ‘husband and wife. This signifies the turmoil of prioritising basic treatment over the desire for relationships. His daughter’s, Amelia, played by Imogene Wolodarsky, the question on his plan to reconnect with them doesn’t bother Cameron. But, Maggie’s request to look after their kids overwhelms him. His sense of responsibility isn’t lacking rather, the heaviness of facing multiple tasks makes him anxious. Due to financial reasons, Maggie decides to pursue higher education away from home. After the farewell, Amelia and Faith, acted by Ashley Aufderheide, are dejected. Cameron tries to cheer them up, claiming a grand house to be theirs. While this is an episode of delusion, his good intentions are possibly unaffected by his disorder.
Mania and hypomania are often misrepresented with dramatic overreactions. Infinitely Polar bear, though, handled the intricacies and nuances of the condition with great care. Cameron’s disorder never swallows his character in its entirety. His episodes aren’t left unresolved or unaddressed. Physical harm is never inflicted upon anyone. Immediately after leaving the house, following Amelia and Faith’s misbehaviour, Cameron returns with regained control. During an unstable mindset, he probably distances himself physically, consciously or unconsciously. His love, care and compassion are never hindered by the disorder. He needs human company, seeking it from their neighbour or daughters’ friends. Bipolar disorder doesn’t affect his maturity. He gives Amelia and Faith subtle lessons of acceptance know forced enrolment in a private school won’t help them grow.
Psychological disorders may lead to dysfunctional relationships. Initially, Maggie merely depended upon love. But, with two children, Cameron’s condition and unstable income, she knew that love alone couldn’t get them through. She avoids romantic connections until he’s stable enough to handle them. The children are exposed to Cameron’s casual use of inappropriate language. A gradual yet drastic change occurs in their attitude, accommodating rude actions and usage of abusive words. They unhealthily adapt to the constant presence of alcohol and cigarette smoke, unbothered when Cameron holds faith while holding a cigarette. This might be due to Maggie’s belief that his addiction acted as an outlet for him. An excellent parallel is drawn between the family’s struggle due to Cameron’s condition and their acceptance of it not being his fault.
Even with the embarrassment and anger, the family holds no real resentment towards Cameron. Maggie and Amelia mention positive points while discussing his pre-treatment state. Using his struggles as a synonym for his personality, claiming him to be ‘bad’ isn’t rational. A Psychological Disorder demands the growth of everyone involved. Maggie grew into an independent woman, breaking stereotypes, prioritising recovery over romantic love and learning to trust Cameron. The children developed some maturity, avoiding derogating their father, resonating with his emotions and recognising his need for them.
‘We were happy, but there was more to it, there always is’
Amelia, through these words, dives into the raw approach of the movie. There was no unrealistic crescendo of undisturbed happiness. Fluctuations between good and bad days were constant, which is a very honest portrayal of psychological disorders. Being a chronic disease, Bipolar Disorder doesn’t just stop, one learns how to healthily live with it. ‘Infinitely’ means unending. The pain is not infinite, the condition is and with the right treatment, a good life is possible.
‘The thing about daddy is, he’s always around’
In the end, Maggie decides to take up a job in New York, leaving the girls with Cameron. This is a strong dialogue, bringing the realisation that, despite all ups and downs, chaos and struggles, Cameron did play his role of a father. He managed to achieve his goal, earning the trust of his family. From naked cycling to raising two daughters, Infinitely Polar Bear is an honest and true depiction of life.