Monday, September 21, 2015

Silver Linings Playbook Moral Premise

Writer/Director: DAVID O. RUSSELL

BRADLEY COOPER - Pat Solatano Jr.
ROBERT DE NIRO - Pat Solatano Sr.
JACKI WEAVER - Dolores Solatano
BREA BEE - Nikki

8 Oscar Nominations
1 Win (Jennifer Lawrence Best Actress)

122 over all nominations, 96 wins.
Something should tell you this is a good movie.


In Silver Linings Playbook (SLP) Pat. Jr. (Cooper) has just been let out of a mental hospital, where he was diagnosed with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) after almost murdering his wife's lover who he discovers in the show with his wife.

Out of the hospital he comes to live with his parents, played by De Niro and Weaver. Pat Jr's goal is to win back his wife, Nikki, who has a restraining order out against him. But Nikki wants nothing to do with Pat Jr., whom she has probably never loved anyway. So, Pat's obsession is with something (Nikki), over which he has no control.

Similarly, Pat Sr. (De Niro), has an obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles, for which he has become a bookie, in a last ditch effort to get enough money to open a restaurant with his wife's cooking. Pat
Sr. is NOT on medication for his OCD betting issue as he tries every good luck charm and ritual in the book to get the Eagles to win, including his son's attention to the game. But Pat Sr. has no control over the Eagles winning or losing, nor much influence over his son's attention to the game.

Similarly, Tiffany (Lawrence) is a recovering OCD sex addict whose husband had recently died. She's trying to get her life back together and develops an obsession with Pat Jr. and literally chases him around town (as he's trying to get back into shape by running). Tiffany tricks Pat Jr. into becoming her dance partner for a competition by claiming she knows Nikki and can get a love letter to her for Pat Jr, who can't approach Nikki due to the restraining order. But, of course, Tiffany has no control over Pat Jr.'s affections or attention.

There are other minor characters for whom we might argue also have OCD issues, but Pat Jr., Pat Sr., and Tiffany are the main three with whom we become emotionally attached and root for. In essence all three become protagonists, and all three become each other's antagonists.  For those of us who suffer from Story Analysis OCD, it's a wonderful love triangle. Each has an obsession over which they have no control.  Like a good romantic comedy, the boy and girl are both antagonists to each other's protagonist. But when we throw into the mix Pat Sr. (the boy's Dad), we get an added protagonist-antagonist dynamic that I'll explain below.


Ironically, although Pat Jr. is supposed to be on OCD medication, he probably doesn't need it. It's a misdiagnosis. I mean, we all have OCD to some extent. We all have rituals we follow, and things we do repeatedly to obtain our goals. But Pat Jr. does not come off as disorderly obsessed the way Tiffany does about Pat Jr, or the way Pat Sr. does about the Eagles. We get the impression that Tiffany is no longer on meds, and probably should be, and Pat Sr. is never been on meds and probably should be. So, we have three OCD characters who are all off their meds, whether or not they were ever prescribed.

But the movie is not out of control, as we might expect, at least not to the extend that I've known OCD who was a brilliant engineer, and lost his job because the meds either made him impotent when he was on them, or crazy when he was off them. My friend (a neighbor) would come over to my house and try to convince me to harness my NASA connections (I used to train astronauts) and go to Mars to mine minerals. My friend talked about it obsessively as if it was as easy as driving over to the abandoned rock quarry in his pickup to find a chunk of limestone. But we don't see quite that level of insanity in SLP. In fact, we can easily identify with each of our character's main normal and understandable....and obtainable.


The concept of a silver lining is that of a dark cloud that obliterates the sun. The dark cloud appears to have a silver lining...a white edge that indicates bright sun on the other side. Thus, SLP is a movie about optimists who battle the dark clouds in their lives, and never give up believing there is a silver lining to their desperate situations.  They are OCD in a good way, they're optimists.

But sometimes our characters (like us) don't see the silver lining. They, like us, keeping looking at and pursuing the dark clouds, trying to get the dark cloud to turn puffy white. But that will never happen (according to this movie) until we look PAST the dark clouds and get on the other side to find the bright sunshine.

Thus, it is for Pat Sr. He's obsessed with good-luck rituals that must be followed for the Eagles to win. With his son out of the hospital, Pat Sr. adopts a new ritual...Pat Jr. has to sit with him, watch the game and rub a good luck token every time the Eagles get the ball. Pat Sr. believes it's even better if his son attends an Eagles game. But when Pat Jr. does attend an Eagles game, Pat Jr. gets arrested for a fight, the Eagles lose, and Pat Sr. looses all his money. Tragedy. It's not until Tiffany shows up for dinner that she explains to Pat Sr. that the ritual is not what Pat Sr. believes but something entirely different. She explains that Pat Sr. has to let go of his son, and let Pat Jr. be with HER.... dancing, and then, perhaps the Eagles will win. Tiffany explains that the silver lining to not for Dad to possess his son, but for HER to possess his son. In essence, Pat Jr. hanging around home becomes the dark cloud, when in fact it's letting Pat Jr. go, to move out of the way, and reveal the sun behind—Tiffany.

Tiffany and Pat Jr. square off. Between them the "normal"
ideal of a family...her sister, Veronica, and Pat Jr.'s best friend,
Randy. The story question is can Tiffany and Pat Jr become
as normal as Randy and Veronica...or should they even try?
After all, Veronica has an OCD issue all her own. Look at
that "perfect" picture. Is it real? Or the consequence of OCD?
And, thus it is for Pat Jr. He's obsessed with doing what he always did before to get his wife back. Pat Jr. is obsessed with a dark cloud called Nikki. And it's not until Nikki slides out of the way (again with Tiffany's help), that Pat Jr. sees Tiffany as the love of his life.

And thus it is for Tiffany. She's obsessed with Pat Jr.. And here is her anchor, and the anchor for the story. It's Tiffany who is the hero of this movie, although Pat Jr. is the protagonist. Tiffany is the hero-antagonist, who battles both Pats. They both think they have their game down "pat." But Tiffany has come to realized that the silver lining playbook is when you move past your faux obsession and pursue something that is really worth pursuing. If you're going to be OCD about something, then let's do something worthwhile, is her philosophy.

So, it is that in SLP, it's Tiffany that is pursuing the silver lining, and trying to get the other characters to do the same. She has and is following the playbook, and like most good antagonists she is powerful, ubiquitous and does not arc. She's the anchor. And as in all good stories, it's the antagonist that forces the protagonists (the two Pats) to change. Sometimes the antagonist is a good guy (like Tiffany) and sometimes its a bad guy (like Hans Gruber in DIE HARD). This turning the story elements inside out while still maintaining their essential character is one of the reasons SLP is so good. It follows the rules, but seems to break them in a new way.

So, here's the moral premise for this wonderfully redeeming movie:

Obsessing over dark clouds leads to disappointments and an unfulfilled life; but
Obsessing over silver linings leads to satisfaction and new hope.

If you have a different idea for this movie, please let me know in the com box below.

Blessings. Bestow Hope and Vanquish Fear (as the SLP does so wonderfully).

P.S. This blog was in response to a question from C.S. a Munich Germany Film School student. Thanks, C.S..


Christoph Schuler said...

Loved the movie and had a hard time thinking about it`s moral premise.
Stan gave the answer.
It feels true in life and true in SPB.
Thanks for this great article.

Glamgirl said...

Fabulous insights into a brilliant movie-