Silver Linings Playbook-Review

I wanted to post a few thoughts on Silver Linings, especially as it has generated so much additional buzz because of its Oscar nominations and win (Jennifer Lawrence, best actress).

First, a disclaimer:  It is rated R, primarily for its grand affinity for the F-bomb.  While I hate bad language, I find it less troublesome to my soul and my sensitivities than  many other offenses for which it could be rated R (like dirty, crass or offensive humor, nudity, sexual content, torture, horror, some forms of violence…etc.).  If you are very sensitive to language, then this one probably isn’t for you—although I should say it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting (which is completely relative and probably not very helpful, but for what it’s worth, I expected it to be worse than it was).  Other than the language though, this movie was actually refreshingly understated and yet honest in dealing with the realities of some hard situations, like a man finding his wife in an affair (scenes are blurred, vague and hurried), a woman who responds to grief with promiscuity, etc.

The thing that continues to stay with me after the movie is that, even though it isn’t “clean,” it seems to be honest.  It deals with the messy, dirty situations in life in a way that doesn’t glorify the mistakes, nor make light of them.  Because of their treatment of the “dirty stuff” in the lives of the characters, I actually left the movie feeling that it was a rather “clean” movie—and that’s the surprising thing.  That’s the thing I can’t get away from.  That’s the thing that makes me think about the church and how we respond to the “dirty stuff” in life.

The story is about Pat, who finds his wife in an affair and just snaps, horribly.  The movie begins with his subsequent release from a mental hospital (where he was diagnosed bi-polar) and his attempt to pull himself together and win her back.  His friends introduce him to Tiffany, who also faced a very painful life situation and, due to her own emotional and mental un-health, responded destructively as well.  Tiffany agrees to help Pat reconnect with his ex if only he will be her partner in a dance competition, which requires a lot of practice together…and of course, through this, they fall in love.

The characters are flawed, dysfunctional and at times a complete disaster, but their healing comes in their ability to frankly admit it, all of it.  There’s no point in even trying to hide anything when their sins and faults and flaws have been the subject of news and gossip.  They have such freedom because there’s nothing to hide.  Whether they like it or not, everything’s out there already anyway.

This is in stark contrast to the other characters who are still trying to hide certain things from the public.  Tiffany’s “perfect” sister and her husband in their “perfect” suburban life are working hard to maintain the image that all is well, when really they are falling apart.  They aren’t free to get help because that would mean admitting their big secret to the world and destroying the image they work so hard to protect and maintain.  On the other end of the spectrum is Pat’s father.  He’s not fooling anyone except himself.  Everyone around him can see that he’s a wreck.  He’s fragile, probably bi-polar like his son, definitely OCD.  While everyone else can see that he needs some help, he doesn’t want to see it for himself.  He is in total denial.  He won’t get help because that would mean admitting the truth to himself, and he’s been working really hard to hide from it.

So the only two characters who really find help and healing and love in the end are the two who everyone else thinks are the most screwed up.  They are the most wounded, but they end up healthier, why?  Because they were wounded to the point that they couldn’t hide or pretend or lie anymore.  They were wounded by truth, forced into the light by truth, and then truth set them free, while everyone else was able to continue on in deception. And the greatest deception of all was the one pulled on them—the one that told them their deception was actually working.  It wasn’t.  People weren’t fooled, not for long anyway.  The only thing their “good image” did was to keep them from getting help and finding healing.

Isn’t this why Jesus came to heal the sick?  Because they are the ones who are willing to be honest about what ails them, the only ones who are really able to receive help.  In contrast, He called the Pharisees (religious leaders) hypocrites.  They were the ones who looked so perfect on the outside, but were really nothing more than “whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean” (Matthew 23:27).

Matt Chandler, at the Village Church in Dallas, TX, is often saying, “I’m going to be honest with you…I mean, I know this is church and it isn’t the place for honesty, but I’m going to be honest…” and everyone laughs.  We all laugh because it’s just as wrong as it is true as it is convicting.  Church should be the place, more than any other place, where people can be honest.  It should be the place where people are honest about their lives, confess their sins and find forgiveness, love and healing.  It should be, but if we are honest, it really usually isn’t.  Churches have so often become a place where people come to protect (and perfect) their image of perfection.

Even for those who come honestly looking for some help, so often they do so silently, quietly, hoping to glean without having to actually come clean.  It’s like going to a doctor’s office and hoping that by simply sitting in the waiting room, the perfect picture of health, they can find a fix for what ails them deep inside.  The thing is, for the doctor to help, they have to be willing to be examined, and that requires some uncomfortable exposure.  Unwilling to be exposed, thinking that it wouldn’t be “decent”, they keep coming back, week after week, never going further than the waiting room.  Honest in their search for help, but more committed to protecting what they have than gaining what they don’t.  This is the better case scenario…at least they are listening and hoping to catch hold of something which may help them.  At least they are honest with themselves that something is wrong.  There are those (the church is sadly filled with such) who simply come to the waiting room each week to prove to others that they care about their health and to show what fine health they have without any thought of what they might glean.  Why glean any information about health when already they are such fine specimens of it?

In such an atmosphere, in a waiting room full of people who insist on either proving their health, or hiding their lack of it, how likely is it that a person who is truly sick would feel welcome, loved, and willing to confess what ails them?  How likely is it that they would brave going in for examination and exposure, when they are apparently the only one who needs help?  Aren’t they more likely to join the ranks of the waiting room pretenders?

A friend that I went to church with growing up recently confessed that when we were in youth group, he was having a hard time with some pretty deep dark struggles.  I never knew.  None of us knew.  He surely wasn’t going to tell us what he was struggling with and risk being exposed, laughed at, losing all his friends.  He wasn’t going to tell us because our lives were all so perfect, we wouldn’t understand.   So, he pretended with the rest of us.  He kept on pretending until the sickness inside got so bad it affected the outside and he couldn’t hide it anymore.  Once he couldn’t hide it anymore, that’s when he got help, and now he’s working hard to live in the light of exposure, because he knows that is where he is protected.  And he’s helping the rest of us to be more honest, to risk exposure—because we know that with him we can be honest, with him we won’t be condemned.

The Bible says that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  There is no condemnation, but there is help and hope.   There is healing.  Healing comes with truth though.  It comes with being willing to be exposed and examined.  Your willingness to do so not only brings health to your own life, but to those around you because your doing so gives other the permission to do the same.  Freedom is found when you let go your secrets and your image and cling to truth, light, honesty, exposure.   Doing so takes all that is dirty and makes it clean.

It’s this very thing which made me walk away from Silver Linings Playbook (rated R) and feel like I had seen something clean.  Not because there wasn’t anything dirty in it, but because it handled the dirty things in a way that glorified the process of getting clean and not the dirt itself.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Which of the characters do you relate to when it comes to being honest about who you are?  Pat/Tiffany who could no longer hide, Tiffany’s sister (and husband) who seemed perfect to the world (though they were more honest with themselves), or Pat’s Dad who everyone else knew was a wreck, but was lying to himself?
  • What has your experience been with the church – has it been a place for honesty or a place of pretend?  Did you find you met with real people or hypocrites?
  • What keeps you from going into the doctor’s office (metaphorically speaking) for examination the most, fear of what others will think or fear of what you will find?
  • If God is the doctor, how do you think he feels about what ails you?  Do you think He’s disappointed, or concerned, or something else?
  • How much easier would it be for you to risk being honest if someone else was to confess your deepest secrets first?
  • Would you be willing to confess your struggles and faults and secrets if you knew that not only would you be helped by doing so, but others would be as well?

It seemed like a bad thing when Pat had to go to the mental institution.  Certainly, it wasn’t ideal, but in the end it was a blessing.  After that, what dignity was left to protect?  What was there left to hide?  The worst thing that could have happened to him, the thing that exposed all his weaknesses, that was his greatest blessing because it set him free.  So often the same is true for you and me.

By Stacey Tuttle