Taping the tiger of bipolar disorder
Does genius sometimes lie in madness?
That’s an intriguing question posed by Hataitai film-maker Costa Botes’ documentary Daytime Tiger.
The film, which is among the locally made offerings in this year’s New Zealand Film Festival, tracks a one-week period in the life of Auckland writer Michael Morrissey, as he spirals into a severe manic phase of his bipolar disorder.
At Morrissey’s invitation, Botes somewhat reluctantly agreed to film him and his wife as they coped with his illness.
Botes said he was most attracted by the aesthetic possibilities of the subject, because Morrissey is a respected academic and writer.
Some people with bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, are high achievers who sometimes credit their success to the heightened perception and accelerated thought they believe the manic phase of condition brings them.
Kay Redfield Jamison has written several books on the subject and is head of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in the United States, despite suffering from the disorder.
‘‘Does mania open up the creative gates? And where does creativity come from? Is there a part of the brain that people who are manic can access more readily?’’ asks Botes.
‘‘Michael’s answer to that was, and probably still is, yes. The proof of that being that so many geniuses have mania. But my own feeling was . . . that it doesn’t matter how much of a frigging genius you are, how tight your conduit is to creativity, if you haven’t got the discipline to do the work, then it’s all for nothing anyway. And I could really see that in Michael.’’
Morrissey has written a book on the subject, Taming the Tiger.
‘‘ It’s sort of an ironic title, Taming The Tiger.
Morrissey’s title could refer to his condition, but also to his wife, who he calls the daytime tiger, said Botes.
‘‘When I was filming him, he always took the line that he knew best and he could control it [bipolar disorder].
‘‘The analogy he gave is surfing the giant 40-foot waves in Hawaii. Someone with enough skill and experience was able to do it and he was that man, that he always knew when it was coming and he would be able to surf it [a manic episode],’’ he said.
‘‘If this is surfing I see rocks ahead.’’
Morrissey asked Botes not to make the film soft, but was surprised how hard the finished product was.
‘‘ It’s not matinee entertainment but I don’t think it is particularly gruelling, particularly if you get a group of people together. They seem to see the humour in it,’’ Botes said.
The film depicts Morrissey in control of his behaviour, partly in control and then out of control.
‘‘In fact you can actually see that change,’’ said Botes.
‘‘That was one of the challenges I had when editing the film.
‘‘I mean, I didn’t want to subtitle it, but I wanted people to see and understand what they were seeing.’’
Botes said the film gives an upclose look at a case of mental illness that is unbelievably frank and often surprisingly funny.
For more information on Daytime Tiger, visit costabotes.com/daytime-tiger.
For advice or information about bipolar disorder, visit mentalhealthfoundation.org.nz.
Burning bright: Writer Michael Morrissey is the subject of Daytime Tiger, a film documenting his week-long slide into an episode of manic illness.