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.

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