Ever Higher

“Silver Linings Playbook,” you had me at thwwwt.  

That’s the sound made by Bradley Cooper as defiant “mental patient” Pat Solitano — a man spitting out something truly vile in hopes that he can one day taste something truly sweet — when he curled his tongue, wound up a DiCaprio/Winslet in “Titanic”-worthy loogie and rejected the happy pill the doctors put him on after his latest restraining order-violating episode of stalking his beautiful ice queen ex-wife.

The pill lands on the marble floor of the institution, and Pat quickens his gait toward his new life of getting in touch with himself so he can get in touch with someone else, and busting out of himself and his past.

He’s been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but he’ll tell you that his main problem is that he got his heart broken, shattered, really, and that he’s stayed up many nights with her ghost, picking at the scabs they made together, driving himself crazy by trying to be something he’s not and proving to her, indifferent and frightened her, that he’s changed and a better man.  

What saves him in the end is family, art, music, love and a killer clumsy dance that climactically finds his lips pressed up against something sweet indeed, and engaged in one of cinema’s all-time tear-jerking father-son moments when he tells his tough-guy pop (Robert De Niro), “I love you dad,” and then runs off to be not with his wife or the girl of his dreams and nightmares, but with the girl who’s a lot like him — imperfect, sensitive, raw, human, funny, sexy and adventurous enough to live by Pat’s and the film’s conclusion that: “Life is random and [screwed]-up and arbitrary, until you find someone who can make sense of it all for you — if only temporarily.”

Oscars be hanged, my favorite movie of the year was “Silver Linings Playbook” (now showing at the Lagoon Landmark four times a day) because the characters are so full-bodied and so-called flawed, and because I saw so many people I know and love in them: People who are crazier than the so-called crazies; people who struggle and hope and try and endure hardships and strange relationships and all sorts of temperatures of love and romance. People who want to be better, want to get better, even when they’d rather give up.

“I don’t want to stay in the bad place, where no one believes in silver linings or love or happy endings,” Pat says early on, mapping out his philosophy and the one shred of sanity that works for him in an insane and cynical world. I’ve heard the criticism that “Silver Linings Playbook” comes with too pat an ending to be believable, but I like to think that even after the credits roll, the characters have to wake up and deal with themselves and one another anew.

Besides, per Mumm-ra’s “She’s Got You High” (“The sun’s in the sky/It makes for happy endings/You can’t deny you want the happy ending”) who doesn’t want a happy ending? Something to go for, for sure, which is why Pat’s mystical mantra of positive thinking is “excelsior.”

From the Latin, “excelsior” translates literally to “ever higher.” It’s used as New York’s state motto and, in the1850s when Minnesota pioneers were founding a vacation spot for Twin Citians on Lake Minnetonka, they built an amusement park and put up some shops and restaurants and called it Excelsior.

Imagine that. We’ve been living near the capital of positive thinking all our lives; it took a movie about a crazy man who won’t buckle to his own demons to remind us of its origins (“onward and upward,” per the city founders), and that an optimistic attitude is the only way to go. 

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at madripple@earthlink.net and www.jimwalshmpls.com.