Touched With Fire review — Polar Bared

Written and directed by Paul Dalio | 110 min. | ▲▲


Carla (Katie Holmes) and Marco (Luke Kirby) meet while both are institutionalized for bipolar disorder.  They spark, their visions of the world feed on each other, their mania increasing with their love. Out of the hospital, they continue their relationship, navigating the challenges of mental illness in tandem with wanting a life and a family together, while their parents (Christine Lahti, Bruce Altman, and Griffin Dunne, respectively) stage interventions.

Dalio takes a disease-of-the-week structure and suggests a realm of experience in the disorder that we haven’t seen before—that people with it have a depth of emotion, of expression, and the ability to appreciate beauty of the world, that “norms” don’t have. He backs up his thesis with a pre-credit roll list of famous creatives who apparently were bipolar, including Van Gogh, whose Starry Night is a touchstone throughout the film.

I liked this approach, the suggestion that while manic one’s outlook can be so imbued with feeling it’s as addicting as a drug. But the movie is a mess, the pacing all over the place despite chaptering acts with the seasons, and the tone never gels— pairing the leads as fairytale dreamers inspired by the sun and the moon is a step too far into whimsy. Things improve as we go along, especially in the final act when Carla and Marco have to come to terms with the reality of their situation and intent to bring a child into their lives.


Touched With Fire has a laudable ambition and unique perspective, even as it doesn’t quite hold together.

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.