The following is a guest post by Efrem L. Epstein. Efrem is the founder of Elijah’s Journey, an organization focusing on the issues of suicide awareness and prevention in the Jewish community.
For several months now I’ve joked about the potential lawsuit I could file against Matthew Quick, author of the novel “Silver Linings Playbook” from which the film nominated for eight 2013 Oscars is adapted. On first glance, Pat Peoples (renamed “Pat Solitano” in the film) could only be based on me. We’re both die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fans, who took up dancing as a hobby, spent time living in Baltimore, wrestled with issues of life’s purpose and idealized love and battled the demons of depression and won (K’eyn Ayin Hara). In reality, I am hardly the only person in the world who can relate to Pat. Depression affects 350 Million globally and, in the U.S. alone, there are 1,000,000 suicide attempts annually. Many are surprised to learn that reported suicides outnumber homicides by more than a 2:1 ratio (and if one were to account for unreported/unconfirmed suicides the ratio would likely be closer to 3:1). In thanking David O. Russell after her SAG-AFTRA Best Female Actor win, Jennifer Lawrence proclaimed, “You made a movie for your son so that he wouldn’t feel alone, and so that he could feel understood. And I think I can speak on behalf of most of us and say that you helped more than your son. You’ve helped so many sons and daughters, husbands, wives, everybody.”
The positive lessons that can be learned from Silver Linings Playbook are so numerous that at times it feels like an entire social justice curriculum…and a good one at that! Not only does the movie enlighten us about tolerance and acceptance but it also offers some fresh and rich insight on how we as a society can move past many of our stubborn stigmas regarding depression, mental illness and emotional disorders (three cheers for Pat’s character being portrayed as both desirable and dateable even with his demons and flaws). And let’s not forget the lesson about how so many of our personal relationships (romantic, platonic and family) can be improved through more open and honest lines of communication. Silver Linings Playbook has also been a wonderful conversation-starter that has prompted many public figures to further share their own stories. I strongly recommend reading former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy’s piece from The Daily Beast.
But the movie is especially poignant in my eyes for offering up a “playbook” of sorts for handling life’s curves. Life is, and should be, full of dreams but the dark side of dreams is that they often get shattered! Six months before Pat Solitano appeared on movie screens, Vice President Joe Biden gave many of us in the suicide awareness/prevention movement our own “Jackie Robinson moment.” Recalling the tragic accident which claimed the lives of his daughter and first wife, he recounted, “”For the first time in my life, I understood how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide…because they had been to the top of the mountain and they just knew in their heart they’d never get there again.” As we watch Pat move on from his old dreams to build new ones, we realize a truth of life: Bad things do happen to us and sometimes REALLY bad things happen to us, but even amongst our most shattered dreams there is always a road back to happiness. “Folks, it can and will get better,” Biden told the audience later in his speech.
You know that old joke about the Jewish Calendar? The one that each holiday could be summed up with the line, “They wanted to kill us…We won…Let’s eat!” Perhaps a more accurate one-liner could be: “It got dark..REAL dark…and then, perhaps when we least expected it, there was light and we were jubilant!” One of the greatest darkness to light image transformations in Jewish liturgy is found in the Haftarrah for Parshat Eikev (Isaiah 49:14-51:3) which is a favorite text of ours here at Elijah’s Journey. Read annually on the second Shabbat after the 9th of Av, the opening verse finds Tzion in the state of ultimate state of darkness believing that G-d has both abandoned and forgotten her. It takes more than a few verses, 26 to be exact, but ultimately we find a promise of future jubilation in the last verse, “Sasson V’Simcha Yimatze Vah, Todah V’Kol Zimrah” (“Joy and Happiness are in her future, gratitude and the sound of music!”). Just as Tzion had to go through her own 26-Step Program, sometimes our road to happiness is longer and harder than we wished it were, but the road remains accessible and open at all times. I think of the Shabbat of Parshat Eikev as the one with the guts, in contrast to the immediately previous Shabbat Nachamu which is usually the one with the glory.
Yet another reason Silver Linings Playbook may feel connected to the Jewish Calendar is because, well, it kind of is. Pat and Tiffany’s dance competition is set to coincide with the Eagles real life playoff-clinching victory over the Cowboys which was only possible after Tampa and Chicago had both miraculously lost earlier in the day.* The actual date of these events: The aftenoon and early evening of December 28, 2008 as we (at least those of us in the Eastern Time Zone) ushered out Day 7 and welcomed in Day 8 of Channukah. Perhaps the biggest error in the film is not that the earlier Eagles-Giants tailgate and game are shown as taking place in broad daylight (actual kickoff time of the November 9, 2008 game was 8:15 PM with sunset in Philadelphia occurring at approximately 4:50 PM) but rather that not a single fully-lit Menorah is visible downtown in the aftermath of the emotional dance scene and sequence, especially since the symbolism would have been striking. The darkness, the unexpected light and then ultimately the jubilation! Oh and if anyone is wondering, the Academy Awards are scheduled to commence at approximately 5:30 PM PST in Los Angeles on the evening of February 24, 2013, just as local members of the Jewish community will be ushering out a day when we celebrate the miracle of Purim. Destiny? Maybe.
In his aforementioned piece, former Rep. Kennedy remarked that “It’s rare that a work of fiction can feel more authentic than a historical reenactment or biography, but that’s exactly why it’s such a stirring picture. Its realism comes from its honesty; in the characters’ many conversations about optimism and recovery, none ever underestimates or sugarcoats the degree of difficulty.” The road can be difficult, especially for those who have had to endure tragedies like Vice President Biden, but sometimes it helps to know that there are 349,999,999 others walking that road with you.
Just a few months ago, I had visions of spending the first Sunday Night in February cheering for my team in the Super Bowl and anticipating the ultimate euphoria if and when we won. Well, I had some of the details correct. I will be spending a Sunday Night in February decked out in Eagles Midnight Green but it will the FOURTH Sunday Night in February and it will be to cheer passionately for a movie. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all: Realizing I wouldn’t trade this night for the other.
* For the NFL Diehards: Three things needed to happen on December 28, 2008 for the Eagles to make for the playoffs: 1) Philly needed to beat Dallas 2) Tampa needed to lose to Oakland 3) At least one of Minnesota (who were playing the Giants) or Chicago (who were playing Houston) needed to lose. Tampa, Chicago and Minnesota all played at 1:00 and the Philly-Dallas game was scheduled for 4:15. Chicago and Minnesota were both involved in close games and for awhile it looked like both might lose, however Tampa was up by 10 points in the 4th Quarter and the mood at Wogies (a Philly-themed Sports Bar in NYC) was glum. When Michael Bush ran 67 yards to put Oakland ahead, the room absolutely erupted. Minnesota did end up coming from behind in the final seconds to beat the Giants, but it didn’t matter since Chicago (along with Tampa) lost. So now by the time the Eagles kicked off at 4:15, it already felt like the miracle had begun and deep down many of us just sensed that we were going to beat Dallas. The complete details regarding the emotional roller-coaster of the day did largely not make their way into the movie, though we do see a tearful Robert De Niro as the audience learns of the Eagles 44-6 victory over the Cowboys (right after Pat/Tiffany’s dance scores are revealed). The Eagles would go on to beat Minnesota and the Giants in the first two rounds of the playoffs before losing to Arizona in the NFC Championship Game. As much as I expressed my displeasure for Facebook Timeline last year, I am grateful that it now enables me to revisit my status update from the evening of December 28, 2008: “(Efrem Epstein) says ‘EAGLES IN PLAYOFFS….BEST HANUKKAH PRESENT EVER!!! DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES???’ ”