Emerson College Touched by Fire Film Discussion

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A Window into the Reality of Bipolar Disorder Touched with Fire stars Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby as two poets with bipolar disorder whose art is fueled by their emotional extremes. When they meet in a treatment facility, their chemistry is instant and intense, pushing each other’s mania to new heights. They pursue their passions, swinging from fantastical highs to tormented lows, both of which place them on the edge of disaster. They must ultimately choose between each other and stability. Inspired by the filmmaker’s own struggles with bipolar disorder, Paul Dalio wrote, directed, edited and scored his feature film debut. The film also includes performances by Griffin Dunne, Christine Lahti and Bruce Altman with a cameo by Kay Jamison, author of the book Touched with Fire, a definitive work on creativity and mental health. The film is produced by Jeremy Alter and Kristina Nikolova and executive produced by Spike Lee.

After watching Touched by Fire (can be found for Free with Amazon Prime, or for rent via Amazon or Itunes) please answer the following questions.

  1. Millions of Americans live with mental health issues. How do you see the film informing families of people with bipolar disorder? Informing the medical community?
  2. Doctors play a big role in diagnosing and treating patients with mental illness. How do you feel about the way the doctor is portrayed during Carla and Marco’s time at the hospital?
  3. At one point in the film, both characters contemplate suicide. Do you feel it was necessary to depict suicide in this way?
  4. Creativity is embedded in the film – whether through poetry, art or referencing great artists of the past. How important is it for people to recognize these individuals had bipolar?
  5. What moment in the film strikes you as being the most informative to audiences about bipolar disorder?
  6. There is so much discussion around reducing the stigma of mental health. How do you see this film changing the conversation around mental health?


This discussion is designed to facilitate a conversation after viewing the film. Its purpose is to generate discussion inspired by the film and to create an environment to reflect on the themes, relevant issues, and the experiences that connect to the concepts we are discussing in class via our readings. However, if you need further assistance, please check out the following resources:

Emerson College Behavioral Health Services:

One-on-one counseling allows for a safe space to speak with a professional who can help you better understand your concerns and work with you to build skills to help overcome difficulties and have the best experience possible at Emerson College.

  • Please note that, for the health and safety of our campus community, ECAPS is currently working remotely and using HIPAA-compliant Zoom. Call 617-824-8595 to discuss treatment options.

National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness:

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) is the leading peer-directed national organization focusing on the two most prevalent mental health conditions, depression and bipolar disorder, which affect more than 21 million Americans a year:

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