‘Take the best day you ever had and multiply it by a million,” one woman says in the voice-over in Of Two Minds, a soft-advocacy documentary about bipolar disorder that strives to emphasize the personal, rather than clinical, experience of the condition.
The manic highs of the condition, the interview subjects make clear, are seductively intense, yet, in a classic devil’s bargain, they come with a devastating penalty: chaotic personal lives, paralyzing depressions and the desire to end one’s life.
Director Lisa Klein, whose late sister suffered from bipolar disorder, and her co-director spouse, Doug Blush, follow three people over a three-year period, with detours into related stories and interviews. The subjects are “cast” in that they are all attractive, intelligent and articulate people.
Los Angeles makeup stylist Cheri Keating’s form of the disorder involves escaping her surroundings. She has moved 37 times in her 37 years, and, over the course of the film, we see her develop a romance with musician-artist Michael (Petey) Peterson, who, initially, seems like exactly the calm understanding kind of guy she needs. But during their relationship, he, too, gets a diagnosis that he is bipolar.
Keating, frustrated by the exorbitant cost of drugs that make her feel creatively numb, flies off to Paris. Later, we see her back in Los Angeles, apparently managing her illness by focusing on her physical health, alternative medicine and diet.
Pasadena architect and artist Carlton Davis has the wildest story to tell. Raised in foster homes, in which he was sexually abused, he graduated from Yale with an architecture degree. Now 67, he estimates that he has had 40 jobs. He also became a crack addict with a cross-dressing alter ego named Carlotta, who once contemplated pulling an ice pick on a policeman to achieve “suicide by cop.”
Instead, his wife, when she discovered the addiction and cross-dressing nightlife, got him to a psychiatric clinic. Unlike Keating, Davis believes that drugs have given him a chance at happiness, without dampening his creativity.
Journalist Liz Spikol, in her early 40s, has suffered from the disorder since she was raped at 17. She has written about her experiences for Philadelphia Weekly, as well as in an online blog and accompanying YouTube videos. She has turned her condition into a kind of profession, and maintains a precarious balance with medication, while getting support from her boyfriend and doting parents.
The intimacy and confessional nature of these stories are the documentary’s strength, but the stories feel like only a part of a larger puzzle. As the first-person testimonies roll on, we feel that we have passed the point of learning and are simply taking a passenger seat on the subjects’ roller-coaster ride.