All the Bright Places recap and review: An honest look at mental illness

ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES (2020) - Credit: Michele K. Short/NETFLIX
ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES (2020) - Credit: Michele K. Short/NETFLIX /

All the Bright Places is a remarkably insightful movie that reveals how difficult it is living with mental issues for the person who has the problems and everyone around them.

In the opening of All the Bright Places, young Violet Markey (Elle Fanning) is standing on the upper railing of a bridge overlooking a river. It is obvious she is contemplating jumping, but at that moment, Theodore Finch (Justice Smith) is jogging by. He quickly assesses the situation and joins her up on the railing.

Using a combination of humor and empathy, he talks her down. Googling Violet Finch, he learns about her sister’s death in a car accident that happened on that same bridge. Taking her under his wing, Finch slowly but methodically nags, pushes, and sometimes bullies Violet past her grief and into the land of the living.

Yet, it is during a school assignment to wander their home state of Indiana that the friendship evolves into romance. Their teacher, Mr. Hudson (Chris Grace) wants them to visit at least two places and write about them in an essay. Finch, however, continues to wander Indiana past the initial assignment.

More than what meets the eye

Finch gently, and sometimes persistently, pushes Violet to explore beyond the homework and continue to wander and discover new sites to visit. While their relationship grows, Finch experiences dark moods and disappears for days. The extreme ups and downs are symptoms of bipolar disorder, but his behavior hurts Violet.

Stepping away from the romance, the movie takes a closer look at Finch. He is intelligent, but he also knows something is wrong. He states that he loses himself; his thought process tends to speed up so fast that he gets lost. There is a tendency for violence, and in one scene, Finch violently attacks a classmate and lost in the moment he doesn’t hear Violet screaming at him to stop.

Scaring her prompts him to take a closer look at his illness. Finch attends a meeting where other people with emotional issues meet and talk. He talks to his sister Kate (Alexandra Shipp) about their abusive father. Wanting to know if there was a reason that he was abusive because if there was, it means his violence could be managed.

Finch is looking for a reason for his depression and anger issues, thinking it could be inherited and therefore controlled. Kate doesn’t know of any reason their father would have a mental illness. Nor does she equate the question with Finch’s emotional flair-ups.

Bipolar disorder is hereditary, and Finch was questioning whether he inherited dark moods from their father. Finch is undiagnosed, which made his situation even worse. Instead of associating his behavior problem with a chemical imbalance in his system, he thinks it’s him. So, do many of his classmates, and they call him a freak because of his unpredictable behavior.

Cycling between anger at people who want to label him and his behavior problems, Finch rapidly disintegrates and disappears again. Only this time, Violet is worried about him and tries to find him.

As a parent of a child with bipolar disorder, this movie hit home hard about what people with this mental disorder suffer. Society has a hard time separating the mental illness from the individual and tends to act as if it’s the person acting out than the disorder. The added prejudice makes it even harder for the person to deal with the illness.

There’s still a light

All the Bright Places isn’t just about death and mental illness, though. It is a movie that shows how, even in the darkest of times, there is still light. It shows how to savor every moment in life, no matter how small it is, how there is beauty in everything if you only look for it, and most importantly, mental illness doesn’t define you.

It is something you have to live with, but it isn’t you. This movie is dark, but it is definitely worth watching. Yes, it is a tear-jerker, so have some Kleenex nearby when you watch this jewel of a movie. Netflix has another hit with this thought-provoking sensitive movie.

All the Bright Places is currently streaming on Netflix

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