A Little Wrong in the Head

Punch-Drunk Love

I didn’t like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love when it was released in 2002 and don’t think it’s worth extended discussion. But something about it did intrigue me, and I haven’t seen it discussed elsewhere that the movie is really about crazy people, as in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders crazy.

Anderson famously promised a 90-minute Adam Sandler romantic comedy following Magnolia, and that’s mostly what he delivered. It’s 95 minutes, stars Adam Sandler, and has the conventions of a typical romantic comedy. That it’s not funny or romantic is a minor quibble.

The movie’s not bad, exactly, just anxious and annoying and perfectly framed and puzzling. It does make a certain amount of sense, though, if you look at from my skewed perspective.

I see Punch-Drunk Love as a portrait of mental illness. I think the characters of Sandler and Emily Watson are nuts, and what I like about the movie is that it doesn’t acknowledge it directly. (About the closest it comes is when Sandler is inquiring about a referral.)

Why does he use that retard voice? Because he is, to use the least politically correct term possible, a borderline retard. Why does Watson like him? Because she sees herself in him. (The clincher there is the exchange when they’re in bed together.)

Calling phone-sex lines without any interest in phone sex. Wearing the same suit for four days running. Violent fits of anger. Constant teasing from his family. The fact that he collects Healthy Choice points for frequent-flyer miles and buys pudding by the case. Nobody in the movie ever “notices” or acknowledges these character quirks/flaws because they already know he’s mentally ill.

(Could Sandler’s illness manifest itself in hallucinations, too? If so, the accident at the beginning of the movie might make a little more sense.)

Mental illness might also help explain why his sister matches him with Watson’s character; of course you’ll set up two crazy people. And while Watson is not as overtly nuts as Sandler, her behavior and mannerisms suggest something askew.

Doubters might note that Sandler is a business owner, and Watson apparently holds down a job. Is that incongruous with them being crazy? I’m not sure, but I’ll suspend my disbelief.

There are other signifiers of mental illness. The sound design of Punch-Drunk Love is loud at times, but aside from these blasts, there’s a curious noise throughout. It reminded me of Clean, Shaven, a movie about a paranoid schizophrenic in which the soundtrack was constantly abuzz. Does Sandler hear voices?

And why does the sleazebag character of Philip Seymour Hoffman finally back down from Sandler’s Barry Egan? Simple. Because Egan is fucking crazy. (I’d back off, too, if somebody had come from another state with part of a phone that he’d obviously ripped from its source.)

The more I think about, the more this reading makes sense. To me, anyway. Then again, I’ve always been a little wrong in the head.

I wouldn’t read mental ilness into “Punch-drunk Love” (a movie I profoundly like, by the way, but a state of helucination - not of the chrachters, minf you, but of the world.
I think the fault of your reading is that you are trying to make sense into the world of PDL, while the world of punch drunk does not make sense, in it’s most obvious definition.
It is a world which is a bit idiosynchrtic, which can only be deciphered as you go along.
Yes, both characters are quirky, and if put to the test might even be diagnosed with some kind of mental deficency. But it dosen’t matter - what matters is that even in such a troubled world one can make a connection that will lead them on the right path.
(and the character of Matress Man, acted wonderfully by phillip symour hoffman, is also, in this context, “crazy”).

you know what? I might read mental ilness into PDL - It is the World which is mantally ill, and the chracters are just struggling to make sense to their existnce in it.

good on the tip of mental illness. but like the person who responded, it’s something more than literal. i viewed the movie as a fantasy, probably more of a fairy tale. adam s. being viewed more as the beast and emily watson as beauty who tames the beast, that’s why he wears the same suit throughout the movie, to give a costume and identity.
plus, i don’t think he’s retarded, except only in social standards(as well as emily w.)
i never deduced that there were any brothers in the family. i thought they were all sisters and one brother. how’d you come across that?
the movie was fair to me at best, but it did have some funny and sad moments. it coulda been better.
well, don’t wanna write too much to give my analysis of the movie--maybe one day, but i may watch it again to think about the retardness of the character. but i viewed them as quirky and possibly mental ill, but more than anything, nerdy and without social skills.
the thing that may debunk your theory if you’re taking the story literally is that i doubt the sisters would tease them like they did and talk down to him. if he is retarded most brothers and sisters take care of their retarded siblings and not treat them in an abusive manner. maybe not all sisters but there would be an exceptional few who would be good to the retarded brother. also, i didn’t understand your point of the sister having a photograph of adam in their house. maybe not in your family but most families i know keep photos of various siblings(but then again, you did think that there was another brother). all right, well keep up the good work.

A commentary on mental illness, no. That’s being a bit over analytical. It’s good to read things into “Punch-drunk Love” - as we all know P.T. Anderson loves to fill his movies with references and symbolism. But let us also not forget that Anderson is a big believer in the “strange shit happens” philosophy. Such as frogs falling from the sky. Or an SUV accident where a screeching taxi pulls up and drops off a harmonium. As far as all the characters being “mentaly ill”, what world do you live in? Dysfunctional, yes. As most human beings are in their own way. Like being the only male sibling among 7 sisters. Who would’nt have anger management issues? Or more simply, being socially awkward. Which Barry Egan obviously is. It’s a weird world and we all have our issues. Ultimately, I think Anderson is saying LOVE and MUSIC pervail. Those are the themes of the film and what eventually saves Barry Egan from himself.

This is a terrible interpretation of “PDL” the bed scene he share’s with Emily Watson is an attempt to illustrate that now matter how hard you find it to express yourself there is somebody out there who get’s you and your way. The reason he’s the only boy on the wall is because he is the only boy.

Oh please. The mental illness is undeniable in this film, and while the two characters are reasonably functional, its obvious that barry is disabled to some degree as a result (They couldn’t even make it through a dinner without getting expelled from the restaurant, for example). To me it appears that the mental illness is what drives their plot lines. Sure, you can say that love can overcome such adversity, but denying it as it flies in your face seems a little naive.

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