by Thom Ernst Friday November 16, 2012

It's the last day of the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival.

A TIFF Press and Industry screening of "Punch-Drunk Love" is being held at one of the Cumberland theaters.  It 's the last chance to see the highly anticipated Paul Thomas Anderson/Adam Sandler project before its commercial release.

In the film Sandler is established as a sweet, beleaguered business owner who suffers on occasion from sudden burst of uncontrollable anger. 

In the theater someone from the press (or an industry person's) phone rings.  He answers.  A second industry person (or someone from the press) asks him to get off the phone.  He's not nice in the way he asks.  The person on the phone is not nice in how he responds .  A verbal argument becomes physical.   And then, as if the whole thing is a staged publicity stunt, a fight breaks out between the men.  It's an across the aisle, grabbing the shirt labels, all-out physical struggle.

Meanwhile on screen a fit of rage sends Adam Sandler's character into smashing a glass door  .  

Life imitates art. 

It'd be disturbing if it wasn't so surreal and even a bit comical although it is not the least bit funny. 

We are witnesses to anger so out of control that both men dismiss any concern they may have for public decency, protocol, etiquette, professionalism, reputation or just plain acceptable behavior.

No matter what side of their argument you're on (the man probably should know better than answer and carry on a conversation on his phone) neither man displays good judgment nor an ability to control their anger.

And I doubt anyone overlooks the irony that the film, in part, deals with anger management issues.  In fact, the incident makes the anger management issues all the more relevant.

If this same incident occurred during a screening of Changing Lanes" the level of irony would be heightened.  Whereas "Punch-Drunk Love" is not entirely about anger, "Changing Lanes" is. 

The  "Punch-Drunk Love" press screening incident was likely about much more than simply someone answering their cell phone during a movie.  Neither man, one dressed in a tie and jacket the other casually adorned in a button shirt and jeans, seems prone to acts of physical violence, although appearances are never as reliable as actions,.  Each man brought to that altercation their own history and experience.  The phone talker may have had an argument with his partner or boss.  The other man may have had his fill of people allowing their phones to go off in the theaters.  Or it was something as innocuous as not having the chance to get their morning coffee.  The only certainty is the inappropriateness of their actions. 

I imagine both regret their hot headed responses.  It's an assumption of course since I've no contact with either man to know what personal embarrassment followed.  But do we condone them for their anger or for the way they expressed their anger?

One of our guests on The Interviews, a trained anger management therapist, clearly views anger not as an emotion to purge but one to embrace and learn to work with.  

The ability to harness a force that can so easily become disruptive if left unfettered marks the difference between a healthy anger and unhealthy hostility. 

In "Changing Lanes" we see anger at it's extreme being pushed out onto society.  In "Punch-Drunk Love", the anger is internal, focusing on an inner-rage, but it is also an anger that can be harnessed to his benefit and safety. Maybe Sandler's character is saved by love.  It's not called "Punch-Drunk Love" for nothing.

Film    Society & Culture    Health & Development    mental health