Story

Infinitely Polar Bear is set in Boston in the late 1970s. Cameron Stuart’s (Mark Ruffalo) life is falling apart. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Cameron is fired from his job and has a breakdown. His wife Maggie (Zoe Saldana) tries to leave home with their two daughters, Amelie (Imogene Wolodarsky) and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide). Cameron runs after them, dressed only in his underpants, and removes the carburettor from the car to stop them from leaving. Amelie and Faith watch from their window as their father is taken away by the police.

Cameron spends some time in a halfway house before he’s allowed to return home. Maggie wants the family to be reunited when Cameron is better, but insists they remain separated until then. When Cameron appears to be getting better, Maggie decides to get an MBA so that she can support the family. This means she must move to New York. Maggie thinks it will be good for Cameron to have responsibility for looking after the two girls during the week, and she will be at home on the weekends.

Unfortunately Cameron has problems looking after just himself. Amelie and Faith must do a lot of growing up to look after themselves and their father.

Themes

Manic depression or bipolar disorder; difficult childhoods; abandonment; poverty

Violence

Infinitely Polar Bear has some violence. For example:

  • Cameron shouts at Maggie and the children, trying to stop them from leaving.
  • Cameron roughly brushes the knots out of Amelie’s hair, making her scream.
  • Faith argues with Cameron about having to do the dishes and throws a sponge at him.
  • When the girls won’t clear the table, Cameron throws a heavy saucepan at the wall and storms out.
  • Cameron goes to see a family member about arranging a job for Maggie. When the family member refuses to help, Cameron starts yelling at him, destroys his office and attacks the man.

Content that may disturb children

Under 5
In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, Infinitely Polar Bear has some scenes that could scare or disturb children under five years. For example:

  • Children in this age group could be upset by seeing Maggie, Amelie and Faith cowering in the car. They are obviously afraid of Cameron.
  • Maggie leaves the girls with their father. The girls cry and are very upset about this.
  • Maggie wants to take the girls to New York with her when she can’t get a job in Boston, but the girls don’t want to leave their father alone with no-one to look after him.

From 5-8
In addition to the violent scenes and scary visual images mentioned above, Infinitely Polar Bear has some scenes that could scare or disturb children in this age group. For example:

  • Cameron goes out at night when he can’t handle the situation at home, leaving the girls on their own. They are very frightened and wake in the night to find themselves still alone. Cameron gets quite drunk at the pub. The following morning the girls have to get themselves ready for school and wake him up to drive them there. He swears at them.
  • Amelie and Faith beg Cameron not to leave them on their own. They cling to his leg and tell him they need a babysitter. Cameron tells them they need to toughen up. Amelie asks him what they should do if a rapist comes to the house, and he tells them not to let him in. When Cameron returns home, the girls are sitting in the house armed with baseball bats. Cameron kicks the door in, and the girls scream.
  • Cameron owns a machete, which a friend of one of the girls plays with.

From 8-13
In addition to the violent scenes and scary visual images mentioned above, Infinitely Polar Bear has some scenes that could scare or disturb children in this age group. For example:

  • Cameron runs to the car ranting about why men have to mate and why they have balls while shaking his own (he is just in his underpants).
  • Amelie and some friends play with tarot cards. Amelie deals a girl the death card and she asks, ‘Am I going to die?’

Over 13
Children in this age group might also be disturbed by some of the scenes mentioned above.

Sexual references

Infinitely Polar Bear has some sexual references. For example, a woman in a lift says to Cameron that ‘most men would be quite emasculated having their wife as the main breadwinner’.

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

Infinitely Polar Bear shows some use of substances. For example, Cameron is a heavy smoker and drinker, which doesn’t help his mental condition. Maggie tells the girls he has a drinking problem.

Nudity and sexual activity

Infinitely Polar Bear shows some nudity and sexual activity. For example, Maggie stays on the couch overnight, and Cameron wants to have sex with her. He drops his head in her groin and starts to feel her breasts. They kiss, and sex is implied but not shown.

Product placement

None of concern

Coarse language

Infinitely Polar Bear has some coarse language.

Ideas to discuss with your children

Infinitely Polar Bear is based on the true story of a childhood affected by a parent’s bipolar disorder, as seen from an adult perspective. It does have some light moments, but not enough to relieve the intensity of the story. 

Although the title and posters for the movie suggests a happy family movie, it’s important to know that this movie is likely to be quite disturbing for children and young teenagers. It’s more suited to older teenagers and adults. 

The main messages from this movie are that children are capable of loving their parents despite their faults and that all human beings need to be loved and cared for.
Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include the importance of family and caring for others in your family.

This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life issues such as the following:

  • Excessive drinking harms not only the drinker but also the people who care about them.
  • Maggie is a victim of racial and gender prejudice. Is it fair that a business won’t employ her because she is a mother? Have things changed much since the 1970s?
  • Does Maggie have many choices in trying to improve her family’s situation?
  • Cameron is an irresponsible parent, but is it his fault when he isn’t mentally well?