Sympathy for the Devil

Daniel Johnston is a lucky man. I'm sure most people who see this film will gravitate to just how unlucky he is. Nothing to dispute there - bipolar disorder is a difficult issue to live with, but for me his life is a testament to things working out anyway.

He's lucky to have a natural genius in his music and art. He's lucky to have family and friends who care for him so much. He's lucky that his genius is actually appreciated in his own time.

Call me weird, but watching young Daniel grow from occasional oddball behavior into having bouts of fullblown dementia is somehow uplifting to me.

I think it's mainly the people in Daniel's life - his family, friends, and those who have surrounded him on his journey. It's clearly not easy to care for the guy, and not just when the demons in his mind get control. It's interesting how people allow for him to be himself when he really does not have full responsibility for his actions.

It strikes me that The Devil and Daniel Johnston is a lot like what a documentary on Forest Gump (the character) would have been, had Gump actually been at all interesting (well, that's another review). There's no real antagonist but Daniel himself, and we can never truly lose sympathy for him. Some of the things he does are truly startling, and it really is a miracle that he's alive today.

I find myself hesitating, leaving out many details of Daniel's life. It's because I don't want to let any air out of the bag for those who haven't seen this. This life we see unfold onscreen is one of heartbreak and belated success, but like Daniel himself, it never loses heart.

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