The Darkness in HBO’s Bright Lights

The Darkness in HBO’s Bright Lights

In the fourth and last feature of HBO’s documentary series at SIFF, we stepped into the lives of two massive stars, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. In the beginning, Bright Lights is lighthearted and pleasant. We meet Carrie Fisher at her Hollywood home and accompany her on a short walk to her mother’s. The two of them are best friends and yet couldn’t be more different. Carrie is almost always nursing a cigarette and cursing like a sailor while Debbie is this radiant older woman who is always dressed in her best.

As the documentary progresses, we learn what growing up was like for Carrie and her brother, Todd. It is an experience that I think can be best described as empty. The two of them had everything they needed except for a regular childhood. And when your father runs off with Elizabeth Taylor and your mother starts dating a gambleholic, you begin to see how everything went wrong. All of this is juxtaposed to footage of Debbie Reynolds who is still performing well into her 80s. You start to notice how frail she really is. Here is where we begin the steady plunge into the immense darkness of Bright Lights.

One of the lowest lows in this documentary is an old clip of Carrie Fisher from the 1980’s. It’s Christmas and she’s spending it on the Great Wall of China. For a few minutes the footage is quite funny. Carrie is exploding with energy as she greets strangers and dances with them. Then you figure out she is just incredibly high on methamphetamine and all of sudden it stops being funny. Things only get worse when Carrie, with wide eyes and a clenched jaw, explains the difference between her manic and depressed personalities.

Near the end of the film we see Carrie go through a manic episode. It is not only uncomfortable but also incredibly awkward. You understand that regardless of how many years she has been sober, every day is a battle for her. This is followed shortly by the journey Debbie takes to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild. Her physical and mental condition have hit an all-time low. She is sluggish and incoherent and it’s difficult to watch her ask the same questions over and over again in route to the ceremony.

Despite these bleak moments, the daily interactions between the family members and their friends are always touching. I only wish there were more of them. This documentary shows us such a real and raw truth that very few people have been exposed to. It’s hard to stomach but it’s very important that you do. As always, I would like to thank HBO and SIFF for letting me attend this grand documentary.

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