A have a friend from those Paris days of mine, who’s going through the revelation of realizing that her childhood was abusive. But there’s a bigger problem. She has always known it, intellectually. After all it was difficult to miss… the beatings, the parental absence, the constant emotional support she had to provide to her mother. Yet, as an adult she cannot feel it. She’s been coping with pain for so long that she no longer knows how to access her anger, her sadness, and her fear. She’s suppressed it. And unless she can access it – and let it out – she cannot heal it.
We’ve talked… oh how we’ve talked. But her bravado and her good cheer is part of her personality now, part of her identity. So instead we’ve turned to an unlikely therapy source… Hollywood.
Those films which make you cry tap into your deepest longings. To be loved, to be the rescued child, to be the winner. We’ve all of us gone through trauma, with events that society considers more or less traumatic. But how pain is experienced is unique. And it all hurts unless you can let it go.
We live in our stories. Psychologists like to call them narratives. Therapy works because you tell your stories. It allows you to re-experience your pain in a safer environment. And your body learns that your physical reactions to your pain, are no longer necessary to survive. When you do this again and again, your mind recreates its mental models and reframes perspective. Your therapist, if they are good, will help you to reframe your perspective on it. And then you detach from your stories…
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou
I’ve released my pain through writing. But not everyone is a writer. I read a lot. But not everyone is a reader. Other people release their pain through talking, but as my friend has proven, sometimes no matter how much of a talker you are… words can sometimes do a very poor job of accessing the deep pain of the subconscious. But everyone, without exception can watch a movie, and be moved by it. Seeing another person’s pain in similar circumstances, allows us to access our own pain.
The reason is because we all think in images. When you recall events of your day, you will not see them written down in words, you will see them as scenes, flashes of the past. When you dropped your daughter off at school. When you made that coffee. When you walked into the office. You see your life in scenes, just like in the movies. When we watch movies, it resonates deeply in the part of the brain we used so much more when we were children. Language often supersedes this ability, but like riding a bike, you never forget.
Another friend of mine went through a bad break up. I flew over to England to be with her and we talked. But the best therapy was re-watching the entire series of Sex And The City season 2… where Carrie breaks up with Mr. Big. It wasn’t the entire solution, but it was a great first step. Then we watched Love Actually because–no matter how problematic it might be for the polyamorist in me–it depicts the stages of love in so many ways, many of which we’ve experienced ourselves. We watched the first flush, the cheating, the unrequited love, the midlife crisis fling and the love that might have happened if not thwarted by a tragic sense of love out of duty. Yes, it’s actually a highly traumatic film with rather disturbing love plots wrapped up in some candy scented red bow. And we cried.
In more film therapy The Hours, covers the lives of three woman suffering from bipolar disorder and depression.
Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) is writing her novel Mrs Dalloway. Virginia is bipolar and – in the originally planned way of her heroine – ultimately ‘kills herself over something that doesn’t seem to matter.’ Those brittle words spoken by another character in the film are the words of those who will never understand whilst the juxtaposed narration from the novel explains the highs of happiness and the shadow of the ever present hell needling at your skull because those ‘terrible times’ are just around the corner.
Clarissa Vaughn lives the modern day life of Mrs Dalloway, covering her grief with endless parties where her self confidence makes everyone think that she’s fine. But she’s not.
Depressed Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) reads and recognises the despair of Mrs Dalloway. She abandons her children and her family because given the choice of whether to stay – and die – or live and leave, she chooses the latter. And really, it’s not a choice. But not without horrific repercussions on her children, one of whom Richard (Ed Harris) also eventually commits suicide.
If you have suffered from depression or grew up with a mother who was depressed, as I did, watching this will smack you where it hurts. But you will be the better off for it – and for crying over it.
Then there’s the magnificent opera of multi-story films, Magnolia. A film which explores the repercussions of parental abandonment and abuse, reconciliation and forgiveness. Almost every character has humiliating flaws, breathtaking in the quagmire of their own humanity. All of them are crumbling in their own ways – through drugs, through despair and through death. It’s a film of agonizing ecstasy, exquisitely drawn characters and ironic circumstance. In the closing scene the narrator of the film draws the plot lines together and says ~
‘There are stories of coincidence and chance and intersections and strange things told and which is which who only knows…and we generally say, ‘Well if that was in a movie, I wouldn’t believe it.’
But we do believe it. Because something similar happened to us.
And finally there’s one of my own favorites… 50 First Dates. You wouldn’t think that Lucy (Drew Barrymore) or Henry (Adam Sandler) had much to offer in the way of therapy in this hilarious comedy. The ridiculousness one-liners of the never to commit ‘stud’ who eventually falls for a girl with a memory span of 24 hours due to a car accident. Each and every day he tries to make her fall in love with him. Sometimes he succeeds, and sometimes to the hysterical delight of the viewer he fails spectacularly. But there is one scene, just one which has never failed to make me cry. It’s when Drew realizes that she has lost her life as she knew it and the nightmare of living without her memory, is real.
When I see it I remember waking up from the dream of the hospitals, feeling the pain of the scars on my face and the world that dreamlike, made no sense whatsoever. It’s a moment like no other. I’ve seen that film many times and crying about it has helped me. But the film does more than this. Lucy realizes that her life may not be normal, but it is still magical. Because I no longer cry about it, instead I’m also glad for my magical life.
If you can’t write, read or talk. Find the movie that speaks to you. See your pain out there on the screen. Remember it, cry about it… and then maybe you’ll find it easier to let it go.