Apr 10

“13 Reasons Why”: Teenage Suicide Aftermath

If you hear a song that makes you cry and you don’t want to cry anymore, you don’t listen to that song anymore…But you can’t get away from yourself. You can’t decide not to see yourself anymore. You can’t decide to turn off the noise in your head. Hannah in Jay Asher’s 2007 book Thirteen Reasons Why, the basis for Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why

Lorraine Ali, Los Angeles Times, about the premise of the new 13-episode series 13 Reasons Why

Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) appears more confident and insightful than most of her 17-year-old peers at Liberty High so, when she commits suicide, her parents, the faculty and most of the student body appear stunned. She did, however, leave behind a series of ‘old school’ cassette tapes that provide clues to why she ended her life — and who’s to blame.

The trailer’s below:

The 13 reasons, it turns out, are actually attributed to 13 different individuals, all of whom receive pertinent tapes. “The group must listen to all seven cassettes and follow her instructions on where to find clues. If they don’t? Their secrets will be publicly divulged. Just how Hannah will exact this posthumous punishment is part of the mystery.”

Matthew Gilbert, Boston Globe, introduces Hannah’s friend Clay’s key role:

When the show begins, Clay Jensen [Dylan Minnette] has just received the tapes, and we gradually listen to them with him. The tapes also come with a map that takes Clay to some of the locations in Hannah’s chronicle, which includes both the smaller slights directed at her and weightier stories of slut-shaming and assault…

Clay is a sweet, low-key guy who’s shocked to discover that Hannah considered him one of the offenders. They worked together at the local movie theater, and he had a major but unexpressed crush on her — unexpressed, that is, unless you looked hard into his spellbound eyes. That’s one of the mysteries on the show: When will we find out what Clay did or didn’t do?

Leah Greenblatt, ew.com, on the various things that we find out happened to Hannah:

Some betrayals seem relatively small on their own: A nasty note passed, a face-saving rumor spread, a blossoming friendship derailed by a crush. But others are actual criminal offenses: private photos taken without permission, the cover-up of an accidental death, and, in separate episodes, two brutal rapes.

Maureen Ryan, Variety, lists some compelling questions raised—but not answered:

How can adults tell when the secrets teenagers are hiding are devastating or relatively benign? When do a frustrated teenager’s attempts to deploy healthy skepticism and reasonable detachment slide into depression, and how can a family member or friend spot the difference? How can young men and women — including LGBTQ youth — be true to who they are without fearing the most vicious attitudes of their peers and the community at large?

The essential conclusion of reviewer Dan Fienberg, Hollywood Reporter:

As a series, 13 Reasons Why advocates strongly for communication and basic human decency and shows many of the ways friends and loved ones failed Hannah. If it falls short in exploring the role of depression in Hannah’s situation, the accompanying 30-minute ‘Beyond the Reasons’ episode makes up some of that ground. The conversation-advancing special includes necessary outreach information, expert analysis, behind-the-scenes footage and features executive producers Selena Gomez and Mandy Teefey. It’s a valuable capper to a well-acted series that’s difficult to watch, yet always highly watchable.

Jan 13

“Martha Marcy May Marlene”: Woman Flees Abusive Cult

Another current and well-reviewed—though “smaller”—film is from first-time director/screenwriter Sean Durkin and is entitled Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011). The plot according to IMDB: “Haunted by painful memories and increasing paranoia, a damaged woman struggles to re-assimilate with her family after fleeing an abusive cult.” Following her escape, she winds up staying with her sister (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy).

Explanation of the title: Lead character “Martha” is given a cult name of “Marcy May” by the cult leader and is also dubbed “Marlene” by a fellow cult victim. She’s played by Elizabeth Olsen (sister to the more famous Olsen twins), who’s received stellar reviews.

Cult leader Patrick (John Hawkes) is described thusly by reviewer Anthony Lane (The New Yorker): “Like any good cult leader, he is a terrifying parody of a father figure, intent on making his kin feel at home. He has them fed, housed, and warmly encouraged—’You’re my favorite, and I won’t lose you,’ he says to Martha. He also rapes them.”

Before viewing the trailer below for Martha Marcy May Marlene, please consider whether you’re likely to become triggered by its content:

Selected Reviews

Lisa Kennedy, Denver Post: “Durkin depicts a horror that some among us actually live, where the search for family leads to something familiar and dangerous.”

Stephen Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer: “Olsen inhabits Martha’s broken world completely. And at the movie’s end – a jarring, boldly ambiguous end – we’re in her head, too, not sure what is real, and what is not.”

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: “…an utterly gripping ride that will keep you guessing until the last second about what is real and what imagined, and whether Martha has entirely snapped the tether of sanity.”

Jan 12

“Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”: Women and Trauma

Two well-received and current films, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Martha Marcy May Marlene, deal with serious trauma issues in the lives of women. Tomorrow’s post will focus on the second of these films.

The most recent film adaptation of Stieg Larsson‘s book The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011), directed by David Fincher, is now in theaters. If you’re not familiar with the themes of this film, you may be interested to know that sexual violence against women figures prominently. The book, in fact, was originally titled Men Who Hate Women (the English translation).

The trailer barely hints at this issue:

RAINN, or the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, states on its website that the film:

…illustrates the real life effects of sexual violence on victims and survivors, emphasizing the importance of getting help. Dragon Tattoo is the first of a trilogy of best selling mystery novels, about a ‘disgraced journalist and troubled young female computer hacker who investigate the mysterious disappearance of an industrialist’s niece.’
…Interwoven in the film’s main plot line is a series of incidences of violence against women. Each occurrence of sexual abuse, incest, and rape highlight the severity of these crimes against the victim: while an assault may only last moments, the effects of this serious crime can haunt a victim for his or her lifetime.

The character of Lisbeth (Rooney Mara), the “troubled young female computer hacker,” is a victim of violence who becomes a perpetrator of violence. Some viewers, whether ever victimized themselves or not, will identify with her and revel in her kick-ass attitude, and some may be unable to tolerate all the actual kick-ass. If you’re at all concerned, further reading and/or research on the film’s content may be in order.

One possible aid comes from A.O. Scott‘s (New York Times) film review: “Sexual violence is a lurid thread running through ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,’ and Mr. Fincher approaches it with queasy, teasing sensationalism. Lisbeth’s dealings with Bjurman include a vicious rape and a correspondingly brutal act of revenge, and there is something prurient and salacious about the way the initial assault is filmed. The vengeance, while graphic, is visually more circumspect.”