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Mother's Red Dress (2011)
Heartfelt expression of how the film moved me
Mother's Red Dress portrays a young man, Paul experiencing the very real symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is a disorder often associated with soldiers who return from war. Trauma is a psychologically distressing event outside the range of human experience. It involves a sense of intense fear, terror and helplessness. Our bodies respond to threats with the fight or flight reaction. With increases in the levels of threat (real or perceived), our response moves from vigilance to alarm to fear and finally terror. In therapy people talk about leaving their bodies and actually watching the event as a bystander, or sometimes going deep inside oneself. This dissociation, the mental mechanism by which one withdraws attention from the outside world and focuses on their inner world. The main character, Paul experiences very serious symptoms such as sleeplessness, nightmares, and even develops his own fantasy world in which his family is still living. The movie depicts a turning point when he actually becomes violent himself toward Ashley, the girl he loves.
I am most fortunate to have seen the film with my favorite advocate for people who have experienced violence. The discussion with John Paul Rice, the film's producer, was inspiring. As I shared with him, I'm always fascinated by the creative process and how someone can create art which forces people to look and ponder upon an issue. I tend not to go to movies that upset me. The last time I walked out of a rape scene, I decided never to go into a movie blindly again. I knew the film could show some graphic images and perhaps trigger some difficult feelings. I decided to go anyway. Mr. Rice talked about a study he encountered while researching for the film in which people rose up against terrorism and the terrorism ceased. He called the uprisers Freedom Fighters and used this as an analogy to standing up against child abuse. My friend reminded us of the Green Dot Campaign, a social norms campaign on college campuses that reminds us not to close our eyes to violence around us but to take a stand whenever we can. Mr. Rice also spoke about the cycle of violence and how all of society's perpetrators have experienced violence themselves.
The film uses two women, Ashley and Brenda to demonstrate how relationships can help people move past the pain of abuse. Brenda is an odd character to say the least, but I like her. She is suffering as much as Paul. Paul understands her and I think she knows it. It is poignant when Brenda says, "I need to deal with my bullshit alone." When Ashley and Brenda visit Paul at the psychiatric hospital, Brenda asks Ashley, "why did you pray with him if you don't think he is going to get better?" "All we have is the truth," she says. For me, this means we can help and reach out to others without losing ourselves. For those of us with the "Care-taker Complex," we can learn to take care of ourselves too. Ashley does not have to decide to risk her own safety just because she loves Paul.
Violence is so complex. I believe it creates a culture in which is becomes difficult to identify the perpetrator from the victim. This culture of violence begins in childhood. When adults and parents continue to expose children to physical, sexual, emotional, mental, and spiritual abuse, we all suffer. Children may not always dissociate and create complex fantasy worlds, but they do suffer. Think about the vast array of problems that are a direct result of scared people running around trying to function in the world. Abuse, crime, and addiction don't even touch the surface of how society is affected by violence. We as a society must speak out and become Freedom Fighters for children and their families who often carry the burdens, guilt, and shame of generations before them.
Family and Children's Place has a model of treatment that focuses on the entire family. This very often includes perpetrators of all types of violence. This is not always popular in our society. People want to place perpetrators on sex offender registries, incarcerate and even castrate them before they want to help them. Family and Children's Place is the perfect agency to partner with this film. They are the Freedom Fighters for the entire family system when a child has been abused. Mother's Red Dress reminds us that we can all be Freedom Fighters by talking openly about the issue of child abuse and violence and to never ignore it when suspected. Professionals know the mandatory reporting law concerning abuse and neglect, but surely there must be more we can do than to call Child Protective Services. Offering support to the stressed out parent who is spanking out of anger or helplessness, or not being so quick to judge the woman who stays in an abusive relationship could help restore freedom to a society and culture where abuse is tolerated and sometimes encouraged in its' subtle forms.
One of the most frequently used American proverbs, "do not judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes," is all about empathy. I strongly believe in professional counseling and all types of mental health treatment. My hope is one day all people will view it as taking care of emotional health just as we take care of our physical health with the help of physicians and other medical providers. I don't think we should have to be in therapy to experience someone without judgment. When we let go of judgment, we give others the gift of safety. When we feel safe, we are able to face the reality of our pasts by sharing it with others. When we realize we don't have to deal with our bullshit alone, we just might have the courage to walk through the pain. Then we can get on with the business of living.