Tag Archives: Child Abuse

10 1/2 (2010)

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Whether or not this is what the filmmaker intended, 10 1/2 makes an excellent case for sterilization. Cretin parents spawn a psychotic child, who’s young age belies his appetite for destruction. Said child abuses a younger child and is left to sink or swim in the system. Kind of one of those ‘Life’s a bitch and then you die’ movies, isn’t it? On the plus side, the film is achingly realistic and the child actor playing the demented tyke at the center of this bleak picture gives it all he’s got, so it’s high degree of quality makes it a watchable, if not exactly palatable experience.

The title, 10 1/2, refers to the age of the protagonist. The first five minutes of this movie are as grueling a beginning as you’re ever likely to see. Inspired by a steady diet of pornographic films, an abused boy named Tommy (Robert Naylor) tries to make a 7-year-old perform oral sex on him. He fails, is caught, and he is beaten senseless by the small boy’s older brother. Following this catastrophe, Tommy is relinquished to the system by his desperate foster mother.

Tommy’s explosive temper soon proves challenging (to say the least) for the staff of a home for troubled boys. The majority of them want to pass him on to the psychiatric hospital to deal with. Gilles (Claude Legault) is the one who doesn’t. He’s determined to make Tommy see the error of his ways and get to the bottom of his troubled past. Tommy is pretty much the worst kid you can imagine- kicking, biting, throwing shit around the facility, spewing every manner of expletive he can come up with. Can a heart this wounded be healed? Can Gilles get through to Tommy, or are some people, no matter how young, a lost cause?

‘Harrowing’ is an apt way to describe this film. ‘Intense.’ ‘Infuriating,’ when you see what Tommy’s parents have done to him (although he has apparently repressed and internalized most of his early childhood memories) you will want to kick the ever-loving crap out of them. A child like Tommy has suffered major hurt and trauma at a very young age. I believe only a small minority of sociopaths are born evil. Parents ruin their children and leave them to screw up the next generation, on and on.

Tommy’s only foil is his dad (Martin Dubreuil,) who grooms him with false promises that he will take him in and normalize his life. Ultimately, patient, soft-spoken Gilles is the only one who gives a shit whether Tommy lives or dies. He wants to believe Tommy can be better, but Tommy proves to be an extremely hard child to believe in.

While Legault gives an effective performance as the dedicated social worker, it is Naylor who really impressed me as Tommy, especially given his young age. The part of Tommy must have been extremely hard for any actor to pull off, let alone a child actor. Most of the movie is simply a battle of wills between Gilles and Tommy, with the boy smashing things, displaying inappropriate sexual behavior, attacking staff members, and making suicide threats. It’s morally questionable to let a child play a role like this (it’s clear Canada has more lenient child pornography laws than we do (!)), but Naylor’s handling of his part is nothing less than heroic.

The ending’s ambiguity means we don’t really have an idea what will happen to Tommy at the end of this movie. I waited and waited for some kind of redemptive moment, but that moment unfortunately never came. All I can do is hope that Tommy gets his shit together. Whether (if he were a real person) he becomes a functioning member of society or a hardened sex offender depends so much on those crucial years, and we’ve gotta love Gilles for taking a chance on this frustrating, impossible boy.

10 1/2 is not a popcorn movie, not a family-friendly flick. It’s a dark, disturbing, impossibly grim (did I say disturbing?) look into a child protective system that needs a lot of work, and ‘parents’ who, should they refuse to use birth control or sterilization, would do society a favor by neutering themselves by any means possible. There are thousands of Tommy’s braving the system at this very moment, and I truly fear for them, and what their eventual maturation will mean to us as a society.

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Mystic River by Dennis Lehane

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Three childhood friends, reunited in adulthood and all marching toward a shared spiritual and psychological destruction. Sound cheerful? Clint Eastwood adapted this novel, so if you’re a fan of Eastwood’s directorial endeavors you might be familiar with this story of betrayal and revenge. The aging movie star’s filmmaking capabilities are undeniable, but there’s something about reading a novel versus watching it’s film adaptation, you know? Most of the time, anyway.

‘Mystic River’ is a dark read on a plethora of tough subjects (child abduction and the ensuing sexual abuse, latent pedophilic tendencies, a father’s grief over the violent death of his daughter,) but if anyone is up for the job of writing gritty urban realism featuring the tragic mistakes of regular people and their fatal repercussions, it’s Dennis Lehane.

The man has a gift- with dialogue, with character description, with prose so fluid and lush it’s reading is similar to the experience of watching a great movie. His characters never seem unrealistically colorful or contrived. They grab your attention honestly- through the strength of great storytelling. ‘Mystic River’ is about three boys- Dave Boyle, Sean Devine, and Jimmy Markum- who grow up into three damaged men. Where did it all go wrong? For these guys, the proverbial shit hit the fan when 11-year-old Dave was coerced into a car by two men pretending to be police officers as his friends looked on and molested for five days before making his escape, becoming quite the local celebrity in the process.

But Dave doesn’t want lurid, however short-lived fame. He wants his childhood back. Once an eager-to-please schoolboy and a bit of a brownnosing crony to the stronger, more well-liked Jimmy, Dave grows up to be a tormented adult who has experienced a splintering of self- some of him is still in that basement, yearning to escape. Hell, all the boys are haunted by that day, the unresolved questions that reared their ugly heads when that car came to take Dave away. Twenty-five years later, another tragedy occurs. Now-grown ex-con Jimmy Markums’ 19-year-old daughter, Katie, is brutally murdered in the park after a drunken night on the town.

Now, who should come back into Jimmy’s life but Sean- a cop investigating the Katie Markum case- and Dave- a suspect in her violent death. Katie’s death has many suspects, more the further you look from different angles (in classic detective story fashion.) While initially Katie seems like a girl with not an enemy in the world, further inspection produces a different, darker take on those she associated with. Confronting a case that seems increasingly personal the farther he digs forward, Sean must ask the ultimate question- who killed Katie Markum? And will the actual murderer’s insistence on keeping his identity under wraps spell destruction for the three men?

I found ‘Mystic River’ less confusing than the first novel I read by Dennis Lehane, “Gone Baby Gone” but also slightly less compelling. That might have been partially because I already knew the ending to ‘Mystic River,’ having seen the movie beforehand. It was just a matter of getting there. There is no real redemption in either story; if anything, every good thing that comes from ‘Mystic River’s ending is more detrimental that satisfactory- take, for instance, Sean’s reunion with his wife paired with his decision to take all the flack for their break-up. He got what he wanted, but will he really wind up happy?

I don’t think the mystery is too hard to solve if the reader pays close attention to the clues provided along the way. All three men are sympathetic In their own way (despite Dave’s impure, albeit unacted-on, carnal appetites and Jimmy’s astonishing capacity for violence) while still being deeply flawed and troubled. Dennis Lehane’s prose is so easy to fall in love with. It is strong, consistent, and descriptive.  He cares about these characters and he wants you to care about them too, but he doesn’t always make them easy candidates for compassion, if you know what I mean.

In the end, what has been gained? What has been learned? If you say zilch. you’re certainly on the right track. A continuing theme is loss- of innocence, of love, of family, of humanity. We move beyond our past tragedies, if we’re lucky. But do they move past us? More of a psychological study of guilt and grief than a hard-and-dry mystery, ‘Mystic River’ is simultaneously harsh, delicate, and haunting.

Gone Baby Gone by Dennis Lehane

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The world can be an unforgiving, ugly place, and Dennis Lehane does a good job depicting this while also portraying the mordant sense of humor law enforcement officers and police detectives sometimes have to adopt to deal with the darkness ‘out there’ as well as inside themselves. Still, there are some things being a hardened detective with a life time of seeing some hardcore shit under your belt can’t prepare you for- for Detective Patrick Mackenzie, the events of “Gone Baby Gone” are comprised of some such times.

I went into this book warily; I have minimal experience with mysteries of any kind, and I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to follow the twists and turns that made up the novel’s plot (true, to some extent; recalling many of the intricacies of the story leaves me drawing a big fat blank.) Also, it is the fourth in a series, so I’m kind of starting in the middle of a continuing storyline. However, while the former had me perpetually confused (it should be a piece of cake for seasoned mystery readers though,) the latter did not distract me from the book, which is fairly stand-alone even among it’s predecessors  and sequels.

The plot of “Gone Baby Gone” focuses on detective Patrick Mckenzie and his willful and beautiful partner/lover, Angela Gennaro, searching through Boston’s toughest neighborhoods for the abducted daughter of a neglectful addict mother. Not for the squeamish, it portrays the shadowy world of pimps, pedophiles, whores, and crooked cops in such a way that it will make you frown at humanity. Have we really evolved that much? Or we a not very funny joke God played on the hitherto unviolated earth?

I think Lehane particularly has a gift with character description, and providing character details so acute and well-observed that we can picture the creations he has offered up to us. The people making up this twisted urban world are frighteningly believable, with the possible exception of Leon and Roberta Trett, two over-the-top pedophiles; but even the sordidly kitschy moments admittedly have their place. In the search for little Amanda McCready, the two leads not only have to fret whether the’ll find her, but whether she’d be better off staying gone, possibly exposed to unspeakable horrors or maybe spared from a slow spiritual death at the hands of Helene, her selfish crack ho mother.

Sparing my visitors from major spoilers, I’ll just say that the ending really got me furious, in a good way (which is to say, the writing and plotting were not at fault.) After some seriously disturbing and shocking events existing within the plot, I was hoping I could be satisfied by an ending that seemed ‘right,’ just and appropriately comforting. But justice, as it turns out, is a double-edged sword. Would any other ending have seemed as contextually appropriate? Hell no. But I want my evildoers vanquished, my ending wrapped up, my protagonists making a final decision I don’t want to throttle them for.

I seriously wanted to kick Patrick in the nuts at the end of this book. He was a likable lead for the most part, but the final choice he makes is certainly not the one I would have picked. Then again who knows, if I was placed in a crazy situation like that? The compelling thing about the conclusion is it isn’t a simple showdown between good and evil. Both decisions have consequences, and both sets of consequences will hurt someone regardless of how carefully the final course of action is chosen. Am I fit to judge? No, probably not, but I still want to kick him in the nuts.

“Gone Baby Gone” is a quietly harrowing look of police officers working child abuse cases who often have to stand by powerlessly, even impotently, lacking the power to save damaged young people in the face of a broken system. Does society owe the Amanda McCreadys of the world to provide them with a safe place to live, to protect them from the monsters and molesters as well as the coked-up fuck-up living in their own home? Can we be expected to take on the responsibility of every such child? Are some of these kids beyond help? Toeing the line between popular fiction and literature, “Gone Baby Gone” offers a fresh, even occasionally funny voice in Patrick Mckenzie and a suspenseful plot.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

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Esteemed poet and memoirist Maya Angelou chronicles her life from lonely, isolated black girlhood to sexual awakening and teen motherhood in this sad, poetic true-life account. Little Maya never believed much in her own self-worth, and racism was as rampant in the small community of Stamps, Arkansas, that she lived in with her Grandmama and disabled Uncle Willie as the wrenching poverty of both blacks and whites. Her unwavering sense of fatalism  forced her into the belief that she would live a brief, harsh life of subjugation before dying in a crazy dramatic way (in this sense, she is more like the modern youngster than she might think.)

But Maya (AKA Marguerite) had a  way to escape her tough circumstances- her love of books and writing, which kept her spirit strong and her mind sharp in the face of myriad staggering adversities. Through prejudice, sexual abuse, and eventually teen pregnancy, Maya not only survived, but slowly developed her sense of self and the belief that she and the African-American race deserved better than what they had been given.

Good writing is a prerequisite in an autobiography, but it also helps to have an interesting story that will grab the reader’s interest. ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ has both. Angelou retreats so far into the mind of her younger self that the book seems free of Angelou’s adult beliefs and opinions. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out how she felt about a situation at the time she wrote the book. Maya Angelou has had a fascinating, though frequently tragic life, and the prose she incorporates into the book rolls off the tongue like sweet honey.

I found the author’s own personal feelings of self-hatred and worthlessness following her rape at age eight at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend particularly heart-wrenching. No one should ever have to feel guilty for a act of sexual violence done unto them. But I was thrilled when Mr. Freeman (the name of the bottom-feeding pederast in question) was rubbed out by Maya’s mafioso relatives. Sweet justice! Of course, it would have been better if the abuse hadn’t occurred at all, but the killing of the child rapist gave me pleasure in an mostly bleak and depressing book.

The racism portrayed within these pages is shocking (the white dentist achieving a particular low,) but it makes the reader think about how far we’ve come as a society. Nowadays if someone cared to indulge in a ‘jigaboo walks into a bar’ joke they would be greeted by most with moral outrage and unlaughing silence. Back then racism wasn’t just a mindset- it was a way of life. People had never considered that blacks could be anything more than their drastically inferior dark-skinned servants,  and in many places- including the South- thinking that there might be an alternative to prejudice and hate was all too much for these white hicks to take in.

The only thing I didn’t like about this book is that it ended far too abruptly. It concluded on a hopeful note, but at the same time it just kind of left me hanging. It’s funny, a lot of the behavior exhibited by Maya’s most well-regarded relatives would be considered child abuse by today’s standards.

She just kind of laughs countless whippings and frankly psychotic behavior (for instance her stuttering Uncle Willie  threatening to burn her and her brother Bailey on the stove) off, but nowadays that kind of acting out by unhinged grown-ups would now be followed by a visit by CPS. People talk about the ‘good old days,’ where kids were hard-working and respectful and everything was more wholesome, but were the old days really that great? This book, and others, answer my question with an emphatic no.

If you like kind of slow books that love each word onto paper, rather than simply writing them in the way of popular writers, you’ll adore Angelou’s precisely, and gorgeously written memoir. And, grim as it is, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ is not without it’s humor. “Preach it, Brother Thomas!” In the wake of Maya Angelou’s death the world lost a great literary voice. She brings barbed honesty and haunting lyricism into what could have been a standard coming-of-age narrative.

The Harvest (2013)

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For thrills, chills, and scintillating melodrama, look no farther than “The Harvest,” John McNaughton’s most recent venture into the horror genre; but don’t use the film to inform the uninitiated about the perks of homeschooling your kids.

Maryann (Natasha Calis)  just wants a friend, and release from the doldrums of being the new kid in a new town. Katherine (Samantha Morton,) the emasculating and controlling homeschool mom of a very sick boy, has other ideas. When Maryann meets Andy (Charlie Tahan,) a wheelchair bound preteen, it’s affable curiosity and burgeoning friendship at first sight, but Katherine is totally hellbent on keeping Andy as far away from Maryann as possible.

She keeps Andy and his dad Richard (Michael Shannon) in constant fear of her insane mood swings (it’s safe to say that Richard, like “American Beauty”‘s Lester Burnham, has had his balls stored in a mason jar under the sink since the early years of their marriage,) overprotects Andy to the point of ridiculousness, and keeps Andy on a variety of numbing medications that seem to increase exponentially by the minute. It’s almost as if she doesn’t want him to get better- but that’s crazy, right?

When Maryann quite accidentally does a bit of probing into the matter, she discovers a horrible secret that Richard and Katherine would die to keep buried far, far away with their other familial skeletons. Maryann wants to help Andy, but what can a kid do when her live-in grandparents (Peter Fonda and Leslie Lyles) are so obtuse about her shocking discovery? One thing’s for sure- Andy’s not breaking free of his domineering mum without an explosive confrontation.

“The Harvest” is like a soap opera you can’t stop watching for fear that, if you turn away, you’ll miss one of the insane plot twists. There’s probably more constructive things you should be doing, but something keeps you anchored to the TV screen, and for some reason, you don’t even resent the power it seems to have over you. The realism is questionable, the unanswered questions are daunting, the confrontations are over-the-top but the film has the effect of reading a really good paperback novel- you’ve just got to turn that next page.

Although “The Harvest” can be outrageous, the performances solidly support a sensational premise, including a thoroughly committed acting job by Samantha Morton. Morton flips by the turn of a dime from a annoying overbearing ice queen with a vast array of outfits apparently picked from the Mormon Housewife section of the JC Penny to a genuinely malevolent force. She’s so outrageously cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs that you almost laugh, but you genuinely fear for those orbiting her one-woman circus act.

The whole cast- Michael Shannon as a stereotypical deballed hubby with a perpetual hangdog posture, Natasha Callis as a girl probably too smart for her own good, Charlie Tahan as a put-upon youngster- are so devoted to making their roles work that they manage to gloss over the more soap-opera-ish moments. There are certainly some logistical infallacies (unless Maryann is the kind of child who habitually tells tall tales, which I suspect she isn’t, wouldn’t her well-meaning grandparents put some credence to her wild story- at least give her a chance?) and the ending raises more questions than it answers, but the film itself is luridly compelling.

It held a strange power over me, maybe partially because it shows how quickly good intentions- anything for the one you love’s sake- can slip-slide into focused evil. I haven’t seen hardly anything with Samantha Morton (nothing memorable I can remember off the top of my head) but I think she was outstanding in this role. Her devotion comes with a body count, and her husband must decide how long being her bitch serves his best interests. Shit will go down, and we kind of love that about it.

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I Killed My Mother (2009)

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Yes, the mother depicted in this film is a chode. But, to be perfectly honest, so is her completely self-involved, angst-ridden son. Nature and nurture, one does not necessarily cancel out the other. Although actor/director/writer Xavier Dolan’s semi-autobiographical first feature is sometimes burdened down by largely unsympathetic characters (the son’s big-hearted, sarcastic boyfriend was the only one I can say I ‘liked,’) it does strike a chord with it’s real and darkly funny portrayal of that gray area between childhood and adulthood where your parents seem to be the worst people on earth.

The difference being, of course, that Hubert (Xavier Dolan)’s shrill mother (Anne Dorval) is a pretty awful person, not to mention a piss-poor parent. Initially I was repelled by Hubert’s cruel antics toward his cold, passive-aggressive mama but I will admit that I came to a sort of understanding of him halfway through the film. That’s not to say liked him, ‘like’ would be too strong a word and not at all accurate to what I’m feeling, but I had a moment of realization where I was like, “Yeah, she’s awful.”

A little background on the plot- Hubert is a gay high school kid who considers himself quite the intellectual, constantly filming himself jabbering about supposedly ‘deep’ subjects. Okay, some of his musings are significant, but not as witty or clever as the self-obsessed Hubert imagines them to be. Hubert is a bright kid, but he needs to realize he’s not the center of the universe. He really needs to show appreciation for his boyfriend Antoine (Francois Arnaud,) who is super supportive and cool but doesn’t get nearly the respect he deserves.

The bane of Hubert’s existence is his mother, Chantale. Chantale seems quite put out that she has a kid to look after, let alone this contemptuous, heatedly angry man-boy, and Hubert in turn hates everything about her- the way she eats, the way she puts on lipstick, the way she lashes out at him with ice-cold rebuttals. Although I can relate to Hubert’s angst to some extent, having been an angry, sullen teen, I always knew deep down that my parents had done more for me than I would ever be able to realize.

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I never ‘hated’ them- more just treated the pair of them with indifferent annoyance. And I never would have gotten away with screaming obscenities at them the way Hubert does. My adolescent relationship with my parents doesn’t even skim the surface of the dysfunction portrayed here (although I do have some mental health stories that would make your toes curl) 😛 The difference is, I was never out of control hateful and disrespectful. In our house, I knew that there were things you could get away with, and there were things you couldn’t. And my parents were, and continue to be, awesome people. 🙂

I wasn’t sure what the role of the teacher (Suzanne Clement) was in this story. Initially I thought she had a ladyboner for Hubert that made in of interest for her to help him (it’s not completely unheard of- she’s young, he’s cute, and maybe it hasn’t struck her yet that (a she could go to jail and (b he’s like, totally gay.) I didn’t trust her intentions; thus, I didn’t find her a likable character. I liked the fantasy sequences strewn throughout. They flesh out Hubert’s character.

The main things that puzzled me about “I Killed My Mother” were the sudden and unexplained shifts in the character’s behavior and the abrupt ending that didn’t really resolve anything. I think if this film were a novel I might have been able to understand the motivations behind character’s behavior better.

It’s painful to to watch a teen behave in a disgustingly disrespectful way to his mother, but it is even more painful to see that the cold, distant parent has created an emotionally impotent monster. We reap what we sow I guess. What’s particularly interesting is that assuming this movie’s protagonist, Hubert, is based on Dolan as a teen, the director makes little attempt to justify his self-absorption or all-around terrible behavior.

That’s nothing if not brave. Not portraying his mother, who was obviously in many ways emotionally abusive, as a claws-out harpy, devoid of redeeming qualities, adds gravity to a story that could have been just another ‘shitty relationships in a pretty language’ miseryfest. Another thing that strikes me is the contrast between the boyfriend Antoine’s permissive, fun-loving mother, whom Antoine has an almost peer-like relationship to, and the chilly, emotionally distant Chantale.

It seems we should strike a balance if are to become parents. “I Killed My Mother” (the killing, luckily, is metaphorical; there’s no matricide to be found here) is certainly promising, occasionally infuriating, and rife with dark humor. It seems increasingly like a handbook on how not to parent, lest we continue the cycle of dysfunction that raises it’s ugly head in far too many families.

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The Tricky Part by Martin Moran

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Memoirist Martin Moran has a skillful touch when it comes to prose, but “The Tricky Part” is so disturbing and sad that it will probably end up being a read-only-once book for most people. What makes “The Tricky Part” different from most sexual abuse stories that feature heavily in books and TV and get paraded around the media is Moran’s ambivalent feelings toward his molester. It also makes it a whole lot more interesting than the average pervs-messing-around-with-kids book.

When Martin was twelve, he was an eager-to-please, bright-eyed boy who had his whole life to discover sex and intimacy all in due time. His camp counselor, Bob, took all that away from him. And yet… and yet what? Martin fell for Bob. He was a quite willing participant in a ‘relationship’ (a love affair only in the loosest sense) that lasted several years. Of course a twelve-year-old child cannot consent to sex with a thirty-something-year-old-man, but Martin believed he had something special with his abuser. He loved him. He hated him. He was so fucking confused and he sook out his attention like a moth to the flame, even when it was destroying him.

He felt like Bob’s one and only, even when there was a harem of young boys slipping in and out of Bob’s designated love nests under Martin’s nose. After a fraught adulthood rife with dysfunction and sex addiction, Martin decided to seek out his abuser. This is his story. The first half of this book can be a little hard to read because of the graphic depiction of pedophilia, but it articulates 12-year-old Martin’s confusion and desperation well. This isn’t just a tawdry ripped-from-the-headlines abuse story, it strikes the reader as extremely brave and cathartic for Moran to write.

Moreover, it is interesting to see how Moran got a career in musical theater and came to balance his childhood Catholic beliefs with skepticism and new-age curiosity. Martin is an extremely interesting person, though you can tell he’s been through the ringer emotionally and sexually. You might not agree with everything he does (trying to fuck a fifteen-year-old boy in the men’s lavatory anyone?) and his continual dishonesty to his lover, Henry, is as heartbreaking as it is reprehensible (I’d be so done with him for cheating on me multiple times with guys he didn’t even like, let alone want an intimate relationship with; but Henry never seems to give up on Martin.)

However, you can’t help but feel for Martin. I don’t think his continual abuse at the hands of Bob is an excuse to cheat on his lover repeatedly, but it helps you understand the heartbreaking compulsion that overtakes him again and again. It’s like what Atticus FInch said in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” You step into someone’s shoes and walk around in them. Books help you do that, which is part of what is so great about them. You look at someone’s action from the outside (like Moran’s infidelity) and you go “wow, that’s dickish” but looking inside his mind by reading something he wrote helps you understand.

The second half of “The Tricky Part” is more about Moran’s therapy and gradual healing, which is easier to read psychologically but can get a little wordy in terms of mental health and dream analysis. Despite the transitions between Moran’s childhood and adulthood the two pieces of the book fit together pretty well. It will come as a relief to hear less about Bob in the later chapters. He is truly a monstrous human being.

This book will twist your gut. It will break your heart. It might even make you laugh sporadically. It will make you wish Martin had castrated his abuser for the emotional damage he eked out, rather than forgiving him his transgression. But bloody revenge, as good as it might feel at the time, does not salve the soul like forgiveness does. Forgiveness isn’t just ‘letting it go’ or ‘pretending it never happened.’ It’s healing. And Martin needed all the healing he could get. He couldn’t just be two broken halves of a whole his entire life.

“The Tricky Part” isn’t my favorite memoir, but it’s one of the rawest and most honest. Martin Moran lays bare his soul all to see. There’s nothing not brave about that. I recommend this book to those interested in the effects of childhood sexual abuse and readers of memoirs in general.

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Enter the Dangerous Mind (2013)

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At times “Enter the Dangerous Mind” feels like an extended music video, but, for the most part, that’s okay. Just don’t expect a particularly accurate (or sensitive) portrayal of mental illness. This disturbing and somewhat exploitative psychothriller focuses solely on the most extreme and even deadly mental health crises, the James Holmes’ in a social group of mostly harmless individuals.

The story concerns a Paranoid Schizophrenic named Jim (Jake Hoffman, son of actor Dustin,) who makes… noise for a living. Well, technically jarring techno music, but I don’t want to get into semantics here. Jim develops these tunes to ‘drown out the noises in his head,’ but when he tells Wendy (Nikki Reed,) a cute social worker, that, it doesn’t seem to concern her. It should. Jim has a roommate (Thomas Dekker) who is the proverbial devil on his shoulder, urging him to get over his crippling shyness and get laid.

Jim begins a tentative relationship with Wendy, but an embarrassing bedroom incident triggers a downward spiral for the disturbed young man. As Jim becomes increasingly delusional, Wendy breaks off all ties with him, leading to horrific consequences for both of them.

The plot develops okay up til the silly ending (apparently not only do Schizophrenics kill dogs, murder people, and engage in horrific acts of self-mutilation, their disease is also as contagious as the common cold,) while actor Jake Hoffman does a good job as Jim, making his tics and affectations believable while keeping his character somewhat sympathetic despite the reprehensible things he does.

On the other hand, I didn’t like the jerky ‘hard-rock-music-video’ cinematography or the constant, grating electronica score. I don’t like electronic music; I never have, so you can imagine I found the omnipresent pulsing techno to be irksome, to say the least.

“Enter the Dangerous Mind”‘s commendable performances elevate it infinitesimally above average territory, and while the movie is not politically correct regarding the horrors of mental illness- not by a long shot- it does keep you guessing and capture your attention for it’s short duration.

It is similar in subject matter to the recent film “The Voices,” although “The Voices” is the superior film due to it’s visual verve and it’s cheeky sense of humor regarding the portrayal of extreme insanity. Both movies could easily be called “Dating a quirky, weird guy becomes a health hazard when…” Poor Wendy. like Anna Kendrick’s character in “The Voices” believes she can save her troubled beau from himself. But sometimes, girls, being nice and considerate and compassionate to a guy who is batshit crazy just doesn’t cut it anymore. Once in a while a restraining order does what all the kindness in the world can’t.

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Electricity by Ray Robinson

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Lily O’Connor’s neurology is a wild, untamed beast that knocks her on her face time and again. Afflicted with epilepsy, Lily knows the condition is more than the general public believes it be, and she determined to live as normal a life with the condition as possible. Saddled with a rough (and I mean rough) family (her mother is entirely to blame in causing the injury that led to her disorder, in an act too ghastly to mention,) Lily has learned to hide the hurt away, armed with a misanthropic wit. But the death of her beastly mother, grouped with the arrival of her gambler brother and the mystery of another sibling’s disappearance, shakes up Lily’s life in ways she never could have imagined and sends her on a quest for reconciliation on the dirty, chaotic streets of London.

So, apparently this is a movie now. It’s hard to picture how a film adaptation would work, to be honest. Electricity is a otherworldly experience, an journey through the senses shedding light on a condition no one would wish on themselves or their loved ones. How will a movie give us such an unyielding look into this woman’s mind? How will a movie explain how the seizures feel? But the miracle of this novel is that Lily O’Connor is so much more than her disability.

She’s tough, complicated, seriously flawed but fundamentally decent. The strength of Lily’s character ensures that Electricity will not a textbook slog through issues of disability and dignity. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever read so much onomatopoeia in one book. The book has an interesting feminine perspective on sexuality, as well as a heartbreaking take on sexual abuse (what if I didn’t fight back! What if I liked it?)

Lily believed she was in love with her mother’s boyfriend when she was about nine years old, and appreciated the attention in a time when she was all too often ignored and overlooked. But does that make it any better? Of course not. Sexual misconduct with a preteen is abuse whether or not the child thinks they enjoy it or not. In a way, Lily has to move past her own feelings and perceptions about the event just as much as she has to move past the abuse itself.

Lily is often a hard character to like. But you can’t hate her. You just can’t. She’s too vulnerable and damaged and real for that. However, the circumstances of her upbringing seemed a little too dire at times. That coupled with her truly horrific experience with men (only her wig-donning mentor, Al, emerges unscathed) makes Electricity a sometimes disturbing read. Lily is an often sexually ambiguous character; she reports to enjoy sex with men (although she can’t climax,) while her less-than-sisterly affections for her lesbian buddy Mel makes the reader wonder what side of the fence she’s really on.

The only parts of the book I felt were lacking were the sex scenes between Lily and her boyfriend, Dave. Here we are subjected to analogies such as “He licked my breasts like lollipops” that fall short on insight into a woman’s experience of sex. They were a little corny, to be frank. They didn’t quite fit in the otherwise smooth, flawless jigsaw puzzle that was this novel. Mostly, what stands out in Electricity was the close inside view of a misunderstood condition and Lily’s unique, dialect- and profanity-salted voice. Lyrical yet not tweedy, Electricity is a engrossing read.

Short Term 12 (2013)

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A foster care center for at risk teens doesn’t seem like a setting for a movie about hope and redemption, but “Short Term 12,” a vividly realized and, above all, spectacularly real independent gem, finds beauty and human decency in unexpected places. The cast is so adept at slipping into these roles the filmmaker has created that they feel more like real people than characters in a movie, and you find yourself aching for their respective happy endings.

Grace (Brie Larson) is a grounded but damaged supervisor at a foster care facility, who is haunted by memories of her sexually abusive father but tries her best to make the kids’ at the homes stays as comfortable as possible. Compassionate but tough-minded, she is shown the beginning of the film guiding a new employee (Rami Malek) on his first day at the center.

Grace is being courted by Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.,) a happy-go-lucky co-worker who wants to help her move past her trauma. Grace soon recognizes a fellow victim of abuse in Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever,) an out-of-control adolescent dumped on the center by her uncaring dad, but must get past the uncaring bureaucracy to help the girl find her voice and testify against her abuser.

Subplots include Marcus (Keith Stanfield,) an urban teenager clinging to the support system of the foster home, and Sammy (Alex Calloway,) who has a penchant for attempting to run like hell from the facility and forcing its employees to chase him across the grounds. These characters are sensitively acted and realistically presented. “Short Term 12” also features a honest, nonexploitive portrayal of the lasting scars that come with surviving an abusive childhood.

The teens in the film are not sentimental or mawkish- they are often defiant, angry, and even violent, but director Destin Cretton shows genuine compassion for their individual dramas. I have a special preference for Marcus- he’s a well-intentioned young man trying to keep his head above water when the system deems him an adult and decides to throw him out of it’s relative comfort.

“Short Term 12” has almost a documentary feel; not a moment is wasted in this beautifully directed and acted independent film, and even a rather reckless act committed by Grace at the end manages not to be entirely out-of-character. It makes you care about its characters, incorporating fantastic performances from each and every cast member. I recommend it for any and all who are interested in the welfare of children, the resilience of  adults, or the inner workings of the human mind.

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