This Blog is written by Rachael Bolton LPC. She is a talented and valued clinician at Hope Counseling Center. Her commentary offers a poignant reminder of the real impact of sexual assault and other trauma, as well as the complex symptoms and devastating personal experience that it is. So often our public discourse misses or simply misunderstands the layers of devastation and the long road to recovery experienced by victims of trauma. This is a good read!
Brie Larson was awarded the Oscar for Best Actress last year for her performance in “Room” (2015). The film is based on the 2010 novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue. Larson plays a young woman named Joy who, at the age of 17, was kidnapped by a stranger and has been held captive in a single-room shed for the past 7 years. Her captor regularly visits and sexually assaults her. She becomes pregnant and becomes the mother to a boy whose only knowledge of the world is the room that the two of them share.
I have loved movies since I was a little girl and visit the website Rotten Tomatoes daily to read film critics’ reviews. A couple of weeks ago, an excerpt from a review of the movie “Room” caught my eye. The excerpt, from New York Post film critic Kyle Smith reads, “Dopey as the film is on a plot level, it’s equally vapid in its psychology.” Curious, I clicked on the link for the full review. In his review Kyle Smith writes, “The script, adapted by Emma Donoghue from her own novel, doesn’t illuminate what kind of internal damage might be wrought by being held prisoner for seven years: On-screen it simply looks like Joy has a case of the “sads.” While the diagnostic criteria for making a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are quite specific, I would like to highlight some of the symptoms of PTSD that are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; DSM-5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
Per the DSM-5, symptoms may include “a persistent negative emotional state (e.g., fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame),” “markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities,” and “feelings of detachment or estrangement from others.” In addition, an individual may meet the criteria for a sub-type of PTSD called “With dissociative symptoms.” In this sub-type, an individual may experience depersonalization and/or derealization. Depersonalization is defined as “persistent or recurrent experiences of feeling detached from, and as if one were an outside observer of, one’s mental processes or body (e.g., feeling as though one were in a dream; feeling a sense of unreality of self or body or of time moving slowly.” Derealization is defined as “persistent or recurrent experiences of unreality of surroundings (e.g., the world around the individual is experienced as unreal, dreamlike, distant or distorted).” There is also a specifier for “With delayed expression,” which is defined as the full diagnostic criteria not being met “until at least 6 months after the event (although the onset and expression of some symptoms may be immediate” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p. 271-272).
All of us, no matter our profession, have a responsibility to know our subject matter and to recognize when we do not have the expertise to speak on a particular topic. Mr. Smith’s film review is potentially detrimental to the public’s understanding of the complexities of trauma. Even more troubling to me is that Mr. Smith writes for the New York Post, a publication with substantial readership and which has been cited as one of the Top 50 online news entities (Pew Research Center, 2015). The dangerous mindset that Mr. Smith exhibits in his review is the same one that unfortunately sometimes results in survivors of trauma being badgered on the witness stand in court because they do not appear to be “traumatized.” I respect that Mr. Smith did not like the film. I hope that his future film reviews, however, will critique topics like editing, cinematography, score, and visual effects, rather than provide commentary on a complex disorder that is still being researched to this day. The many survivors of trauma in this country deserve a more enlightened and informed treatment of their condition by the media.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.)
Pew Research Center. (2015). Digital: Top 50 Online News Entities [Data file]. Retrieved from http://www.journalism.org/media-indicators/digital-top-50-online-news-entities-2015/
Smith, K. (2015, October 14). In ‘Room,’ Brie Larson tries to win a no-makeup Oscar [review of the film Room]. New York Post. Retrieved from http://nypost.com/2015/10/14/in-room-brie-larson-tries-to-win-a-no-makeup-oscar/