I watched a great movie over the weekend called “Manic”, about an adolescent male (played brilliantly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who nearly bludgeons a kid to death at a baseball game and is subsequently admitted to an inpatient unit. Throughout the film we see other adolescents with a myriad of issues from being molested by a stepfather to being raped by a friend to being completely ignored and emotionally abused by parental figures.
As I watched the film, I was struck by how much pain there is in the world and it honestly moved me to tears. Why should a 13 year old boy have to live with the trauma of being molested and raped multiple times by a stepfather? Why should a 16 year old have to deal with not only the early death of his father but also the fact that memories of his father involve bouts of drinking and abuse? I happened to watch this movie on a day that I was feeling particularly sorry for myself because of a few struggles that paled in comparison to what I was watching on the screen. The world has enough pain on its own without me adding more to the mix.
There is one scene in particular in the movie that really struck me and I wanted to share it here. Through group therapy, individual sessions, and time spent simply talking and playing games in the common area, these youth have begun to process some of the intense emotions that have been locked in for so long and found their expression in ways that are a danger to self and others. There are intense interpersonal conflicts and alliances that form through this process, but there is one moment in the film in which they all come together in a Gestalt-like release of emotion while moshing to a Deftones song. Even Zooey Deschanel’s character, though she watches from the sidelines, seems to gain insight from watching this all unfold around her.
My favorite part about this scene is delivered by Don Cheadle, playing the staff psychologist, who sees the scene and seems to understand the importance of what lies beneath. While most adults would view this as a group of rowdy teens disturbing the peace and causing destruction, he sees something else. He sees a group of kids who have been forced to grow up far too quickly in a world that is far too painful. He sees that while it is important to teach kids respect and healthy ways of expression, perhaps the power of this shared emotional experience outweighs the potential damage done by allowing it to continue.
After all, the emotion has to come out somehow and there are much more destructive ways of expressing it.