Something a little different for you today… I’m going to do a film review!
Well a sort of deep dive into a film which may make you’ll look at a little differently!
I’m a big film fan! I love stories being brought to life. Creating emotions and different responses through the moving image, music and actors, it’s spellbinding thing!
You might not know that I studied film and television at college. But I decided to go along a different path once I’d finished. I love films but I decided I didn’t want to make them and spoil the magic!
The film I want to talk to you about today is Elizabethtown. Now you’ll find it in the romantic section of most streaming services or you can find it on DVD in charity shops. It was made in 2005 and stars Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst along with some other famous faces!
But the romance between Drew and Claire isn’t going to be the main focus of our discussion today but it’s the mental health side of things, in particular grief and the related depression I want to highlight.
If you haven’t seen the film then feel free to stop the podcast here, seek it out and come back and listen as I’m going to take you through quite a few key bits of the film. Or listen and watch it again if you have seen it.
All those still with me…. Let’s go!
We first meet Drew as he makes his way to an “important meeting” which ends with him talking to a reporter to explain what had gone wrong.
The shoe he had created and been supported by the company to create and bring to market, had boomed, costing the company that much it could frankly be rounded up to a Billion dollars. As his boss so nicely tells him as he shows him the door!
Drew is fine! And he keeps telling everyone who asks just that, but as he arrives home to his apartment, he packs up his possessions, gets out an exercise machine and straps a kitchen knife to it.
He puts all his stuff outside
He tests the machine
And prepares to commit suicide…..
His whole work life, 8 long years, has been focused on one thing, he has given it everything, missing family gatherings and even the previous Christmas for the shoe project and it has completely crashed and burned….
He has been fired
He has been blamed
He has lost everything he worked so hard for.
I can understand how he got to the point of being sat in front of the knife on an exercise bike and what might be going through his head. I say I can understand but I’ve never been in that situation And as he prepares to flip the switch… his phone rings.
He acknowledges it, ignores it and turns his attention back to the bike but it rings again and this time he answers.
On the other end of the line is his sister and she tells him “Dad’s dead!”
I’m not sure his day could have got much worse on the surface but that call topped it off for sure! He couldn’t just check out, his family needs his support. His mother and sister are in shock and who wouldn’t be?
“If it wasn’t this it would be something else”
Throughout the film, there is a narrative we hear from Drew, giving us an insight into his thoughts and here is a great example. As they arrive at the airport together, they have a moment together embraced and they say their fathers iconic phase “If it wasn’t this it would be something else!”
What phase! It puts life into a totally different perspective. For me this is the start of Drew’s journey through his grief. He has a lot to deal with and his family has no idea what’s going on. This is illustrated by the narrative as Drew walks away, he is saying, I’ll go to Kentucky, put him in the blue suit and then get back on that bike!
I’m sure we’ve all been in a situations where we have had to put our feelings and problems to one side. To deal with something else, but this is an extreme version! As I watch this film, six years after a devastating loss and I can see that it is easy to put things to one side and not deal with them but they will need to be dealt with at some point so always be aware of that and be prepared for things to come to the surface!
On the flight across the country, Drew meets Claire!
Claire is the only flight attendant, on the flight. She seems to sense something in Drew once she had convinced him to move into first class and she gets him talking. She is a kind thoughtful person who likes helping others, but she clearly has her own problems, that slowly come out over the film.
It’s clear Drew wants to just get things done with as little hassle as possibly, as little interaction as possible so he can just get back on that bike but Claire can’t help trying to pull
Drew out of himself.
On arrival in his father’s hometown, Drew is greeted by a tight knit community that loved his father, who was related to a good chunk of them and friends with the rest. As he drives through the town, you can sense the exercise bike starting to drift away a bit.
Grief is a journey of unknown twists and turns and over the next few scenes we follow Drew as he meets his family, his senses are overwhelmed, and his shock is clear. The reception from this side of his family who he hasn’t really met is full of energy and love. They are grieving for the same person but are coming from a different place, a more positive outlook all together and Drew is drawn into this environment and outlook. But his shock is clear and he’s doesn’t have time to think or process things.
It’s not until he gets to his hotel room that he gets a moment to himself, a moment to reflect, a moment to process the last 24 hours and he doesn’t know what to do! Which is totally natural, so much has happened and I think its great for it to be illustrated in a film, that it’s okay to not be okay when the shit hits the fan, in a big way! He isn’t ready to be alone so he reaches out to people but none of them answer. Then he ends up on the phone with three people all at once!
His sister demands he comes home
His ex-girlfriend wants to get rid of him
But Claire wants to listen and talk. And they end up talking for hours. They talk about every conceivable topic and just as they should be getting into bed, they decide to meet in the middle!
What is great about this exchange between them is that Claire uses her knowledge and experience with people to keep Drew distracted and up, talking about everything as well as the important emotions related to his current work situation and his father’s death. This is a great skill and if you have it, use it to help your nearest and dearest and if someone is talking to you and trying to help you process things, then let then and work through them so you can come out the other side.
There are so many things Drew is dealing with all at once and normally you may be dealing with just one but it doesn’t make it any easier! Even if he was just dealing with the differences in opinion about how his father should be remembered or the loss of his job or the ending of a relationship, the grief would still be there, and it would still need to be dealt with.
Over the course of the film there are some great moments, between Claire and Drew, they get to know each other but more than that there are some great moments that chart Drew’s journey through personal tragedy and then a family death to finding a new purpose in life and finding love in a very unexpected place.
Halfway through the film Drew is starting to gain a positive sense of self, he’s bright faced and energised by life but you continue to see moments of his inner struggles.
I love how this film doesn’t hide away from the ups and downs of the journey through grief and depression. It shows you that it’s okay to not be okay and I know that phase is used a lot these days but it is true. There are still days now that I don’t feel okay about something but I know that it will just be one day because I took time to deal with the grief of things.
I want to jump a little here, to the exchange in the street aft they spend the night together is heart breaking to see. Drew spills out all of the things he’s been hiding from whilst trying to be responsible and deal with his family emergency as quickly as he can so he can go back and have his “dark appointment with destiny”
What he doesn’t bank on Claire’s reaction….
She calls him out on his failure. She says it over and over again, making it smaller and ending with “you think I care about that?”
The thing that Drew has been beating himself up about, thinking there was no other way out other than suicide, Claire has put a completely different outlook and perspective on it. Claire imparts some wise words on to Drew here; “Have the courage to fail big and stick around, make them wonder why you’re still smiling! That’s true greatness to me!”
It's truly an amazing feeling to get a different perspective on something that can be so all consuming to you but to someone else it is almost irrelevant, unimportant or trivial. Now you have to be careful how you frame this to another person and be careful but helping someone to see something differently can be massive for them!
Throughout the memorial and the transformation of his mother, you see a change in Drew. For me here you see the possibilities that lay ahead instead of the tragedy that is behind, and Drew sees them for the first time here too!
Claire arrives to drop off a unique map and once again provides a great piece of advice “I want you to get into the deep, beautiful melancholy of everything that’s happened”
This is a place you can go, I’ve been there, it’s part of the journey of grief whether its grief for a person, a job, a life you had, a pet or a relationship, you have to come to terms with it and feel it!
There are several stages of grief: Shock and denial, anger and bargaining, pain and guilt, depression, upward turn, reconstruction and working through and then acceptance and hope.
The stages of grief are different for everyone and you experience them differently at different stages of life and for different things and for different people. The key and repeated word there, DIFFERENT, is the one thing to keep in mind. Grief is different for everyone!
During the film we see most of them in different people and this is a great representation of grief because you may not experience them at all.
Drew spends most of his time in denial about the loss of his job whilst easily accepting the death of his father at first but then it switches round!
His mother, Holly, starts out in shock and denial and experiences angry but most of all she accepts it and starts reconstruction her life to honour Mitch.
Drew’s sister is very depressed about the loss of her father and can’t deal with it. She also recruits Drew to do things instead.
The family out in Elizabethtown are full of hope and acceptance, they are open armed to this and to letting Drew in to the fold to help him work through his grief.
Drew goes through different stages as the film progresses and as he embarks on his roadtrip home with the unique map from Claire, he goes through them again.
There are some really poignant moments during the road trip but here are my top 3:
1. The five minutes to wallow in the fiasco
2. Taking time to dance alone
3. Getting out unsaid works to Mitch
The last words of the film, spoken by Drew leave a mark that against all the odds thing can happen. I’ll leave you to watch the film to hear them!
I have re-watched this film so many times and it is only recently that I have taken away so much more from it that just a love story.
I want you to take away from this film review, that you approach grief in a different way when it graces your life. Whatever the reason it arrives go through the process with a new sense of how normal it is.
Take time to watch it or re-watch it again and see what you take from it this time
If you are going through the loss of someone or something at the moment, choose wisely when to watch and if you need to speak to someone!
There are some links below to professional but also remember that those closest to you are also going through it too!