From Les Miserables to Silver Linings Playbook to Flight, death and grief are major themes in this year's Oscar nominated films. The often taboo topic of how people deal with the death of someone close seems to have also reached a fever pitch in TV shows such as Private Practice, and Go On. The film makers and writers must be applauded for daring to expose viewers to such intimate portrayals of the grief process.
Consider these four characters from this year's films and TV shows that illustrate a wide variety of grief reactions:
Guilt and Isolation
William (Flight): William or "Whip" Whitaker was the pilot of a plane that malfunctioned. In his attempts to save the lives of everyone on board, William completes an incredibly difficult landing maneuver, Although 96 out of the 102 people survive, William is left with mixed emotions. Part of him feels relieved and capable, while another part of him feels guilty and responsible for the deaths of the flight attendant with whom he had a romantic relationship and five others. Already a struggling alcoholic and drug user, Whip begins drinking and taking drugs more heavily and even denies in court that he has done anything wrong. Succumbing to the enormity of his guilt, William pushes away the people trying to help him, just when he needs them the most.
Anne (Go On on NBC): Anne, recently widowed after the death of her partner, worries that if she lets her sadness out, she'll slow down to the point where she will not be able to function. She channels her energy into being angry, infuriated that her partner was the stay-at-home-mom, while she had to take on the role of breadwinner. Anne resents that everything is so much harder now and struggles with the unfairness of it all. Like many people, Anne finds that anger, a natural reaction to grief, is sometimes easier to express than sadness.
Taking a Grief Detour
Tiffany (Silver Linings Playbook): Towards the beginning of the movie, we are introduced to Tiffany, a young woman grieving the death of her husband who was killed in a car accident five years prior. Tiffany's initial response to her all-consuming grief is to sleep with just about everyone she works with. This action serves to distract her from her grief, and get her fired, but does little for healing her heart. We later witness Tiffany's self-defeating, risky behavior subside as she recognizes and expresses her feelings and reengages with life.
Finding Hope for the Future
Violet (Private Practice on ABC): After struggling throughout the season with the sudden death of her husband, Violet recognizes in the series finale that being a widow does not mean that her life is over. Her friend, Dr. Sam Bennett, inspires Violet to write a book, and helps her see that she has a full life ahead of her. Violet makes a commitment to invest more time and energy into raising her son and remain open to the possibility of finding love again one day. Although the concept of again having a life filled with happiness and joy seems impossible at first, little by little healing happens and hope for the future emerges.
Implications for our Lives
Death is a universal part of the human experience; and grief is a natural response to a death. Each of these films provides a realistic, up close and personal glimpse into the world of grief as we observe the diverse physical, emotional, behavioral, and spiritual responses to the deaths that occur. Viewers are given the opportunity to grapple with their own attitudes and reactions as they reflect upon the characters' grief experiences, gradually making their way through the tidal waves of feelings, and finding hope for the future.
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