Posted on August 2, 2016

Lights Out: Living life while trying to stay in control.

Gwen

PG-13   |   2016   |   David Sandberg   |   81 min   |   (USA)

If you are looking for a review of the film, you won’t find it here (but you will find plot spoilers so proceed with caution). While I found the film worthwhile, I was more captivated by the function of the monster rather than the storyline. Therefore, this piece focuses on the monster rather than the movie. It was clear to me that the film’s underlying narrative is about the struggles of living life with a major depressive disorder.[1] However, I could not help but see the film two-fold with the antagonist Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey) serving both as a manifestation of Sophie’s (Maria Bello) debilitating depression as well as her abusive partner.[2] Let me elaborate.

In order for me to better explain my point of view, let’s review some of the background. Sophie grew up struggling with depression which led to a childhood admission to an inpatient psychiatric hospital. While in this hospital, Sophie meets Diana and forges a friendship as healthy as a host to its succubus. Diana is in the hospital for manipulating her father into killing himself by inserting her thoughts into his head. Once in the hospital, Diana locates her next plaything in the form of Sophie, and, as we come to see, Diana plays for keeps. During a mishap in the hospital, Diana passes away and somehow becomes fused into Sophie’s psyche.Cut to the present day: Sophie has two kids Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) and Martin (Gabriel Bateman), a current husband Paul (Billy Burke), and a former husband who ran off. It becomes clear that Sophie’s mental status significantly impacts the daily life of her family. The film posits that Diana appears when Sophie is at her worst, i.e., not taking her medications nor attending her therapy appointments. This sounds all pretty formulaic on the surface. Girl suffering from major depressive disorder; girl does not follow treatment plan; girl suffers from psychotic features (i.e., Diana); family and livelihood suffer. This doesn’t settle well for me.

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I can readily accept that Sophie suffers from a disease. And the consequences of this disease can wreak havoc on the lives of loved ones if left untreated.[3] However, I see Diana as more than a manifestation of Sophie’s unstable mind. I see her as Sophie’s abusive partner. No, I don’t mean in the biblical sense but rather in the sense of a person that came into her life and stole all her power. Once Diana crosses into the physical realm she becomes…some…thing, or someone and therefore much more than a manifestation of one woman’s mind.

Let’s take a step back and review the ways that Diana parallels a classic abuser.[4] Diana keeps track of everything that Sophie does all the time. She prevents Sophie from having any meaningful interactions, isolates her from the world, and prevents her from going to work. We see this clearly as Diana drove Sophie’s first husband away, removed the current husband from the picture, alienated Rebecca, and is pushing Martin to the brink. Diana destroys everything that Sophie cares about. Furthermore, Diana has a rigid regimen of rules that everyone in the home must follow or face physical violence, threats, or intimidation. Several times throughout the film, we hear Sophie plead, to no avail, for Diana not to hurt her children. The film is peppered with statements by Sophie that indicate classic domestic abuse victimology. Sophie struggles to sever ties from Diana, she makes excuses for her behavior, lies about the truth, blames herself, and suffers from frequent relapses into comfortable discomfort. In essence, Diana is a manipulative control freak who blames everyone else for her problems and Sophie is caught up in her vicious cycle.

One could argue that it is Sophie’s depression that is causing the negative outcomes and driving her family away. I argue that once Diana was able to move outside the boundaries of Sophie’s mind, as well as beyond Sophie’s physical location, then Diana became a real “thing.” Furthermore in her ability to physically hurt and/or kill those close to Sophie, Diana moves from being a manifestation to a real and malignant abuser. An abuser so real that Sophie has to secretly slip a note to her daughter stating “I need help.”

How does this all end… well, I will leave at least that for you to see on your own. I can tell you there is some controversy over the ending. Is it all a culmination of untreated and chronic mental health, or is it classic abuse? You will have to be the judge of that. What I will weigh in on is that, despite controversy, I thought the ending was profound and provocative. I loved it.

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[1]Director David Sandberg discusses his intent to use depression as key narrative in Lights Out (2016) http://www.avclub.com/article/lights-out-director-david-sandberg-defends-ending–240341

[2] Shout out to Maria Bello who is a native of PA and also a kick ass actress!

[3] For more information and resources on mental illness see http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers

[4] For more information and resources on abuse and domestic violence see: http://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/

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