29 Sep M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN’S THE VISIT: 4 Signs Loss And Guilt Are Too Scary To Feel
M. Night Shyamalan’s new psychological horror film, The Visit, has twists and turns and unexpected surprises that I wouldn’t think of revealing. Of course, this film has one of Shyamalan’s shock endings – it wouldn’t be a Shyamalan film without it. But for me as a psychoanalyst, there’s something else of more interest. What this film’s characters tell us about the ability or inability to work out the sometimes very scary feelings of loss and guilt.
In The Visit, we have a family – a Mom (Kathryn Hahn), a 15-year-old daughter, Becca (Olivia DeJonge), and a 13-year-old son, Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) who have gone through a very jolting loss. The Dad (Benjamin Kanes) abandoned them for another woman several years ago. Each is dealing with their feelings of grief and guilt in the only ways they can without any real help. Each uses one of various self-protective maneuvers to manage loss.
1. Trying not to think about it
Sadness can seem way too much to feel. In The Visit, Becca and Tyler’s mom is doing her best to be cheerful and present, but isn’t at all over being abandoned by her husband. Hasn’t gotten over, either, that she fought brutally with her parents to marry the guy who ended up leaving her, as her parents had warned.
Her shame and guilt preoccupy her. But because she’s afraid her sadness will overwhelm her, she soldiers on by doing everything she can to not think about it. Not to feel what she feels.
She’s a good mom, loves her kids, but since she isn’t able to grieve the losses of her husband or her parents, she can’t help Becca or Tyler. When a mom is battling against her own difficult feelings alone, her children are left alone, too, to manage theirs.
2. A detached observer
Becca hides behind her camera making a documentary of her mom’s life that will not include her dad. She’s a detached observer, wanting to make things OK, even better than OK, for her troubled Mom – and herself. She’ll be the one that gets forgiveness for her Mom from her grandparents.
As aware as she is of her Mom’s hurt, she’s unaware of her own. Becca detaches from feelings as if they don’t exist. That’s her symptom. Sadness can be scary, even terrifying. Especially if those feelings go unexpressed, have no outlet or ear to listen, and are accompanied by deep feelings of guilt (in most cases, not rational). This scariness is true for Becca – and Tyler.
3. A phobic response
Tyler tries to detach from his sadness, too. He’s all too rational: “Well, life just changes and people find something better.” As if his dad’s leaving doesn’t bother him at all; is an every day occurrence.
Yet, Tyler’s the most obviously symptomatic. He has a germ phobia. Tyler’s germs, his buried feelings – are always threatening to return and infect him. That’s how feelings are. They don’t go away, even if you want them to.
We eventually find that Tyler froze on the baseball field as a small boy and thinks he failed his dad. He believes, in his little boy’s mind, that this is the reason his dad left. He irrationally blames himself, and these feelings of guilt are blown out of proportion, blocking out the better times and love given.
4. Disturbed behavior and/or panicked flight
Then, there’s “Nana” (Deanna Dunagan). She’s another case entirely. As viewers will see with “Nana’s” history, sometimes cruel or even destructive things are done. That kind of real guilt is impossible to touch.
Becca and Tyler’s “Nana” can’t approach anything to do with her past without extreme panic. Her kind of avoidance results in very troubling and bizarre behaviors. These are a result of the feelings she can’t come even close to being reminded of. As if the reminder itself is an accusation.
When Becca interviews “Nana” for her documentary – any question that arouses feelings of guilt or sadness is met with horror and immediate running away. People like “Nana” are mistrustful and suspicious – and ready to “kill” if anyone gets close to their feelings. There is too much unmanageable terror in facing what has happened or been done.
None of these 4 methods for trying to manage sadness and guilt works. Feelings, of course, don’t go away, even if you think they’re gone. They get buried, or you distract yourself, or they turn into troubling symptoms. Like Tyler’s germ phobia or “Nana’s” bizarre behavior. These symptoms may seem unrelated but aren’t. Feelings need to be felt. Often that requires help.
Finding your way to the other side of grief and guilt is possible when help (or unavoidable events) allow you to face your sadness. For Becca and Tyler and Mom (much less troubled than “Nana”), this is what we finally see in The Visit.
Tyler is convinced, with Becca’s help, that it isn’t his fault their Dad left. Becca remembers the good and loving times. Mom is able to grieve her losses, feel sad she couldn’t face her mistakes earlier to reconcile with her Mom and Dad. Finally, she forgives herself.
This is the best of grieving. When losses are felt and cried about for as long as needed, sadness becomes relieving – and not so scary. Guilt, too, can be seen for what it is and put in its proper place – as normal regret. You find that you’re only human. Life can begin again.