09 January 2016

To Care for the Self and for Humanity Itself

Destin Daniel Cretton's Short Term 12 is a story of growth borne from destruction and release in a nearly omnipresent tension.

The film details a few months in the work of Grace (Brie Larson), a director at a state-financed home for troubled teenagers, as she battles with her own painful past while guiding her kids, residents of the home, to overcome their abuse.

When someone new joins the group, the rambunctious Short Term 12 community meets a silence embodied by a confused, depressed, and introverted Jayden Cole (Kaitlyn Dever) who intentionally distances herself by lingering in her bedroom while the group joins together in games and activities. Grace quickly bonds with Jayden over their mutual history of depression and self-harm, even rolling up her own sleeves to show Jayden her history of cutting. And, when Grace's abusive father is reportedly released from prison, they begin to share one more treacherous trait.

Ultimately, Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.), Grace's coworker-turned-boyfriend, engenders the crux of the film—In attempting to guide her kids to better, happier lives, she fails to follow the lessons she teaches, and her decaying mental health damages both her own life and those of her kids.

This represents a larger, more universal conflict: At what point must we abandon our posts and care for ourselves, when the time we take off nearly directly translates to a worsened life for others? The repercussions of this dilemma transcend far beyond the intricacies of a single communal home for troubled teenagers, as we must ask ourselves this question in our own mundane lives. Is our work synonymous with our passion, and do either help serve the benefit of humanity? Is our "freetime" even free, or must we also dedicate that to ameliorate the amenities of our contemporaries? How may we genuinely justify a break?

Short Term 12 offers one response, that self-care and communal work need not prevail as a zero-sum game, that Grace may help assuage her own worries while encouraging Jayden to leave her abusive home, but it needs not be the only response.

The beauty of Short Term 12 is in its testimony to empathy across social boundaries and service to our fellow human beings. But, even further, the film demonstrates via chilling examples that all will work out in the end, and we just need to hold on for the ride.

Grace (Brie Larson) faces Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.) and discusses her own problems amid her work at the Short Term 12 community home.
Image Courtesy of Cinedigm and Demarest Films

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