When Mom Can't Make It All Better

I happened to actually turn on the TV on Thursday night, which is a rare occurrence for me, and the movie Medurat Hashevet (Campfire) by Josef Cedar was on. I loved that movie when it first came out in 2004 and I loved watching it again, especially after thinking about A Mother in Israel's post What Defines Israeli Parenting?

All of the classic Israeli aspects of childraising are in the movie- the independence (the main character, Tami, spends lots of time on her own, and the climactic moment of the movie actually happens because she's at an unsupervised Lag B'Omer campfire); the mother who tries to be authoritative but sensitive but is too self absorbed by her own traumas to follow through on either well; the insularity of the religious neighborhood that tries to fend off the "bad kids" from the poorer neighborhood next door. It's really a fantastic movie and worth renting if you haven't seen it yet.

One element that really struck me after this viewing was Tami's reaction to her trauma. In most Hollywood movies and TV shows, when something bad happens to a child (Tami is 15), the normal reaction is for the child to report what happened directly to her parents or siblings or another trusted adult. Tami doesn't say a word to anyone. When her sister asks what happened and tries to get her to talk, she refuses and says she's ok. When her mother tries the same, after saying she's not angry, same thing happens. The movie ends, loose ends are tied up, but Tami never discusses what happened with her mom or sister. I thought that was curious and somewhat unsatisfying for the viewer. I wanted her to have that catharsis of spilling everything to her mom and getting comfort, but for some reason Cedar chose to deny us and her that moment.

I think there is something true to life in Tami's reaction. We always assume that kids need to talk, especially when they are in trouble. Maybe sometimes kids need to be alone with their trauma, to work through it themselves. There's a lot in the movie about drawing boundaries within the family- the mother gets angry in the beginning when the older daughter locks her bedroom door and fools around with her boyfriend. She breaks the window on the door as punishment. When Tami locks her door to be alone, the mother reminds her "We don't lock doors in this house!". I think Tami's silence is part of that process of creating boundaries and defining herself.


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