So I love ghost stories at Christmas. It's certainly in the tradition of my family and I think in the tradition of Ireland in general.
I would like to introduce you to a film that I watched recently with my family.
I think this is a really interesting film for SE practitioners to watch - particularly in understanding the impact of traumatic events in cultures not dominated by northern European / US cultural dominance. It is also an intelligent horror film. By that I mean it is in the tradition of the Turn of the Screw or Babadook when we are never sure if this is a story of mental illness or supernatural occurrences.
The film is called His House (Netflix 2020) and was both written and directed by Remi Weekes from a story by Felicity Evans and Toby Venables. Starring Wunmi Mosaku, Sope Dirisu and Matt Smith, this film tells the story of a refugee couple from South Sudan who are seeking asylum and then struggling to adjust to their new life in an English town. Of course, they are allocated a house on a run-down estate where they encounter dire poverty, fear, ignorance, suspicion, racism and cruelty both from the people living there and the support services.
Their dissociated experience is central to the film. They are living through “functional immobility” which, according to Peter Levine, is often identified as PTSD. Their isolation is mirrored in our separateness from them as we observe of their experience.
The awfulness of the situation for this couple is ever-present and begins to affect their relationship. The man is encouraged by social services to do the house up but of course they have no money and cannot work. The woman is lost in this environment and yearns to go home despite the horror of what that might mean. Her husband, on the other hand, tries to accept the “reality” that they have no option but to stay in England. This is the expression of their individual survival strategies. We are, again, exposed to the terrible distress of being forced from your own land and culture to make a life in an unknown and often hostile environment – an historical experience for us here in Ireland.
Then strange events start to happen as more of the story unfolds in fragmented memory. The strange events occur in the household as their memories emerge and blend with these events. Interestingly - all credit to the film maker - we do not see the couple as victims but as taking action to try to save their lives in this foreign land. In the depths of their terror they begin to experience their capacity to survive - even if we Europeans are shocked by their decisions. We are caught in a kaleidoscope of their lives outside of our cultural experience and we touch our own helplessness and anguish as we watch what seems to be the fragmentation of their lives, alone in this foreign place.
The film is resolved within the context of their cultural and political experience which is incomprehensible and inexplicable to social services and to the agencies that are designated with the task of resettling and supporting the resettlement of these people. By the end of what is, in effect, a hopeful film, there is integration of the terrible events, though not in the way we expect. The couple reconnect with each other and their cultural identity. This is a reflection of human coherence and capacity.Interestingly, their new understanding based in the acceptance of the importance of their cultural traditions, is recognizable to us as Irish people who are not yet as steeped in “modern” materialist culture as some would like to believe.
This is well worth watching and it would be interesting for us maybe to talk about it after people have watched it. We may all experience the same physiology of trauma, but the cultural context and unique life history influences how we survive and reconnect with our coherence and capacity.