May 272011

The movie “28 Days” explores the experience of social intoxication, its consequences, and the experience of rehabilitation therapy. It did not seem compelling or motivating; the plot was more of a device to splice together caricatures of people and situations. That observation stayed with me throughout the film and was so perplexing that I watched the first third of the film again with director’s commentary set on. Although the director had once been in rehab, none of the commentary dwelt on alcoholism, but only on their experiences in solving challenges presented by the various scenes. They did not seem to have any concept or interest in presenting a message.

The initial token scenes depict a cultural of thoughtless social drinking; indifferent to consequences. Flashbacks to Gwen’s childhood “explain” how she got in this condition. Her drunken state at her sister’s wedding is glared at in disapproval as it becomes more and more grotesque. Everybody seems willing to just watch as she self-destructs.

Next, we see her in a therapy session where she shows self-contempt and self-destructiveness while tossing off trite aphorisms about drinking. She is in denial: “I don’t have a problem. I’m just having fun. I can control myself. I could quit if I wanted to.”

In a defining moment, we see Gwen throwing her drugs down the drain. In a 12-step program, we are treated to: “Man, this is not a way to live. This is a way to die.” We are shown that old relationships have the power to lure her back.

Entering rehab, Gwen feels pain and self-pity and concludes that living is losing. We get unsatisfying lines like: “Everybody hurts everybody”, “I liked you better the old way”, and “Hurting yourself feels better than everything else.” As a victim, she concludes that life is unfair and uses that as an excuse to abandon self-control.

Her turnaround begins with conversations with a fellow rehab patient—a baseball pitcher. He treats her to his philosophy that: “You should only worry about the things you can control,” and “The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results.” Preparing to leave the rehab facility, she has the catharsis of confession and is told: “Those are just the things you’ve done; not who you are.”

Gwen finds some support with her sister and discovers that she should have been willing to ask for help because she needed it just like everybody does. She discovers that all her old friends and patterns of life have to be left behind in order to avoid relapsing. Finally, the shallow summary lines are: “We are our own worst enemy or best friend.” And “You have to get help to help yourself.”

I was disappointed that the movie rarely went more than skin deep, did not present sympathetic characters, and relied so heavily on lightweight, self-help, pop psychobabble. It felt more like a connect-the-dots “don’t drink” cartoon for adolescents or a vehicle to market Sandra Bullock in a “serious” role. I was, however, especially fascinated by the rehab set location at an historic Boy Scout lodge, just outside of Black Mountain, North Carolina, that I have visited on several occasions.

Copyright 2009, David Satterlee

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