Featured image courtesy of The Road Within, 2017
“Shut up you fucking pedophile!”
The movie begins as Vincent (Robert Sheehan) struggles to control his tics at his mother’s funeral, before running out in shame. Once outside, Vincent goes into an uncontrollable burst of tics as he tries to cope with his overwhelming feelings of grief. This first scene sets the tone for the rest of the film as it explores difficult topics such as mental health, addiction, and shame.
Shame is a big deal when it comes to mental health. Somewhere along the line some of us pick up negative coping skills (bad habits) that grow out of control, and we feel ashamed for not being to control ourselves, and our emotions. Instead of processing emotions in a healthy way, some people learn to stuff them down. The problem is that these emotions must come out somewhere. Some people burst out in anger, others engage in repetitive behaviors such as cleaning and organizing, and others abuse substances such as drugs and alcohol to ‘calm their nerves.’
In the movie, Vincent’s emotional discomfort manifests itself through uncontrollable bodily movements and verbal outbursts. Rather than trying to understand and comfort Vincent, his emotionally unavailable father decides to dump him at an experimental treatment center following his mother’s death. On top of that, he blames Vincent for “holding her hand while she drank herself to death.” Who wouldn’t feel bad about themselves after hearing that???
While in treatment, Vincent meets his roommate Alex (Dev Patel), who has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and a female interest, Marie (Zoe Kravitz), who has an eating disorder. Although they all bicker about their differences, the common thread is their inability to properly cope with difficult emotions. Alex is obsessed with cleanliness, and engages in repetitive behaviors such as opening and closing the blinds to temporarily relieve his overwhelming stress. Marie, on the other hand, is an elusive character that protects her fragile self by not letting others too close. Throughout the film we get to see the ups and downs they each go through, while simultaneously laughing with them as they confront the intimately uncomfortable aspects of their lives.
The film brings Vincent, Alex, and Marie closer together when Marie and Vincent conspire to steal Dr. Rose’s (Kyra Sedgwick) car so that Vincent can deliver his mother’s ashes to the ocean. Prior to her death, Vincent was planning to take his mother to the ocean, but he never got the chance to do so. As they execute they’re escape, Alex catches them stealing the car, and they decide to take him along for the ride.
As the three of them attempt to make their way to the ocean, they confront their deepest issues, and learn that “the road within” is the most important one. This journey teaches them that the answers to their deepest issues lye within themselves. They each have to take an honest look within, and have the courage to face their issues head on without the help of their parents or counselors to bail them out when things get difficult.
The lesson in this film is that we each have the resources within us to navigate life’s most difficult moments. The longer we avoid the difficult emotions in our lives, the longer they will stick around, and the louder they will get. We cannot escape the truth within us, and life has its way of proving that. When we stop denying, avoiding, or medicating our emotions, we can begin to heal. Unfortunately, we live in a society based on instant gratification. We want things NOW, and we don’t want to wait. When we feel negative emotions, the first thing we try to do is stop them. By stopping them, denying them or covering them, we give them power. When we learn to accept them, we are finally able to resolve them. Whether or not we believe it, we all have the capacity to do so. As Evelyn Greenslade says in The Exotic Marigold Hotel, “Initially you’re overwhelmed. But gradually you realize it’s like a wave. Resist, and you’ll be knocked over. Dive into it and you’ll swim out the other side.”