Processing trauma through stories

Joshua Kerr highlights three recent pieces of fiction that examine trauma in a helpful, accessible way.

Image credit: Netflix

Is anyone else completely worn out on theoretical discussions of trauma in the church and academia? As important as they are, I have had my fill and then some. We have all been rattled by the last few years. And, yes, the church does need to adapt. But I can only have this conversation so many times.

While I am burned out on what have been constant trauma discussions with colleagues, I have been pleasantly surprised by stories in movies and television shows that have explored trauma as a central theme. Through these fictional stories, I have been blessed to consider and confront the issue of trauma without the boredom and fatigue of more typical church and academic discussions. Just as the Bible invites us to consider the holy through the stories of God’s people, these trauma-driven stories allow us to explore deeply personal, often guarded, emotions through the experiences of well-conceived characters. One of the best things about fiction? Sometimes this processing happens when we don’t realize it. Here are some of my recent favorites.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”

Photo credit: Disney+

Based on the Marvel Comic character and available to stream on Disney+, this movie follows family members dealing with trauma and grief in very different ways following a profound loss. The main character attempts to run away and hide from his trauma, another family member turns to violence, another climbs the ladder to cover their grief with wealth and success. The story and the family at its center come together when an unknown evil exploits one character’s grief to destroy anything that might oppose it. A lesson this movie teaches viewers is that pain and trauma can make us especially vulnerable to those who might exploit us through it.

“Star Trek: Discovery” (Season 4)

Photo Cr: James Dimmock/CBS © 2020 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.

One of the latest and more innovative iterations of the famous franchise, “Discovery,” streaming on Paramount+, “boldly goes” where no “Star Trek” show or movie has gone before, diving into issues such as sexuality, gender identity, violence and, in this fourth season, trauma. The story centers on a disaster of horrifying scale and how those remaining, including those who have lost loved ones, deal with this traumatic experience. Prominent characters become violent extremists, willing to destroy and kill those responsible for the disaster to prevent it from happening again, all while their dearest friends do their best to stop them at all costs. This season gives an empathetic view of those radicalized by real trauma and wrestles with questions of duty and personal loyalty, all while placing beautifully acted emotion appropriately at the center of characters’ decision-making.

“Stranger Things” (Season 4)

Image credit: Netfilx

The community of Hawkins, Indiana, has born more than its fair share of tragedy and trauma. Even without the monsters and curses surrounding this city, its denizens deal with the same abusive relationships, mental health challenges and tragic accidents as every other community. Add a heavy dose of powerful evil and you have the world the young heroes of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” must face. Season 4 picks up not long after Season 3 concludes, and many of the protagonists are dealing (or not dealing) with the trauma of their previous heroics. One character reacts to this trauma by withdrawing from friends and pretending that nothing is wrong, making her especially vulnerable to this season’s monster. Season 4 emphasizes the power of caring relationships and the need to confront past trauma. While this season includes a fair amount of disturbing imagery, its witness to the power of friendship and the need for healing after trauma is profound.

Note: If you are struggling with trauma, grief, or just feel like you are struggling in general, please reach out for some help. Each of us needs some extra support at times. Please consider whether viewing media exploring trauma would be a healthy thing for you before diving in. These stories were enlightening and healing for me, but others may have different reactions.