Grief. We’ve all experienced something in our lives that have made us feel pain, that has made us feel like is the end of the world and that our lives as we know it will never be the same, we’ve all have felt aimless and lost, we’ve all had grieved.
As pain and grief are the most common human emotions, is only suitable that TV and movies have bend over backwards along the way to portray their interpretations and representations around the subject, some more faithfully than others. But with a matter such as thorny as it is, most of them fell flat with their intents.
Movies as The Lovely Bones (2009), What Dreams May Come (1998) and Antichrist (2009), though, have found creative and over-the-top narratives (an after-death narration, a journey to the afterlife and a couple who recluse themselves into a cabin with devastating consequences, consecutively) that have successfully managed to shown us different ways of people going through grief and loss whilst trying to understand how finite life is and how useless can be trying to find any type of sense out of it.
The same thing has happened throughout lots of TV shows, whilst Six Feet Under (2001-2005) found its bases around grief with a family that owns a funeral home, Pushing Daisies (2007-2008) constantly used paranormal tools within its narrative in order to explain the scope that a person can reach when is grieving.
These particular stories —especially those represented on television — have had meaning and resonance, not only because of their really well-thought arcs but for their attempt on describing the feelings behind someone’s loss. Grief is not beautiful or contemplative, but rather difficult and hard to watch.
Nowadays, there are three shows that are dealing with this subject in a thought-provoking manner, that not also have maintained its focus on their characters but also in the many many ways they represent grief: Netflix’s Maniac, Facebook Watch very first show, Sorry For Your Loss and Showtime’s Kidding.
Maniac tells us the story of Owen (Jonah Hill) and Annie (Emma Stone) two individuals who participate on a scientific trial that is trying to find a medicine that would help people to overcome their mental issues without going through therapy.
Annie is a stubborn pill addict who has not yet dealt with her sister Ellie’s (Julia Garner) death and is constantly inducing herself into hallucinations trips —with the help of one of the trial’s pill— that would help her to relieve that particular moment of her life. She doesn’t want to forget her sister, even if that means going back to experience, again and again, the worst day of her life.
Sorry For Your Loss, on the other hand, has Leigh (Elizabeth Olsen) a woman who has recently lost her husband Matt (Mamoudou Athie) on a jogging accident and, instead of confronting that very idea, she prefers to recuse herself on her mother’s home, waiting for everything to go away.
KIdding introduces us to Jeff (Jim Carrey) a man who’s trying to deal with his son Will’s (Cole Allen) demise by using his children’s TV show as an excuse to teach kids some knowledge about grief and loss, all of this whilst looking for ways to get back into his ex-wife’s life.
As we can see, these characters are hurting in ways we can’t even process, but thanks to the magic of TV we can try to understand it.
What really struck me the most, and stuck around my head for a long time, was the different approaches these shows used to portray grief. In Maniac‘s case, grief is something that unites people and keeps them together. In this world, the only thing that Annie and Owen share is pain, and that’s the reason why in most of their induced hallucinations they keep bumping into each other, because they understand what they have been through and recognise each other in the other one.
This show ‘s constant use of colourful hallucinations is its way to represent all the lies that we tell everybody and, especially, to each us when we are suffering. When we’re grieving we prefer to tell ourselves a different kind of story, one that does not involve confrontation at all, or any type of contact with reality, whatsoever; but that changes when someone who has been through something similar finds a way to enter our lives.
One of Maniac‘s biggest statements is that human bonds are crucial and really necessary in order to reach some kind of personal development, and they are especially strong when they are used to help cure one another. Grief is hard, yes, but is also something you can live with when you have someone by your side that really understands you.
In Sorry For Your Loss, grief is something we need to live in order to face our worst fears. Leigh lived constantly in fear throughout all her marriage because of her husband’s depression. Fear of not understanding anything related to his mental disease and the scope of it within their relationship. Fear of not being as supportive as he needs her to be because of her own misunderstanding about depression. Fear of being left alone.
But Leigh is not alone, she has he a supporting mother, Amy (Janet McTeer), and her unconditional sister, Jules (Kelly Marie Tran), that are there for her. Sorry For Your Loss, like Maniac, tries to make a case about human connection and loss, but, rather than focusing on the idea that strength comes from the similarities you share with your loved ones, it states it on their differences.
Amy and Jules do share lovely times with Leigh as they support her with her grieving in any kind of way she requires them to, but they also push her to confront her reality and the fears she had have since her husband’s death.
If anything of this hasn’t happened, Leigh will probably have learned to deal with it but on a totally different pace and without acknowledging it as fears, but rather as minor inconveniences along the way.
Losing someone is really painful, but what Sorry For Your Loss is trying to tell us is that grief is also necessary to help us overcome our greatest fears. Without any type of confrontation, we would never be able to grow until we deal with our reality and the ideas we create in order to cope with it.
Kidding has its novelty on the way it portrays Jeff. He is a deeply wounded character, one that not only had to go through the death of one of his children but also by struggling to connect with his wife afterwards. Unlike Maniac and Sorry For Your Loss, that thrive on the importance of grief as a necessity for bonding and connection, this show isolates its grieving characters.
In this show, grief is an incredible opportunity to learn and teach in return. Jeff, being a host of a children show, decides to use its spotlight to shine a light on different issues that a regular network wouldn’t consider children-friendly, like death, loss and heartache. Granted, he does that to avoid thinking about his own suffering while, and unknowingly, he learns another way to grieve: talking about it with total strangers.
As we can see, grief can represent a lot of different things, a bond between individuals, a confrontational tool or even a teaching moment. If there’s something that televisión — and especially these TV shows— has taught us is that what really matters when we have to deal with grief is not how we cope with it, but rather how we chose to live with it while it lasts.