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Analysis of Trauma in Reign Over Me

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Lexi Buckheit

on 27 April 2014

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Transcript of Analysis of Trauma in Reign Over Me

Analysis of Trauma in Reign Over Me
On one of the most tragic days in American history,
September 11th, 2001
, caused hundreds of American families to have to experience unspeakable tragedy. This tragedy has been portrayed in various films and works. One such work is the movie
Reign Over Me.
The film follows a dentist,
Alan Johnson
, in his quest to help his old college roommate,
Charlie Fineman
, deal with the trauma and grief he is experiencing after the
loss of his entire family
. Charlie’s family was on one of the flights that crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11th. In addition to the loss of the family dog, he
loses his wife and his three daughters
. Alan runs into Charlie and it is clear to him that Charlie is
suffering to cope
with the loss of his family. It becomes Alan’s mission to help Charlie with the emotional turmoil he is experiencing and help him learn how to cope. Through the film Charlie exhibits many different symptoms of various psychological problems such as
Complicated Grief
Interpersonal Analysis
After a traumatic loss, interpersonal connections that once came easy to individuals can suddenly become difficult:
Charlie lost his entire family, which forced him to escape any sort of interpersonal connections that reminded him of his wife and children.
His in-laws and friends became a part of his life that he ignored and pretended didn't exist.
Charlie exhibits symptoms of CG such as marked loneliness and detachment from others (Gupta & Bonanno, 2011):

This is seen in Charlie’s lack of friendships and relationships in his life.
Prior to Alan and Charlie reconnecting, the only people Charlie has in his life are his landlord and his accountant.

The difficulty Charlie is having may be due to problems with his expressive flexibility (Gupta & Bonanno, 2011):

For example, when Alan’s father dies.
Feeling sadness and grief reminds him of his own trauma and therefore cannot relate to Alan in that way.
The cost of not being able to express certain emotions is that individuals who report using a high level of expressive suppression have received lower peer ratings of closeness and likeability. This means that if a person is seen to be suppressing emotions, friends of this person may feel less close to the individual.
Also, Charlie has certain emotions that he is unable to suppressed.
For example, when he was asked if he ever missed being a dentist.
Having emotional outburst like this make it difficult to maintain normal relationships and friendships.
Luckily, Alan sticks by Charlie in the hopes that one day he’ll be able to convince him to get help.
Historical & Theoretical Introduction
Grief has been discussed for centuries, starting with
in 1651.
Benjamin Rush
Charles Darwin
, and
A.F. Shand
all discussed the topic in some way or another recognizing core ideas. For example, that people
grieve differently
and the various ways people manage their grief, like crying.

ideas are the

to the modern study of grief. He recognized that it could become pathological if not dealt with properly.
noted that the purpose of grieving was to
preserve the relationship
with the deceased in some way.
Helene Deutsch
recognized that grief does

the same
. She explained that mourning can become problematic in both situations of the
of mourning and
mourning. She introduced the idea that if grief goes unexpressed it can become pathological.
discovered a new way of classifying psychological symptoms which lead to the development of the first

. This ultimately led to a change in thinking about grief.
Grief shifted from being viewed strictly as a psychoanalytic concept to a more
diagnostic pathology
that could be treated by a psychiatrist or other mental health professional.
Cultural/Social Context
Terrorist events are different then natural or technological disasters because they are deliberately aimed to inflict harm on civilian populations and result in a considerable loss of life:
Nationwide studies suggest that 4-11% of the United States knew someone who was killed in the attacks on 9/11 (Neria et al., 2007).
Charlie depicts one of the thousands of people who lost a loved one in the violent, unpredictable event.
Studies conducted after the 9/11 attacks, the Oklahoma City Bombing, and other areas that have suffered man-made tragedy suggest a relationship between indirect exposure and PTSD in the short-term (Neria et al., 2007).

The groups with more prevalent symptoms of complicated grief after the 9/11 attacks were (Neria et al., 2007):

Those 55 or older
Individuals with lower educational attainment
Individuals who were not gainfully employed
Those who lost a child
If the deceased was killed at the World Trade Center site as compared to the Pentagon
Finally, watching the attacks live on TV was significantly associated with complicated grief
Charlie is just one example of an individual who has experienced grief due to September 11th, but he is an important one:
Charlie is representative of people who have been bereaved by a terrorist attack.
Charlie has symptoms of PTSD and CG, which is not uncommon for people who experience such a traumatic loss.
September 11th affected both people who were bereaved by the event and the people of the United States as a whole:

It was an attack on innocent civilian lives and left the country sad and shocked.
Many people were directly affected by the attack but even those indirectly affected by the event commonly felt profound feelings of sadness and loss.
Intrapersonal Analysis
Feeling detached is a big part of CG (Gupta & Bonanno, 2011):
There are signs of detachment within Charlie.
Those with complicated grief have issues with expressive flexibility. They are unable to express and suppress emotions in a normal way (Gupta & Bonanno, 2011):
In Charlie’s case, he has many emotional outbursts and is unable to control himself.
Charlie’s emotions appear to be suppressed at times too. He doesn’t react in the way you would assume a person would to various situations.
It is not uncommon for individuals who have experienced a sudden, violent, and traumatic death of a loved one to be unable to cope with and find meaning in the death (Lictenthal et al., 2013):

Charlie has never tried to deal with or make meaning in the death of his family because it's too painful.
He exists in an alternate reality where video games, music, and late night movies are the most important thing. This way he doesn’t have to deal with the powerful emotions he is feeling about losing his family.
Charlie also fits the DSM-V criteria for PTSD (APA, 2013):

Intrusion symptoms
Avoidant symptoms
Negative alterations in cognition and mood
Alterations in arousal and reactivity associated with the traumatic event
Symptoms have lasted for years after the traumatic loss
He cannot work or socialize with people in a normal way
His symptoms are not due to drugs or alcohol
By Alexis Buckheit & Stephen Levine
The first empirical study of grief was done by


in the 1940's in which he studied recently bereaved individuals.
This study found that grief could be considered a
psychological disorder
and that it has
More recently, in the 1980's, many
standardized questionnaires
were developed to measure bereavement. These questionnaires took a more scientific approach to the study of grief that reflected the nature of the field at that time. At this point the study of grief had transitioned from a psychoanalytic concept to a psychiatric concept to an
empirical study
The most
recent research
on grief has started to examine grief in
specific ways
. For example, many studies have examined violent deaths and the impact this has on the grieving process.
Additionally, recent research has begun to examine
gender differences

in grieving, as well as how
early development

can effect grief later in life.
Another more recent concept in the research on grief is that of
complicated grief
, which is a form of grief that is particularly
to the individual.
One very recent study by
Lichtenthal, Neimeyer, Currier, Roberts, and Jordan
. (2013) examined grief in the terms of the death of a child. The study examined both
violent and nonviolent
causes of death and how the bereaved found meaning in the loss. Typically, those who were not prepared for their child’s deaths were more likely to experience
complicated grief reactions
. Results indicate that those who
lost their child
in a violent way had more symptoms of complicated grief and PTSD than those who lost their child in a non-violent way. Additionally, those who lost their child in a violent way had a harder time finding a meaning in the death. About half of the parents who lost their child in a violent way could not find a
for the loss.

One study done by
Gupta and Bonanno
(2011) examined
complicated grief
and how it can cause deficits in
emotional regulation
.Some symptoms of CG are the following: “Strong yearnings for the deceased loved one, disbelief of the loss, marked loneliness and detachment from others, and a pervasive sense that life is meaningless." The results of this study indicated that those who experience CG may have more difficulty regulating their emotions. Those who are experience CG are have trouble moving forward from their loss. Typically they
feel disbelief
feel detached
from others.

In the study by
Neria et al
. (2007) a web-based survey was administered on adults who experienced
during the
September 11th
terrorist attacks. The goal was to examine the
prevalence of complicated grief
2.5-3.5 years after the attacks. The aim of this study was to examine long-term grief reactions among these bereaved adults. This research has suggested that while the majority of people are able to adjust to loss and regain functioning after a traumatic event, a minority of individuals may develop chronic grief reactions, known as
complicated grief
. This is shown through persistent mourning, yearning, and loss-related anguish and withdrawal. Forty-three percent of a study group of 704 bereaved adults across the United States was ruled positive for CG. This study has also shown that CG is close to increased risk of hospitalization for mental illness, medical comorbidity, cardiac events and high blood pressure, as well as mortality.
Current Research
Unfortunately, events like September 11th have become a fear for people in America and all over the globe:
These events do occur and the aftermath leaves peoples’ lives in shambles.
People who lose a loved one in these events are susceptible to complicated grief and PTSD (Neria et al., 2007).
In Charlie’s case, he has symptoms of CG and PTSD, which interfere with his functioning in day to day life:
Due to this Alan makes it his mission to get Charlie help.
By the end of the film, he’s started to make steps in the right direction:
Charlie moves into a new apartment to have a fresh start.
His in-laws now understand why he needs his space and will allow him that if it’s what he needs to heal.
Alan and Charlie's therapist, Angela, introduce Charlie to another patient of Angela’s so he can start forming some new relationships.
Charlie still has the safety blankets of his video games and music, but he is working towards living a more normal life:
Charlie has a long road in learning to cope with his losses and the symptoms of CG and PTSD that he has, but the overall feeling at the end of the film is hopeful.
He is working towards making positive changes in his life and finding his way to recovery.
Bereavement due to terrorism appears to have a particularly detrimental effect on the grieving process:
More research on those bereaved by terrorism specifically would be beneficial.
Charlie appears to be on the road to recovery, but without extensive research on the topic of those bereaved by terrorism it is difficult to say whether he will be able to go back to leading a normal life with normal relationships.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Binder, J. (Producer), & Binder, M. (Director). (2007). Reign Over Me [Motion Picture]. United States: Columbia Pictures

Granek, L. (2010). Grief as pathology: The evolution of grief theory in psychology from Freud to the present. History of Psychology, 13(1), 46-73. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0016991

Gupta, S. & Bonanno, G. (2011). Complicated grief and deficits in emotional expressive flexibility. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 120(3), 635-643. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0023541

Lichtenthal, W., Neimeyer, R., Currier, J., Roberts, K., & Jordan, N. (2013). Cause of death and the quest for meaning after the loss of a child. Death Studies, 37, 311-342. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07481187.2012.673533

Neria, Y., Gross, R., Litz, B., Maguen, S., Insel, B., Seirmarco, G., . . . Marshall, R. (2007). Prevalence and psychological correlates of complicated grief among bereaved adults 2.5-3.5 years after September 11th attacks. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 20(3), 251-262. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jts.20223
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