- What happens when a parent enters into advanced age while maintaining characteristic destructive patterns?
- Everything Went Fine is a recommended film for adult children struggling with aging, self-centered parents.
In a seminal article on cinema therapy, Sharp, Smith, & Cole (2002) describe one of the challenges facing mental health professionals interested in using film in the therapy process: “Selection of movies for cinematherapy can be a rather time-consuming, although not altogether unpleasant, process and necessitates that the therapist watches a wide range of movies” (pg. 272).
For those professionals who are passionate about film (this includes me), watching movies is seldom a chore. Still, it is a rarity to encounter films that can be used in the therapy process or for the training of aspiring clinicians; the overwhelming majority of movies simply do not meet the criteria described in earlier postings in this blog series. A film might be commercially and critically successful and jaw-droppingly entertaining, but it has no clinical value: I adored Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) but will not be introducing it into therapy.
Thus, it is a welcome surprise to encounter Everything Went Fine, a French film released in the United States in April 2023. While this plot has the potential to quickly descend into melodrama, it instead remains psychologically profound based on its underlying unfortunate truth for many people: toxic parents. A review of self-help book titles alerts us to the urgency of this issue: Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, Toxic Parents, Children of the Self-Absorbed, and Recovering from Emotionally Immature Parents.
The monikers in the above titles apply to André (André Dussollier), who following a stroke from which he is without doubt recovering, determines he would rather die and demands his adult daughters arrange a medically-assisted suicide. André pouts, has temper tantrums, manipulates, and threatens his daughters (Sophie Marceau and Géraldine Pailhas) to achieve this end. He is insensitive or outright oblivious to their needs in every scene of the film, and this dynamic is merely a continuation of longstanding issues, as observed in a flashback in which André tells his then-teenage daughter he is considering killing himself because he isn’t receiving enough of her attention. In short, André’s emotional needs dominate his family. Remarkably, one does not despise this manipulative character but instead has compassion for such an emotionally fragile and damaged being.
Likely one would diagnose André with histrionic or narcissistic personality disorder, and it has indeed taken its emotional toll on his daughters. This outcome is a familiar experience for many adult children who enter therapy attempting to navigate, change, or come to peace with a profoundly self-absorbed, immature, and chaotic parent. Often the best we can counsel is to minimize contact and develop emotional armor for those meetings that are unavoidable.
What happens when these same parents enter into advanced age and need even more support while nonetheless maintaining their characteristic destructive and oblivious patterns? Everything Went Fine tackles this topic in a clinical and non-exploitative manner, and it is a psychologically astute film. It also meets the criteria for film therapy in that it:
- Does not misinform, miseducate, or stigmatize the mental health issue presented.
- Depicts a presenting challenge or struggle as well as a solution, which a viewer may agree or disagree with.
- Offers hope.
- Leads a viewer to reflect on their struggles with a similar issue.
Everything Went Fine is not only a great psychological drama but sadly reassuring; toxic parenting, it appears, is not strictly an American phenomenon.
Sharp, C., Smith, J. V., & Cole, A. (2002). Cinematherapy: Metaphorically promoting therapeutic change. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 15(3), 269-276.