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How a Short Film Gave Me Courage to Stop a Fight

A Personal Perspective: If good art amuses, great art prompts action.

The nonstop flight from Orlando was 2 hours and 57 minutes.

To pass the time, I scrolled through the movie options. On the way to Florida, I watched "The Irish Goodbye." The film featured two estranged brothers, one with Down syndrome, the other living in England, who reconnect in a series of touching experiences when their mother dies

The plot stuck with me, so on our return flight, my interest in other short films was piqued by other short film offerings.

I clicked on "Night Ride." The scene opens with a lone person waiting for a tram in the cold at night. With the dialogue in Norwegian, it quickly became apparent that I needed the English subtitles to follow the action. I started the film over and sat back to watch the whole movie.

All 16 minutes.

And that was that.

Or so I thought.

We awoke at 3 a.m. that morning to leave enough time to drop off the rental car, take a shuttle to the MCO airport, pass through security, and wait at the gate.

Consequently, I slept for much of the uneventful flight.

At one point, I used the restroom at the back of the plane. When I could not figure out how to open the door from the inside, a stranger pushed the bifold door from the outside. I smiled gratefully and returned to my seat.

I enjoyed my can of Mott's tomato juice over ice in a plastic cup.

I dozed and dawdled and waited patiently for the flight to end.

About 20 minutes from landing, the mother and teenage daughter sitting in front of me and my daughter got into an argument. The teenage daughter admitted to her mom that she'd forgotten something, and the mom scolded her for her ineptitude.

The mother said cruel things like, "This is the last straw. I can't believe you did this again. I'm through with you.”

The daughter tried to defend herself, but mom heard none of her pleas.

My disappointment with the mother's attitude angered me. I felt bad for her child.

The mental abuse and the verbal torture caused my blood to boil.

But I remained silent.

But then, the mother got physical.

The mother leaned toward her daughter. I couldn't see what was happening, but my view between the seats and overhearing the words left me no choice.

I leaned forward and loudly said, "Hey, lady. Back off. You need to stop."

The mother said, "Mind your own business."

"I can't," I said.

My husband, to my left, knew nothing of what had transpired in the seats just a few feet from our own, but he immediately wanted to know what was wrong.

I said something, I'm not sure what, but I added, "She was saying terrible things." I pointed to the seat in front of me.

And then, it was over.

Mother and daughter were silent. No more physical contact. Nothing.

Adrenaline coursed through my body.

A horrible muscle spasm gripped my lower back causing me to pull up my knees as I attempted to breathe.

My mind raced as I replayed the words, the actions, the feelings.

I wondered what would happen once the plane landed.

Would the mother turn around and continue her bullying?

Would she attack me?

Would I have the courage to stand up to this stranger?

Would the daughter face her mother's rage inside the privacy of their home?

Would the cycle of abuse continue—as it often does when one defends their abusive actions because "that's how it's always been?"

Would the daughter realize—maybe for the first time—that her mother's abuse is wrong?

But nothing much happened.

Neither daughter nor mother turned to see what that interfering stranger looked like.

They wordlessly disembarked and disappeared into the sea of travelers.

Later, I replayed that action. I heard their words again. And mine.

I knew I said, "Hey lady!" And I knew she warned me to mind my business.

When I replayed the story again, I realized the similarity between the short film and my interference with the mother–daughter interaction.

The protagonist in that story had momentarily—and literally—pulled a curtain to ignore a scene of torment between riders on the train. Like many bystanders, she questioned her ability to help.

But then, she gains the courage to interject and save the victim from the continued violence.

The film's hero, a person of small stature who suffers a minor injustice at the story's beginning, transforms into a savior. Presumably, she had experienced obstacles before, but that element was not featured.

Instead, the takeaway of doing the right thing left a seed within me that germinated and sprouted just moments after the closing credits.

Indeed, according to an article in The New Yorker:

Eirik Tveiten, the director of 'Night Ride,' said that he hopes the film will inspire people to find the courage to speak up when they see someone being harmed. 'Often, it seems easier to mind our own business when people in our community fall victim to prejudice, ostracization, and systemic persecution,' Tveiten said. Ebba is in a particularly vulnerable position from which to take a stand. The safest thing to do would be to stay quiet. Ultimately, though, her conscience demands another choice [emphasis added].

And so did mine. I found my voice. I interfered. I stopped an aggressive attack.

Why do we go to the movies?

Why do we read books and short stories?

Why do we connect with songs with lyrics about infidelity, breakups, and everlasting love?

Readers, listeners, and viewers gain experiences and live lives in foreign lands, down the street, and in the row in front of us on a plane, train, bus, or classroom.

We watch and listen and imagine ourselves in the same situation that we witness in fiction. Dennis Sumara (2011) argues that the audience "demonstrate[es] an understanding that these literary engagements have the potential to create experiences that participate in the ongoing project of making and using knowledge." In other words, we expand our knowledge base through the experiences—fictional and real—of others.

We don't have to run the marathon to know how it feels to cross the finish line.

We don't have to feel the whip to know how it feels to be a slave.

We don't have to witness the atrocities of war to know that freedom, liberty, and justice must prevail.

As creatives, we must create art that provokes feelings, emotions, and actions.

Do you ever wonder if your art matters?

Try this:

  • Push yourself outside of your comfort zone.
  • Tackle an issue or a cause and create a work demonstrating an action.
  • You might begin with a favorite charity.
  • Challenge yourself to create the script for an ad, a compelling image for a billboard or magazine feature, a jingle, or a t-shirt.
  • Be brave. Share your creation with the executive director or marketing manager of the organization. Who knows? Your design might be used in their next campaign.

Whatever your art form, from time to time, use your creativity as a means for change.

In writing this post, I debated sharing my story of confronting a stranger. I've always been the kind of person who would rather ignore the bully, turn the other cheek, and pretend everything is all right.

But, every once in a while, even the timid vanquish the enemy.

My hope is that the real-life drama that unfolded before my eyes has a happy ending. Mom realizes her actions are hurtful, daughter assumes more responsibility, and they live happily ever after.


Sumara, D. (2011) Why Reading Literature in School Still Matters: Imagination, Interpretation, Insight. New York: Routledge.

Sheldon, M. (2022, November 4). Confronting Harassment in “Night Ride.” The New Yorker.

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