Beguiling Movies with Stockholm Syndrome
Ah, who can forget those majestic, summer evenings spent wiling youth away, as you stare down the barrel of a semi-automatic machine gun? His mouth may have said “Don’t move”, but his captivating eyes said “Really, don’t move.” Yes, we’re talking about Stockholm syndrome, today, in all of its confusing glory. Most people have heard of Stockholm syndrome (or the King Kong Coma, as I like to refer to it); it’s basically a state of traumatic bonding some people experience, when they’ve been taken hostage. Movies usually run with this and make someone fall madly in love with their captor, but the human psyche is a fickle mistress. That means it’s not just a beauty that can fall for the beast; sometimes there’s talking furniture and shit, too.
The one that‘s straight-forward: The Chase
First, we’re going to get this one out of the way: guy kidnaps girl; girl falls in love with guy. That’s the easy example, and it’s the one most often used by Hollywood. In this movie, Charlie Sheen–Mr. Vatican Assassin, himself–is sentenced to 25 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit (no, really; he’s innocent); he Houdinis his way out of custody, though, and decides his best option is to kidnap a woman and hightail it to Mexico. What ensues is basically a two hour mashup of Speed and the OJ Simpson Bronco chase (both of which would not come about until later the same year). Kristy Swanson plays the woman. After some wacky, semi-high-speed hijinks, the two of them fly a helicopter across the Mexico border and live happily ever after on a beach, because that’s totally how the world works, right?
The Chase delivers a nice subtext on the television journalism industry (read: circus), and there’s a character from the always entertaining Henry Rollins, but the reason the movie wasn’t able to take off (at all) like the similar Speed probably had surprisingly little to do with the fact that it’s a poster child for Stockholm syndrome and more to do with how little chemistry Sheen and Swanson had; they were like mixing tiger blood with cocaine: not good. Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock just had better chemistry (hell, OJ Simpson and Al Cowlings had better chemistry).
The one about a child: Hook
Now we get into the real meat of Stockholm syndrome, and what better way to do that than with Steven Spielberg’s modern take on J.M. Barrie’s classic Peter Pan story? In this film, Robin Williams plays a grown Pan who has traded in all of his memories of Neverland for a life of business suits and too little time for his kids; that is, until he’s forced to go back when Captain Hook kidnaps said kids. There’s where our pal the King Kong Coma comes into play; Pan’s son begins to become seduced by Captain Hook’s role as the father figure Peter never has been. Hook spends time with the boy, fosters his joy of baseball, and all that “good dad” shit.
Hook was an instant classic; not only for its decorated cast and crew (including the awesome Dante Basco as the inimitable Rufio, RU-FI-O; Bangarang!), but also for its skilled navigation around the sensitive subject of a child’s emotions being manipulated into a severe case of Stockholm syndrome by a devious captor.
The one about a parent: John Q
This one has more layers than your mother’s bean dip; on its surface, it’s about a man taking over a hospital’s ER and, as a result, making hostages of the sick and huddled masses who happen to be inside. However, we have to go deeper! The movie is really dealing with the subject of a sick child being held captive by a bureaucratic medical industry that favors those with higher levels of wealth. It’s hostage-ception! The man taking hostages, John Q. Public, is doing so in a desperate attempt to get the hospital to treat his son, who needs a heart transplant.
Who could possibly be in that situation and not come away with at least a touch of Stockholm syndrome, right? It doesn’t hurt that the man is played with a surgical precision by Denzel Washington, either. Everyone in the hospital comes away sympathizing with the man’s problems; there’s even a subplot about an abusive boyfriend who was with his girlfriend in the ER, and even that asshole is on Denzel‘s side. Everyone who watches John Q comes away wanting to storm the world’s hospitals and demand you give Denzel’s baby a new heart! Attica! Attica! Attica!
The one you don’t expect: Cars
Pixar dealing with Stockholm syndrome? Of course! It makes complete sense! Well, they may not have intended it to be seen that way, but the movie absolutely exhibits all the tell-tale signs. Lightning McQueen is a famous racecar who accidentally finds himself lost, somewhere off Route 66, in the small town of Radiator Springs. He makes a big mess, and the nice townsfolk force him to stay in town until he’s fixed everything. Sure, he was technically “arrested”, but that’s still captivity, right?
What happens in John Lasseter’s touching salute to Small Town, USA, is McQueen slowly coming to discover that Radiator Springs used to be a thriving town. He gets all Florence Nightingale and busts his exhaust pipe bringing the town back to its former glory… and then he decides to stay there… where he had been held against his will, because it was just so darn quaint…
The one you’ve probably never heard of: Blind Beast
Last, but certainly not least–not by a long shot–we’ve come to this dandy little picture. As it says, you’ve likely never seen this one, and that’s probably a good thing for you. This 1969 film centers on a blind sculptor who lives with his mother; the sculptor is obsessed with the female form, so much so that he’s constructed huge, Salvador Dali-esque sculptures of legs, lips, breasts, etc, which he just sits around in the dark fondling maniacally. He’s also obsessed with this one famous model, so obsessed that he and his mother–you guessed it–kidnap her, because he wants to study her body and sculpt it. That’s completely reasonable, if you ask me. At first, as you’d imagine, the woman is terrified and desperate to escape; eventually, however, following repeated instances of sexual assault, she stops trying to leave. She actually becomes just as obsessed with the art as the sculptor is, even to the point of her going blind. Good times!
This movie is very difficult to watch, but it does deftly examine the idea of psychological torture. Although it gets there with some sexual deviance that would make even fans of David Cronenberg’s Crash blush, it does present a deeply disturbing look at the darkest side of Stockholm syndrome.
Now I’m going to keep all of you here until you empathize with my need to know what your favorite Stockholm syndrome movie is, or you just tell me.