Posted by on Sunday, November 27th, 2005

thirteen  official site

So, um, this is a downer of a post about a downer of a movie.  A good movie, but a downer nonetheless.   I would recommend it to anyone who is or wants to be a parent, and to anyone who teetered on the edge of propriety and safety in those horrible ‘tween years. 

Nikki Reed, the actress who plays Evie, co-authored the semi-autobiographical screenplay.  Jeremy Sisto, Holly Hunter, and Evan Rachel Wood all give startlingly good performances.  The subject matter is disturbing and frightening, but it’s familiar to many people, like me, who watched one friend after another crumble in Middle School. 

Middle school is so horribly screwed up in this country.   Seriously–if you have kids, home-school them through those years if it’s at all possible.  If it’s not, watch them like hawks.  Kids don’t get lost and ruined in high school–it happens in middle school, and so many of them never really recover.  I have a picture at home of my 11th birthday party.  My Mom and I were the only two in the picture to not end up in a treatment facility or pregnant or with a criminal record within just under five years of that day.  Within a few years, all of my friends were boys, because all of the girls I had grown up with were gone. 

Understand–I grew up in Prince William County.  It’s one of those affluent counties in the greater DC area.  Many of our neighbors had nice cars and owned their homes and went to church and work and seemed ok.  This kind of early-teen self-destruction is not a rare thing, and it doesn’t only happen in the city or in communities that look bad on the outside. 

This is one of those movies I knew I needed to watch and that I knew would be painful to watch.  It’s terrifying.  I kept having these "there but for the grace" moments as I watched it, remembering friends of mine from middle school whose descent into self-destruction and drug-addled mania seemed unstoppable, and who tried to pull me along with them, thinking that they were the ones who had the right answers.  At the time, I knew what the girls in my circle were risking, and I begged them to practice some caution.  My Mom and I took in stray after stray.  I’d badgered girls into getting birth-control and HIV tests before I had my first kiss.  I tried to convince them that the men who claimed to love them were sickos for seeking out children.  I tried to convince them that green was cooking their brains.  I tried , and I failed, because we were all just little girls.

All the while, I listened to teasing about my cowardice and my nerdiness.  I knew what they were risking because my father is a broken, destructive alcoholic who cares more about his next bender than he does about his family.  I knew what they were risking because My Mom is a nurse who began teaching my brother and me about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and promiscuity and sexual predators around the same time she began teaching us to read.  I had just enough right in my first 11 years to keep me relatively safe, and just enough wrong to let me hover on the edges of a pack of girls all bent on self-destruction.    Few of them would take any help beyond a safe place to sleep for the night and some clothes they would shred and shrink, so desperate to look sexy that they froze themselves through every winter and starved themselves every spring. 

I could spew all sorts of nonsense about how my education saved me, or that I have some great deal of personal will, but really I’m just lucky that I was too scared to join in, and that my Mom was too vigilant to let it happen.  My friends didn’t all live through it, and it was heart-wrenching to try to save them then and to remember it now.  I wish I didn’t know how close to the truth this film is.  I eventually gave up on all of the girls who were so resolute on dying.  I hear from one or two of them once in a blue moon, but we don’t have anything in common anymore beyond memories that cut me, but that seem to amuse them.  I think some of them feel betrayed that I got out of our strange little neighborhood torture-chamber relatively unscathed.  They may resent my diplomas and my house and my sober husband.  I  guess I can let them have whatever anger they need.  I actually feel like I’m betraying them writing this, but I also feel like I have to write it, because I know dozens of shining , brilliant little girls, and I don’t want any of them to approach the hell I saw my friends walk so blithely into.

Filed in Film | One response so far

One Response to “Thirteen”

  1. Rachelon 29 Nov 2005 at 11:27 am 1

    What a great post. (I thought that was one of the best, most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen–and it did it with the heart and soul that I find lacking in Larry Clark’s movies on similar subjects.) I knew those girls too. And I also think that what saved me really was the fact that I was both too shy and too scared to join in.

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