ABDUCTIONS – film reviews of Unsane and Priceless
By Lloyd I. Sederer, MD
Sawyer (Claire Foy, who played Elizabeth in The Crown) is a young woman who seeks counseling after being stalked. She is involuntarily hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital when she is judged to be at risk for suicide. Her abduction, we are shown, is by the ‘authorities’. Her nightmare has now doubled, and will get worse.
But even a work of fiction, as this production states it is, needs to hew in some measure to the realities of the circumstances it depicts. Where was the fact-checking with a psychiatrist or someone who knows about psychiatric hospitals? The film’s conceit, that sometimes there is reason to be paranoid, is undermined by how disbelievable was the hospital and so very many of the practices portrayed.
To name a few: Signing in to be involuntarily hospitalized with all the liberties that forfeits is a legal action, not a mere form buried among the paperwork an outpatient completes. Being stripped, searched and medicated as if it were room service simply is not routine procedure. A patient bedroom, really a dormitory, never has men and women together – and rarely has more than 2 same-sex beds in it, not 10 or more. The hospital is made out to be financially predatory, keeping patients until their insurance runs out; but ask anyone close to today’s insurance world how hard it is to get mental health (or substance use) coverage for even a few days, and then usually by having to overcome the payer’s queries about medical necessity. Aides do not administer medications, nurses do. And uncontrolled access to controlled substances like a large dose of an amphetamine or, can you believe it, a vial of Fentanyl to do with as an aide may wish is like trying to climb Mt. Everest, without oxygen. Patients do not smoke in the courtyard outside of a ward, and have no access to cigarettes or matches. Basement padded cells, off a vacant corridor with no actual human observation, are from 60 years ago, if then. Abducting another female patient off an inpatient unit to take her to the padded cell, where Sawyer is captive, and then try to rape her is a magic trick no one has mastered.
There is more that made this psychiatrist/reviewer wonder how this film’s producers and writers could have not known better? Especially, with a director of the calibre of Steven Soderbergh and the A-list actors in this movie, who do their job masterfully.
The story of a woman being stalked by a predator is painfully too common. Its impact on that person and her family is grave. If that were the intent of the film then it deserved a credible rendering of how, what and where the plot unfolds.
Priceless starts with the abduction of two young, innocent Mexican teenagers, Antonia (Bianca Santos) and her younger sister Maria (Amber Midthunder). They had agreed to be smuggled over the border to work as waitresses or housekeepers to pay off their father’s debt. Little did they know that they had been sold into prostitution.
The Spanish name Antonia can be interpreted to mean precious, beautiful or priceless. All qualities of being human, and all prey to those who seek to exploit, degrade and violate.
James (Joel Smallbone), once drug-dependent and a widowed dad, has had his daughter taken away by child protective services, yet another ‘authority’. He recognizes his descent into addiction and the behaviors that fostered made this state action credible and he accedes. He is desperate to earn money, and regain her custody. He takes a job driving a rental truck across the border, asking to not know what he is hauling. He knows, of course, that it must be valuable given the fat envelope of cash he will receive when the job is done.
But he is no Walter White, of Breaking Bad fame, whose entry into the world of illicit trafficking (drugs in his case) was a consequence of cancer and a family he could not support. ‘Walt’ (Bryan Cranston) went from situational ethics supporting his behavior to finding himself and his power from brewing crystal meth, making a fortune and relishing the unfettered expression of power. James is a decent man who discovers the nature of his cargo and cannot live with what he has done.
Priceless is a film about faith and love (familial and romantic). And the horrors of human trafficking. James has lost his faith, and his path back to grace is through Antonia, whose belief in God and humankind is undiminished by the evil she is cast into. We witness, as well, the dawning love story between the two of them. That gains momentum and achieves realization as their decency and virtue prevail, but not without great cost.
James wins the alliance and help of Dale (David Koechner), a local hotel owner who also cannot abide with the villainy that surrounds him and which defiles his community. His story unfolds and we learn he suffered the unbearable loss of a child, and not from natural causes. Dale adds to the film’s spiritual power, and aids James with the redemption of his soul.
This film was directed by Ben Smallbone. He has a fine eye for human emotions, and never steers away from taking us up close and personal. The film has pathos, not just ethos. He is the lead actor’s brother, as well.
The way this film honors those caught in human trafficking is keen and not sentimental. Instead, it is priceless.
I guess you know which of this pair of films I recommend.
Dr. Lloyd Sederer is a psychiatrist and public health doctor. The opinions offered here are entirely his own.
His next book, The Addiction Solution: Treating Our Dependence on Opioids and Other Drugs, will be published by Scribner (Simon & Schuster) on May 8, 2018.