Trigger Warning – Mentions of 9/11 and Suicide
Reign Over Me (2007) is a film that, more than displaying Adam Sandler as a competent and serious actor, delves into the complicated and frustrating process of overcoming and managing trauma. Sandler plays a bereaved husband and father—Charlie Fineman—who is unable to move past the trauma of his family’s deaths. Consequently, he regresses into an emotionless state: drowning himself in music, continuous home remodeling, and the video game Shadow of the Colossus (2005). The game serves as an escape for Charlie, an outlet for him to unpack feelings that would otherwise be associated with his grief and trauma, and it works because the game’s narrative very much mirrors Charlie’s life. Although the game is not too prominent in the story, it nonetheless serves as an extension of the film’s thematic dealing with trauma and emotional recovery. An alternative to Charlie’s recovery can be seen from Shadow of the Colossus as it chronicles a figure incapable of handling the trauma of loss, becoming consumed by it instead.
The Synopsis of Reign Over Me
Reign Over Me takes place five years after Charlie’s wife and three daughters lost their lives in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and he has been unable to properly pull himself together. It takes intervention from his former college roommate, Alan, for any progress to be made treating his PTSD. Charlie had been avoiding his reality for years, feeling some twisted combination of survivor’s guilt and grief, detaching himself from friends and relatives to somehow cope with his family’s death. Alan stumbles on Charlie one day and—feeling some dissatisfaction with his relationship with his family—Alan works to build his relationship with Charlie again.
Over the film Charlie constricts himself, closing himself off to reminders of his trauma, but despite his best efforts, the trauma forces its way back in. He runs away from his in-laws—who believe he ignores what happened to his family—and the second that Alan becomes a little too close and asks a more personal question, Charlie flips out and accused him of working for the in-laws. Subsequently, he finds other avenues to experience feelings like playing drums in a violent punk band and playing Shadow of the Colossus, even remarking to Alan that “it’s like another dimension. You take a journey and discover yourself.” Alan’s presence pushes Charlie out of his cycle of avoidance and gets him to open up, but in doing so Charlie is pushed over the edge and tries to commit suicide, threatening others with an unloaded gun trying to provoke a cop to shoot him. He ends up in a psychiatric ward and the judge leaves the decision regarding Charlie’s future to his in-laws.
To avoid being committed against his will, he divulges the way his grief has debilitated him, that he’s trying to run away from his family but the loss haunts him every day. He had become a broken shadow of what he once was, and that is the Charlie we see throughout the film. This PTSD will not go away, but through opening up to those around him, he can confront this trauma and move forward. Trauma is something that can be navigated through empathetic connection with others, rather than something to be conquered or rejected.
How Reign Over Me Explores Trauma
The film’s exploration of trauma shows the permanent scar that is left on the psyche when an individual undergoes a tragic incident, and though the scar can never be fully healed, it still needs to be confronted so that it can begin to heal. The trauma for Charlie manifests itself in introversion, addiction, and escapism. The only people that have been around Charlie in the years since his loss have been his landlady and his in-laws, and eventually, Alan—who broke in and disrupted this isolation. Charlie wanted to escape from everything, and it’s hinted that his previous coping mechanism was alcohol, but he moved past that and onto Shadow of the Colossus. Through opening up, Charlie can move forward, unlike the protagonist of Shadow of the Colossus who becomes consumed by it. Grief can feel like a personal endeavor, and it is hard to be given form in film, so it is often shown as a metaphor, and though majority of the viewers do not know of the themes of Shadow of the Colossus, it’s similar message to Reign Over Me is undeniable. The protagonist Wander wants to revive a girl, Mono, and he was told by a disembodied entity Dormin that defeating the colossi will allow Mono to come back. Wander was broken by Mono’s death, much like Charlie, and where Charlie stagnated, Wander fought back. Charlie would eventually recover with the help of others, but for Wander, help was too late. Rather than Mono being revived following the defeat of all Colossi, Wander is consumed by Dormin, by trauma. Dormin had slowly been infiltrating Wander with the defeat of every colossus, and mirroring the way Charlie would have been sent to a psychiatric facility, Wander loses all agency and control and is cast away.
The colossi serve as symbols of both attachments to reality and—from the perspective of the one struck by grief—obstacles to overcome in their misguided pursuit. For Charlie, his in-laws were colossi and the constant reminders of his family everywhere he went were colossi that he wanted to overcome. Charlie was able to be rescued from his trauma by those around him, but the film simplified the process to a great degree. A few conversations were enough for Charlie to begin to move forward and let go of many of his previous attachments, whereas in reality recovery takes much longer. The more accurate portrayal of grief would be Shadow of the Colossus as many fall victim to trauma instead of finding a way to manage it. An aspect of the game that reveals everything to not be hopeless is that while Wander is defeating colossi, help is shown to be on the way in the form of a character named Lord Emon. Emon is the one that casts away Dormin at the end, but had he been a little bit earlier Wander may have been saved. Emon is a figure like Alan, and Alan just stumbled on Charlie one day; Emon was traveling day and night to rescue Wander but was just too late. Even in times where it may seem as if no one is coming to help and the weight of grief is just too much, you can wait a little longer or look and find those who want to help, they are on the way. Each narrative explores the different paths one can take when combating trauma, but the theme of hope and valuing relationships is still present in both.