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May 2014, by Alyce Barry

Alyce Barry Shadow Work Coach Evanston Illinois Support is a central feature of my life right now. I'm living with a partner after living alone for 12 years, and it seems that for perhaps the first time in my life I have as much support as I can take the risks to ask for and receive.

Film is a lifelong interest, so I see a lot of movies. Given the importance of support right now, it makes sense that scenes in movies in which one character gives another support seem to light up the screen for me and stay with me even when I've forgotten much of the rest of the film.

These scenes are in contrast to many other scenes in films and TV shows in which support is offered in a less-than-ideal way. Either it's conditional in some way — for example, love offered with the message, "I'd love you so much more if you weren't such a problem for me" — or with restless movements, such as a hand patting the back, or accompanied by words that undermine the message of support. It seems such a waste of an opportunity when the supporter says, "Hush, now," which to my ears means, "You should stop crying," or when the supporter says, "It's all right," when clearly it's not all right at the moment.

In Shadow Work we teach that the most effective way to offer unconditional support is with a still touch, and if possible by sending a message through the eyes as well, and if possible without words because words almost always render the support conditional.

I want to mention three films I've seen within the last year that contained a scene in which one character gives another character genuine unconditional support.

RUST AND BONE

The French film Rust and Bone is a drama about a relationship between an orca trainer, Stéphanie, and a boxer, Alain, who's been left with his little boy and is doing a bad job of parenting. Stéphanie and Alain meet casually and don't really connect. Then Stéphanie is injured and wakes up in the hospital, where she panics and crawls out of bed onto the floor of her hospital room, where a nurse simply holds her. After a time, Stéphanie and Alain begin a romantic relationship that doesn't work very well, largely because of Alain's incapacity for intimacy. With Stéphanie's help he starts to get his life together, and then his son is hurt. Alain phones Stéphanie from the hospital but is awkward, he doesn't know how to reach out, and Stéphanie responds with quiet reassurance.

Alain: What are you doing?

Stéphanie: At this moment? In life? Or in general?

Alain: I wanted to say that...

Stéphanie: I'm not asking for anything. I'm hanging up. I'll call you to ask about Sam. Give him a kiss?

Alain: Don't hang up! Don't hang up!

Stéphanie: I won't hang up.

Alain: For three hours... he was in a coma. For three hours, he was dead. I was scared of losing him. Don't leave me!

Stéphanie: I won't leave you.

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD

A soothing scene in an otherwise high-spirited, crisis-driven American film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, shows six-year-old Hushpuppy dancing in a nightclub with the cook who is probably her mother. The cook picks her up and holds her as they sway to the slow music.

Hushpuppy: This is my favorite thing.

Cook: I know

Hushpuppy (voiceover): I can count all the times I've been lifted.
It's not surprising Hushpuppy hasn't been lifted many times by her father, Wink; his support is mostly of the slap-upside-the-head variety, and Hushpuppy tells him after one fight that when he's dead she'll eat cake on his grave. But it's clear that Wink's trying to toughen her so that she'll survive life in their bayou community once he's gone.

For me the scene of Hushpuppy dancing with the cook evokes memories of being held by my grandmother, Kitty Barry, against her warm, grandma-sized shoulder.

SECRETS & LIES

The British film Secrets & Lies contains one of the most extraordinary scenes of support that I've ever seen, and it's a challenge to describe.

Cynthia is a lonely woman in her fifties living in London with her unhappy daughter, Roxanne. Cynthia's brother, Maurice, has moved to a nicer house but hasn't invited Cynthia over lately. Out of the blue, Cynthia gets a phone call from a young woman named Hortense who says she is the natural daughter Cynthia gave up for adoption at birth. Hortense is black, and I would have expected the film to be about racial tension bringing a black daughter into a white family, but race is barely a factor.

Cynthia dislikes Maurice's wife, Monica, and makes snarky comments about the fact that the couple has no children. In the support scene, Maurice expresses his anguish.

Maurice: Secrets and lies! We're all in pain! Why can't we share our pain? I've spent my entire life trying to make people happy, and the three people I love the most in the world hate each other's guts, and I'm in the middle! I can't take it anymore!
We learn some of the family's secrets, and we watch as first one, then another family member reaches out with supportive touch, and then receives it from someone else in turn, as if the energy of support is moving around the room. In the film's final scene, it's clear that the family's dynamics have shifted in a fundamental way so that everyone is happier and more connected.

 
Alyce Barry is a Certified Shadow Work® Coach and Group Facilitator in the Chicago area. Read more about Alyce.

This article originally appeared in our free email newsletter in May 2014. To subscribe, visit our subscription page.

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