Damage, whether physical or mental, can play havoc with a person’s life. The effect of a single event or a series of events may be so deep-rooted, that the trauma experienced comes to define your identity


What is trauma? How is it manifested? What happens when we do not deal with trauma in a timely and appropriate manner? How do different people react to experiencing it? Answers to these and other questions can be obtained through an analysis of Dead Man Down, a film which revolves around characters who are dealing with trauma.

Colin Farrell is the male protagonist, Victor, and Noomi Rapace is the female lead, Beatrice. The plot centres on the interaction between Victor and Beatrice, with a bit of gang violence mixed in. Other slightly smaller but no less important parts include Farrell’s best friend, played by Dominic Cooper of  Mama Mia and The History Boys, and Rapace’s overprotective mum.  The trauma that the protagonists suffer from is the loss of family, in the case of Victor, and physical disfigurement resulting in a loss of beauty, as experienced by Beatrice.

Psychological trauma is standardly defined as something that causes damage to a person’s wellbeing and mental health, usually as a result of some distressing life event. Triggers can cause anxiety and severe distress. Flashbacks may also occur constantly causing the victim to lose sleep. Suggestions to dealing with trauma include accepting what has happened and the uncertainties in our lives; thinking about the present; doing meditation and breathing exercises; letting your emotions out; disengaging from negative feelings like shame or revenge; and finally, seeking appropriate help.

Trauma sufferers are advised not to bottle up their feelings, to try and not take on too much responsibility, to refrain from alcohol or drug use and to not make any large life-altering decisions.

Therapies that have been useful for dealing with the effects of trauma include: psychotherapy (cognitive behavioural therapy, for instance), drug therapy involving tranquillisers (to reduce anxiety), and the use of antidepressants (to control depression).

Now Dead Man Down is a film which is all about the ways in which different people deal with trauma. The director, Niels Arden Oplev, also directed Rapace in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo where she played another traumatised character, a goth-hacker who was abused and neglected. Farrell himself has also previously played characters that deal with trauma such as the hitman Ray in the film, In Bruges. It is interesting that both actors have a history of performing in angst-filled thrillers, suggesting that they are quite comfortable playing people with dark pasts.

Do the main characters of Dead Man Down deal with trauma appropriately? Yes and no. For most of the film Victor and Beatrice struggle to deal with their individual traumas. I counted about eight examples of inappropriate coping strategies. Appropriate ways of dealing with trauma in the film however, included: Victor accepting his liking of Beatrice and trying to connect with her; Beatrice connecting with her mother; Beatrice trying to work; and finally, Beatrice and Victor finding each other and giving up on their vengeance.

And my verdict? Whilst inappropriate ways of dealing with trauma make for good albeit violent films, if Dead Man Down is taken as an example of how to behave after suffering traumatic events, no good will come of it. It is important to remember the take-home message of this film; namely, that the characters were only able to move on from feeling disconnected, lonely and wretched after they accepted that the traumatic events had happened, let go, reconnected with each other and started living their lives instead of clinging to the past.

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