**Trigger Warning: The film involves self-harm and suicidal ideation.**
There are two phrases that repeat often in my head. The first is an old one, “depression lies.” Not sure where it came from — a meme, a research article, a therapy session — but I’ve found it to be true with time. The second is new, “what story am I telling myself?” This one came from my current therapist whom I’ve been working with since the fall. The story we tell ourselves about any single moment has the ability to move us toward powerful decisions which can make or unmake us. The trick is knowing which one is which, though, the ones which unmake us we often don’t realize are what they are until it’s too late. Born from her own experience with depression and suicide, writer/director/actor Nadine Crocker created Cont;nue, a tale that presents her story through the lens of cinema. The further into the story of Cont;nue we go, the harder it becomes to remember that it’s all a show, a dramatization, a recreation with paid actors, because it feels all too real. But that’s what makes Cont;nue powerful, it’s a story we know is lying to us, somehow making accessible the thing we would deny for ourselves when we thought we were telling the truth.
Though she denies its sincerity, Dean (Crocker) finds herself placed on an involuntary hold in a psychiatric institution. At first, she fights the advice of the doctor overseeing her treatment (Emily Deschanel); however, with time, and building a support system within the facility, Dean not only gains a new perspective but finds the awareness to confront the trauma she’s ignored for so long. Her journey doesn’t end when she leaves or even when she finds new love with musician Trenton (Shiloh Fernandez), because each day brings new challenges, requiring her to unlearn her instincts and proclaim new reasons to continue each day.
A film like Crocker’s can be difficult to process, both in the watching and after. It’s a film that wears its sincerity out in the open, the kind which ordinary society often shies away from because it makes them uncomfortable. At some point, not only did we all become uncomfortable with open affection, but the idea that we wouldn’t talk about the things that pain us became status quo. Probably doesn’t help that the move toward mental institutions aided in the notion that those who struggle with chemical imbalance or untreated trauma should be hidden from view. This is one of the things that first struck me about Cont;une, the institution is not only average looking (neither too pristine and idyllic nor drab and dilapidated), but the staff treated the patients with humanity. In one amusing moment, Dean’s friend Bria (Lio Tipton) is scolded by Dale Dickey’s Nurse Love for being in another patient’s room. After some mild pestering, Bria moves to the doorway, staying seated and leaning against the frame for support. Nurse Love merely nods in acknowledgement and moves on. There’s no power struggle, no degradation, merely a request to abide by the rules and a recognition of a mutual understanding. This is not a singular moment, either in the facility or out of it. These moments create a general fantasy feeling, almost like an after-school special in the idyllic way things are handled or addressed. People don’t generally get too comfortable around others when they learn of their self-abusing past, yet, in her film, where Crocker controls the variables, not only is support present, it’s easily obtained. Being an idealist, it’s a lovely notion, but, being a rationalist, it’s not the actual case. Backslides happen and, without proper support, they can be deadly. It’s on the person at the center of it to ask for help, to use the tools at their disposal to *choose* the healthy thing over the unhealthy thing. Thus, when all is said and done with Cont;nue, the strength of Crocker’s tale is in the recognition that making that choice is hard, but it’s one you have to make for yourself.
This is one of the biggest things within the film and it’s worth applauding Crocker for making it a focal point: personal accountability. Dean, as we learn, possesses the double threat of hereditary depression from her mother and the trauma of finding her father post-suicide. Dean hasn’t addressed either, allowing herself to submit to acts of self-harm and self-medicating with drinking and drugs. The script doesn’t judge her or anyone else in the film who’s made those choices, but it does point out that it’s a choice, like all things. When in pain, it’s easier to run away than to face it. Facing it means addressing mistakes or shame, even putting a name to the rage within. For Dean, there’s rage at never having the parents she wanted — not in the “take you to the zoo” or “buy you a pony” sense, but in being present and available. Her reasoning more or less being that a parent of any kind would be better than feeling abandoned, let alone being the child who finds the parent succumbed to a gun shot. Suicidal ideation can come from a litany of places, so the specificity within Crocker’s script allows for space to explore the cyclical nature of trauma when unaddressed and untreated. Proportionally lighter fare like Encanto (2021) and Turning Red (2022) explore generational trauma, grief, and shame from the perspective of a still-developing child with their living parent or parental figure. With her film, Crocker shows one possibility of what adulthood can look like when the cycle isn’t broken, when the choice to continue isn’t made. By all accounts, the film is hard to absorb, though it is softened by the performances from the small cast, who made the universal ideas within feel small, intimate, and personal.
One thing that is abundantly clear is the personal nature of the film. Even if the official website and production materials didn’t state Crocker’s own experience with suicidal ideation, the title of the film implies a certain intimacy. The title of the film can be interpreted as the notion of carrying on, a refusal to give in, the idea that in the face of the lies or stories we tell ourselves, continuing is the best thing we can do. Except, rather than name the film Continue, writing the title in a more conventional manner, Crocker opts to replace the “i” with a semi-colon, a clear reference to Project ;, the organization which seeks to break cycles surrounding mental health and save lives. Those who’ve experienced what Crocker’s experienced or who’ve been touched in a similar way are likely to recognize the symbol in the title as a flare shot in the unlit night sky. Crocker’s Cont;nue isn’t for normies, the untouched or unaware, but is specifically for those who know. So while there are moments that feel just a little too sweet, too safe, or too perfect, it’s not because the script is showing what is, it’s showing what could be.
The truth is, we can’t factor or predict for the unknown unknowns, which is why we tell ourselves stories based on what we’ve experienced. Except we’re limited between our perception defined by emotion, curated further limited by what we think know. Crocker’s Cont;nue, especially when it snaps the whole tale into focus by its conclusion, appears designed to offer just one vision of a life lived in which everything becomes easier after making the choice to carry on. That being here is harder, sure, except the gaping hole we feel we exist in only grows bigger in our absence and fills in when we choose to climb out. It may be idyllic at times, but when life feels like a constant battle field, a moment to dream can be a revelation.
Currently screening in select festivals.
Screening during the Cinejoy Film Festival April 3rd, 2022.
For more information on the film, head to the official Cont;nue website.
For more information on Project ;, head to their official website.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.