What do you do when you look at your computer screen and it says you have thousands of friends but when you look around your room you are entirely alone? Katherine Brooks took a handful of pills and when that failed, she went on a journey to meet some of those thousands of friends face 2 face.
In Face 2 Face you have a woman embarking on a journey across the United States to meet people and ruminate on being alone and isolated in a world where people would sooner text you than talk to you. While I can wrap my head around the plight of both of these women, at the same time, I feel compelled to point out that there is still a real world out there where we “normal” folk live. A world where you go through a nasty divorce or discover that you are alone in the world and you can’t just embark on a whirlwind vacation/quest of healing. No, for the rest of us it’s about having no option but to move forward and get up when the alarm goes off so we can get to our shitty, low paying jobs. Boo hoo Elizabeth Gilbert and boo hoo Katherine Brooks, put on your big girl pants and deal, seriously.
Katherine Brooks did not have it easy growing up, her and millions of others. She was molested as a young girl and raped as a teenager. She was confused about her sexuality, again, welcome to the world. She had also been humiliated by a female classmate in High School which was apparently part of the reason she ran away from home at the age of 16 and went to Hollywood. And here is the part where I can no longer relate to this woman. Thousands of people go to Hollywood in the hopes that their dreams will come true and for most, it just doesn’t happen. Some die in gutters, some become prostitutes, some lose their minds but very, very few actually achieve the goal they had in mind when they first felt the warm California sun on their fresh young faces.
It is a sad tale really; thousands of teens have been lost to the streets of Hollywood. But wait, Katherine Brooks was the exception, not the rule, her dreams did come true. She became a film maker, she went to red carpet events, she made good money, she hob-knobbed with the rich and famous. How does having your dreams come true drive you to suicide? I am oversimplifying at this point, I am aware of that, but not in any way where it affects my original point, part of not getting over it is a choice. Regardless of your childhood and how it affects you now, no matter that you found the bottom and when you got there you were entirely alone how you deal or don’t, is a choice. I think of the words of George Bernard Shaw in Man and Superman, “This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish, little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”
Throughout the film you see Katherine embracing Eastern philosophy. Part of Buddhism is to embrace suffering, the thing is, I don’t think it is meant to be self-inflicted suffering. I mean sure, most of us have seen that Buddhist monk burning himself in protest, that was self-inflicted. The difference is, he had a point and I’m still trying to figure out what point Brooks was trying to make with this film. It kind of goes all over the place, a lot of points are touched on, like that the internet is serving to disconnect us more than to connect us. The idea of medication is touched on but not in any decisive way. Suicide is brought up but never touched on at all and a pattern begins of lightly touching the surface of these issues but never following through with any of them. She even tries to quit smoking tobacco while she’s on her trip. I give her an A plus for effort but mostly I just see a woman who feels sick going on a trip to meet other people, mostly other people who are also sick, to try and establish connection.
And that brings up connection, an underlying theme of the film and the best point it could have made if it wasn’t all about this self-indulgent woman who is just hard to relate to. The average person just has to deal when they go through a rough patch. No one bought me a new vehicle and funded a whirlwind cross country journey for me when I was having a rough patch. Like most of us I had to just keep on getting up each day and going to my soul-sucking job. Sometimes you just have to cope because no one is going to hand you a car, a wad of money and a quest. Road trips can be very insightful, as a traveler, I get that and I will say this for Katherine Brooks, she does appear to be gaining insight as she makes her way across the country.
The film opens on the suicide attempt, recorded on her phone she speaks of loneliness and mentions that she has taken a lot of pills. The phone eventually drops out of her hand as she loses consciousness. Next we see her packing for her quest and hitting the road in the stylish vehicle provided. On her journey she meets a lot of people she feels she can commiserate with and there is much hugging, bracelet exchanging and Henna tattoo bonding. At one point she meets a woman who is a psychiatrist, or some such. This woman says to Katherine, “The work you’re doing is so important.” And I’m left thinking, what work? All she’s doing is taking an all-expense paid trip around the country complaining rather a lot for someone with such abundance.
Seriously, what work? It’s like the sick leading the sick, how is that going to work? Meanwhile, this psychiatrist is talking of her own plans to build a sort of sanctuary for people who need help, she’s working her ass off to build it and oddly you never hear Katherine say, “Ah, but the work you are doing is really great too.” It struck me that Katherine Brooks actually believes she is doing some kind of work, perhaps if work is defined as loosely as hardship, there’s wiggle room. At the end of the day no matter how much in common she had with the people she met, her answers were still her answers, her insight was hers alone. No two people arrive at inner peace in the same way, the variables are too abstract. At the end of the trip though, geography had little to do with it.
This film could be described as, “all over the place” which makes it difficult to figure out what the point of it is. While it raises a lot of very interesting questions about medication, depression, community and suicide it doesn’t actually address any of them in a coherent way. Katherine Brooks has an unbelievably extroverted and companionable personality, on her good days. If she wasn’t so self-absorbed she would likely get more done and actually be doing the “work” that is alluded to earlier in the film. After all, she has the resources, unlike so many who have a coherent plan for this type of work. The organization clearly lacking in the film and the drive to follow through and actually work seem missing, whether they are or not. She is handed the resources and instead blows them on a self-indulgent, all-expense paid road trip to achieve what?
At the end of the film she is at the Grand Canyon saying that the world is a beautiful place, and that “What we focus on is what we create in our life.” This however brings into sharp relief the total lack of focus in the film overall as well as its focus being generally of the negative. She says she wants to focus on the beautiful things and says she has a beautiful life and why would she ever take it? She says she feels blessed and that the journey across country saved her life, she expresses gratitude for having been able to take the journey and then walks off into the sunset. While I respect what this film was meant to accomplish I’m left feeling it didn’t do much for anyone other than Katherine herself, as I said, her answer are her answers, her epiphanies are hers alone. A physical journey can be as insightful spiritually as the traveler decides it should be and Katherine Brooks definitely was genuinely changed by the end of the film, unafraid to share it all you see her go through transformative moments.
My question throughout remained the same, how is her insight helpful or enlightening to anyone but her? To those of us who aren’t funded for a cross country journey of the soul, how is this film pertinent? We live in a world where people take more pride in being damaged than in recovering from it. People swap their diagnonsense and often their prescriptions like kids used to swap baseball cards back in the day. These days it's cool to have a diagnosis, it's cool to be on meds and this film only feeds that aspect of society. There is a pill out there for every single emotion a person can experience, all designed to feel it either more or less. People are trading in accountability for prescriptions these days and it is a real problem.
I relate to Brooks in that I would love to do something about it but unlike her, I don’t have the resources. If I did, I certainly wouldn’t squander them making a film that just as easily could have been called, “My Cross Country Pity Party” or “Debbie Does Depression.” On the other hand, I totally was taken in by Brooks. There is something about her, something in her eyes, her honesty and her fearlessness that I totally admire and respect. I do not mean to diminish the traumatic experiences she has had with my “get over it and stop whining” attitude but like Katherine herself, I’m not going to lie. She knows better than anyone that the truth can hurt, and this is simply the truth. My truth. Just like the film was her truth, Katherine’s truth, Katherine’s self-inflicted pain and self-absorbed journey to recover from it truth. My only hope is that someone, somewhere, who has the resources, might one day truly address the issues that the film raises.