By Nancy Heller Moskowitz, LPC, NCC, CCMHC,
Advocacy & Marketing Committee
I was born in New York and have returned to the city upon my retirement. While hunting in the library for a film, I came upon “Red Doors.” This Indie film was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2005, where it won an award. Ninety minutes long, it deals with a family living in the New York suburbs. Writer/director Georgia Lee based the film (loosely) on her own Chinese-American family. Delightful, well-scripted and acted, it handles sensitive issues (attempted suicide, rebellion, sexual exploration) deftly.
Let Me Introduce the Wong Family
- Ed has worked hard, supported and helped raise his three daughters, and is retiring at the age of 60. Though he feels useless and not needed, he is looking for a solution to his continued ideation of suicide. He finds it at a Buddhist retreat.
- Ed’s wife, May-Li, is a traditional Chinese woman living in the suburbs. She begins each meal with a traditional good health/happiness prayer and wants only the best for her family. She is a stay-at-home Mom, whose contrived optimism is displayed by painting the front door red, a symbol of good luck and good fortune.
- Samantha (Sam), Ed and May-Li’s oldest daughter, is a successful, Wall Street mover and shaker. She is engaged to Mark (who is Caucasian), an equally type-A, Wall Street type. He has planned their “perfect” wedding and decides much of their well-lived life.
- Julie, the middle daughter, is a medical student who likes everything to be calm. She is successful, but not very socially happy. She appears to be satisfied with her life until she meets someone very different from herself.
- Katie, the youngest daughter, is a typical teenager. She wears a T-shirt that sports “God is dead”, loves hip-hop dancing, and has a love-hate relationship with the boy next door.
Ed is seen at his office, moving around, receiving handshakes and congratulations from his colleagues. His smile is unconvincing to the audience. He is not looking forward to retirement at the age of 60. What will he do with himself now? Later on, we learn that Ed spends his time watching old videos of his family, especially ones of his three daughters. His mood is pensive and then we see how he copes with his life.
He tells a therapist, later on in the movie, that he has attempted suicide 30 to 40 times. The therapist asks; “What got in your way?” Ed replies that he was always interrupted. We see an excellent scene during one of these attempts. The camera pans slowly; as Ed is opening his shirt collar, in order to put a noose around his neck. In walks Katie, who looks up disinterestedly, and says, “Time for dinner, Dad,” and walks away. Ed gets down and goes to the table.
Each of the daughters has important scenes that illustrate separation from parental values, value clarification, and sexual exploration and identification.
Sam, although highly motivated at work, is shown having an asthma attack when she and Julie stop for a drink at a local, suburban bar and she sees her high school love. During this interlude, we begin to see her very “perfect” life unravel.
Julie is the biggest surprise. Initially, she appears so involved with her studies that she has no time to date. Her scenes with an actress (Mia Scarlett) doing research at the hospital allow Julie to explore and participate in a lesbian relationship with Mia. A powerful scene between the two occurs when Mia tries to deflect a reporter from finding out about her relationship with Julie. Julie feels betrayed, but Mia explains; “I’m trying to protect you.” This scene can be a great discussion within a counseling group on sexual orientation and beliefs.
Katie, the “reality tester” of this family, is part of a dance troupe that performs at school later in the movie. Her scenes with Simon, the boy next door, are poignant and funny, although some of them are dangerous, too. A final scene with Katie and Simon showing him on crutches and her with a cast on her arm conveys that their “sexual foreplay” has been satisfied and now they can have a relationship!
I’ve saved May-Li for last because, on the surface, she seems content with her life. She values her family, and takes care of them, yet she is a combination of old and new family values. In an opening scene, all we see is the family’s red door. Red is used often in May-Li’s scenes. We learn that white is worn for funerals in Chinese culture and that red is worn at weddings. She sews a beautiful red, silk dress for Sam to wear at her wedding, but Sam refuses to wear it. May-Li shrugs her shoulders and appears to give in, but does she?
When Ed leaves, May-Li acts unperturbed, telling their daughters that he will come back when he is hungry. But after awhile, we see May Li, late at night, folding clothes and crying because of her implied fears and sadness over Ed’s leaving.
If there is anything imperfect about this film, it is the ending. It ties up all the plot threads neatly—too neatly—and all is well. We see the family accept Julie’s lesbianism, without much concern; we see Katie’s behavior be consequence-free; and we see Ed get better without really talking about his issues and why he thought suicide was an answer.
Still, this sleeper of a film has much to offer for group sessions. Enjoy!
Time To Move On
Two years ago I was asked to write this department on behalf of AMHCA’s Public Awareness, Advocacy & Marketing Committee. It has been a lot of fun and introduced all of us to some movies that we might not have seen. I have decided that this will be my last column, as my professional life now takes me in a different direction. I hope that all of you will enjoy this Reflections column as you have others.