Beyond the Pines, But Not Beyond the Trauma

“Nuts” dealt with the impact of incest on a woman charged with murder. “Valley of Elah” dealt with a father’s quest to understand why his son, an Iraqi veteran, was murdered following his return home.  “Prince of Tides” explored the long lasting effects of trauma on Tom Wingo, who was the victim of a violent crime when he was a child and “Antoine Fisher” explored how childhood physical and sexual abuse undermined the military adjustment of a young Navy seaman.  All four movies looked at the far reaching and long lasting impact of trauma on specific individuals.

“Beyond the Pines,” ostensibly a story about police corruption, is also a story about trauma, though a more subtle treatment of the topic.  The movie explores not only the impact of trauma on an individual, but also the ripple effects of trauma and the collateral damage to relationships of traumatized individuals.

The main character is Avery, a rising star in the Schenectady, NY police force. He has a beautiful wife and a son, AJ, who adore him.

Luke is a stunt motorcycle driver, who reunites with an old girlfriend, Romina, who came to see his performance at a carnival.  She has had a child, Jason, since they were last together and some simple math leads Luke to the correct conclusion that the child is his. Romina reluctantly reveals that Luke’s suspicions are true. Luke, a carnival drifter most of his life, an adrenalin seeker, a man without roots to this point, is searching for attachment, connection, and purpose and pressures Romina to leave her current stable relationship with Kofi to start over with him. He wants stability. He wants family. Romina resists, though attraction still exists she doubts Luke can settle down.

Luke is determined to shown Romina he can provide for her and sets out to secure a stable future for her and his son….by robbing banks. He goes on a bank robbing spree with his motorcycle as his getaway vehicle. One more heist and he’s done. Something goes wrong. A police chase, hero and anti-hero meet. Avery shoots and kills Luke.

As it turns out, police can suffer combat stress too. (In fact, almost 50% of officers involved in a civilian shooting, experience PTSD.)

The effect of the shooting on Avery is subtle. An untrained eye might miss it. The effect is first apparent in interactions with his children and wife. The warmth is gone, the intimacy, the spontaneity. He’s lost his capacity to express emotion, to give or receive comfort. This is called “psychic numbing.”

The movie fast forwards 15 years. Avery is now an Assistant DA and a candidate for governor.

At a family funeral, we learn that Avery has been divorced from his wife and estranged from AJ who is now a sullen, angry, high school bully. How trauma can creep through family. AJ and Jason both lost fathers that day 15 years ago.

The plot twist here is that AJ and Jason now attend the same high school. The story that began15 years earlier is gradually revealed to all.

Upon learning about how his father died, Jason feels betrayed by his mother and Kofi because they lied to him about Luke’s background and death. He breaks off his relationships with them and sets off to learn about his father.

Can Avery make amends to Luke’s son? Will Avery and his own son reconcile? Will Avery’s son be able to forgive him, a crucial step to being able to stop his own arrested development? Lastly, will Luke’s son, having learned the truth of his father’s past and death, reunite with his family or live out his father’s script?

And at the end of the movie, having observed the wide-ranging impact of trauma on the film’s characters, you wonder, whatever happened to Luke that led him to that fateful encounter with Avery?

Dan is a Sr. Project Associate II with SAMHSA’s GAINS Center and a Sr. Trainer at PRA.

Invisible wounds of war, Trauma