Essays · Movies

‘Krisha’ and the Art of Filming Self-Destruction

A movie that approaches and separates itself from a familiar storyline.
By  · Published on May 5th, 2016

Self-destruction has been a popular cinematic theme since the silent era. One of the first examples being Charlie Chaplin’s The Cure from 1917, a film about a drunk who goes to a spa hoping to cure his addiction. Almost 100 years later, the most recent contribution to this popular narrative is Krisha, Trey Edward Shults’s first feature film. The film stems from Shults’s short film released the year prior titled Krisha, and, spanning over a single day, tells the story of a woman returning home after having disappeared for a number of years.

Krisha isn’t the first film to screen addiction, as stated above. To name a few movies of this genre: Miles Ahead (2016), Trainwreck (2015), Thanks for Sharing (2012), Shame (2011), Requiem for a Dream (2000), Man With a Golden Arm (1955), The Lost Weekend (1945), and Sadie McKee (1934). Yet since its festival circuit and (limited) release as of March 18th, 2016, it has gained notoriety among filmmakers, critics, and audiences. What is that makes Krisha stand out in a sea of similar stories? An independent film shot over the course of nine days, using family members, friends, and an occasional actor, the story of Krisha arises and intrigues through its ability to film the dynamics and complexities of self-destruction unlike others of its kind.

Each movie listed above has utilized addiction in a different way. However, despite the number of movies on the topic, Krisha is one of the few movies on self-destruction that doesn’t glorify the disease. It doesn’t use it as a method for making art. Nor does it make the character more loveable for being a hot mess. Krisha doesn’t end on a hopeful note, portraying the act of “getting your shit together” to be an easy task. Nor is Krisha meant to be a psychedelic trip that the audience is mesmerized by, able to focus on its cinematography rather than its story. Shame and Requiem for a Dream reach there, creating a unsettling atmosphere, twisting the audiences gut each time their addiction takes over. However, the difference between Krisha and the other two is that the former connects the audience to Krisha, whereas the latter two maintain a wall, separating viewers from the character’s emotional turmoil.

Krisha begins as a mystery. A woman drives into a neighborhood, parks alongside the curb, hesitatingly grabs a suitcase, and marches off towards a house. The tension is obvious, as all family gatherings tend to be at some point or another. It’s clear she hasn’t seen her family in some time. Krisha is quiet, her sister informs the audience that she lives alone, making her more sensitive to the openness of the house and its cringe worthy sound of pots, pans, dog barks, and family members all bouncing off the walls. The film becomes uncomfortable when we witness Krisha take a few of her many prescription pills. The film continues like this for a while, with the audience in a constant cloud of mystery, unaware of why she left, why she lives alone, why there’s tension, or what her prescription pills are for.

As the story grows, the film expands to include its characters. No longer are we focusing on Krisha but now we’re curious about why the characters are distant. Family members recoil at her touch, Trey is paralyzed with anger, confusion, and the uncomfortable nature of reconnecting with someone you wish would continue to disappear. Because the film doesn’t begin with Krisha’s addiction, but rather focuses on the aftermath of it, Shults’ is able to capture an element of addiction, the mentality of it, that is somewhat new to its genre. Shults’ approach provides room for the exploration of addiction as a mental illness, a battle that is never quite finishes. Krisha willingly walks into a place of shame, where her family is ready and willing to discharge anger and blame for the hurt that was left in her wake. When Krisha arrives, she feels confident that she is prepared and on some small level is deserving of compassion. On a justifiable level, the family validated Krisha’s shame. The mixture of unprocessed emotions and limited patience and compassion given to Krisha set her visit up for failure. But because the film begins on an ambiguous note, the audience is more willing to accept and sympathize with Krisha, until the truth is unveiled, at which point the audience is left to debate if blame can be placed on one single person.

The dynamic of understanding both sides, capturing addiction from all angles, creates more of a reality than other films of its genre. As often as the character’s point fingers, trying to alleviate their discomfort, Krisha is able to lay those fingers down and show the cyclical complexity of alcoholism. There’s no hopeful ending. Shults’ doesn’t allude to reconciliation or willingness from Krisha to attend rehab. Unlike some of the movies listed above, where the self-destructor embraces accountability and walks into shame with empathy and understanding, Krisha shows the difficulty of asking for help, saying sorry, and working every hour of every day to change familiar habits. Self-destruction and addiction lack simplicity because they go beyond the physical act and require one to be self-aware at all times.

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