Film Review: Emma Peeters

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Film Review: Emma Peeters
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By Jaq Tesch

*Trigger Warning* This article openly talks about topics that may contain sensitive material for many individuals and reader discretion is advised to for those individuals where suicide is a triggering subject. 

"Emma Peeters" looks at the tragic reality of some individuals dealing with mental illnesses and suicidal ideologies.

"Emma Peeters," directed and written by Nicole Palo, focuses on the main character of the same name and was released in Canada on November 2, 2018 and in Sweden on January 31, 2019, but made its US debut at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on February 3, 2019.

Emma Peeters is a woman about a week from turning 35 when we first meet her. She is a Belgian actress who has been living in Paris for 15 years, has been in one laundry commercial, and owns a cat named Jim. She is giving up on her dream to be an actress knowing that for women, age 35 is the expiration date for most to get hired in major roles.

At the beginning, it is clear that she physically doesn’t show much emotion and whenever she is asked, doesn’t have any fun facts about herself.

She continues to be rather bland at her regular day job working at a store called Tardy where she sells televisions. She goes to a woman named Bernadette’s house and the audience meets her friends Bob and Serge, who own a hair salon and give her a new hairdo, and Lulu, a friend she does an acting class with.

Emma doesn’t show sadness or happiness, rather she is solemn, but one day Emma is walking and sees a shop called SOS Funerals where the flowers in the front window say, “Rest in Peace, Emma”. For the first time the audience sees an adverse reaction from Emma, almost one that would be described as horrified. She then goes to an alternative medicine "doctor" where he tells her he feels energy inside which only happens with people who are already dead.

EMMA PEETERS - Trailer from TAKE FIVE on Vimeo.

Emma returns to the funeral shop and buys flowers for someone she describes is terminally ill, herself. When she leaves the store, Emma is visibly elated. She decides to kill herself and makes a list of to-dos before committing the act on her birthday. While completing these tasks, Emma meets a possible love interest and the situation becomes more complicated.

This film was hard for me to watch, but I wanted to compare my journey to the journeys of other people who have dealt with similar mindsets and how media would portray mental illness. Granted, there were many things that differentiated me from Emma, I couldn’t say that we are much different in the sense of suicidal thoughts. Suicide is a complicated and very serious matter.

As someone who suffers from mental illness, as well as other medical conditions that affect my everyday life, I found the simplistic storytelling of one event causing Emma to have suicidal ideations unrealistic, although it may be the case for other people. For me, and friends who I know were also suicidal, its typically a buildup of things that become overwhelming. Emma’s moment is not getting cast in a role and believing that her acting career is over. 

However, Emma's actions and thoughts are relatable. There are fewer emotions shared, or faked emotions so that no one can tell that you feel broken inside. For me, I have often been called the bubbly friend, thus I kept my personality as happy-go-lucky as possible around other people so they wouldn’t notice my inward battles. Emma does this when she talks to a friend and her parents when she says she is going to go far away for a very long time and will stop acting. Deep down I think those of us who are suicidal or have been in the past, know we don’t really want to die, but we don’t know any other ways to start over. For me, I can’t get away from my illnesses, and I have to cope with having them forever. 

Ultimately, this movie had some aspects about someone dealing with suicidal ideations that I could really relate to and others that were not a part of my journey, but could possibly be a part of someone else’s. I think overall the film doesn’t over-glorify suicide and doesn’t candy-coat it either, but is more realistic than I was expecting, and I applaud the creators for that. The more that the stigma around mental health is broken and has light shed upon it, hopefully, the more help that those suffering can receive.

If you or someone you know is suicidal or showing suicidal tendencies and ideologies, please reach out for help. The number for The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the United States is 1-800-273-8255 and is available 24 hours a day, for English speakers. For those who speak Spanish the number is 1-888-628-9454 and for those hard of hearing or deaf, the number is 1-800-799-4889. If there are any immediate dangers or you no longer trust yourself please call 9-1-1 or get to an Emergency Room. You are not alone, please keep fighting.