Terri (2011), directed by Azazel Jacobs, starring Jacob Wysocki, and John C. Riley, is a film that speaks to me on a very personal level. Not only with the themes it encapsulates, but with its true-to-life characters, and with its grounded aesthetic that manages to tie it all together in a package that is highly emotional.
Terri explores what it is to be young, and why those teenage years are so vital in determining the kind of person we become.
Terri is different, in the sense that he is overweight. Yet, this is the only visual difference that sets him a apart from his classmates; that and his pajama-wearing tendencies, but this behavior seems to be some kind of self-validation in assuring that he is different. Maybe it is that the pajamas act as a scapegoat, in an attempt to draw people away from his weight, and onto the fact he comes into school dressed so loosely. However, this is a notion very few people seem to care about. In the end, it only serves to distinguish him further from the crowd.
For the most part, younger kids, and even teenagers don’t fully understand there is no shame in being different. Differences are the things that make us human, the things that make the world as interesting and as diverse as it is. Without that, what would there be?
An endless world of uncompromising uniformity, that’s all.
What life is there in that? How would a person find reason to live, if everything were identical. Not only this, but Terri understands it all – as a person he is infinitely more knowledgable about life than any of those that harass him; after all, living the life he does, he has to be. His maturity is the only way in which he can get through it.
The Pain of Being Bullied
Being bullied is an awful experience. It is degenerating, confidence-sapping, and what your left with will always be with you, regardless of how a person comes to view it in the future – that little speck of uncertainty is always their within the deepest of places.
Terri is of course, bullied; he’s worn down by it, degraded. Amidst all this, he has to take care of his uncle, James, who suffers from what we take to be Alzheimer’s or dementia. Someone relies on him to be there, for care, and for company. Where is his childhood? His parents are gone, and in many respects he is completely alone. His moments in the woods, feeding mice to the birds of prey are a metaphor for this. Terri desires to feel needed, something his uncle doesn’t or cannot easily express. The bird fulfils this role; until Heather, and to a lesser extent Chad begin to play a part in Terri’s life. Two people who are also bullied and persecuted because of their actions/appearances. Because of this, the three of them find respite in each other.
The Importance of Experience
Experience is at the heart of human development, and of how we see the world around us, how we ultimately choose to interact with it; or how we don’t. Experience allows us the ability to gain a broader perspective in understanding the world and its people.
Terri is an exploration of teenage experience. This is important, because the experiences a person has during those years, are often vital in influencing later life – for better, or worse. It’s correct to say that Terri has a lack of experience. Despite this, he isn’t necessarily negatively influenced by this. It only serves as a divide between him and his fellow classmates; which, depending on how you view it, may even be a good thing.
Welcome Heather… At first glance Heather seems to be the stereotypical ‘blonde’ character. A static character who serves as an anchor point for another. However, first impressions turn out to be untrue. Heather is dynamic in her personality. She’s a victim of peer-pressure and regretful moments, and the only person willing to be there for her is, Terri.
A brilliant moment, is one of the later scenes, in which Terri, Heather, and Chad are alone with a bottle of whisky, and a strip of pills. Here, we’re able to see them for that truly are: Insecure, anxious, self-depreciating… depressed. It’s a frail picture, and the vulnerability of the three of them hits hard. More than anything, though, there’s an overwhelming sense that they have no idea what they are doing. That’s the thing about experience, it’s constant, and it’s surprising, and in the moment a person has no idea how to react to it, nor how to form it into coherent words. And yet, every single bit is necessary.
The ‘moment’ with Heather acts as the inciting incident in Terri. It changes something in him, or rather, it allows for an intrinsic part of himself to break free amidst the surrounding conflict. Terri recognises that he is not the only one being persecuted. The realisation that someone as popular as Heather was, can in a moment be ostracised, is a sobering thought to him. Not only this, but Heather is a good person, just as he is. Terri sees past her stereotyped exterior, instead focusing on the things inside her – the places in which Terri knows pain lingers, because it resides in the same places for himself also.
Friendship is about sharing, both the good and the bad. It’s about giving some of that bad to another person, and about receiving some in exchange. This way, things are easier to see in bright light, easier to understand, and therefore overcome. But more than anything, it’s about being able to rely on a person but oneself – an idea that Terri, Heather, and Chad come to cherish.
All that’s needed is a little helping-hand.
Terri is a wonderful film, and if you haven’t already seen it, I implore you to go out and watch it. The films that fall under the radar are often, sadly, some of the best.
What did you think of Terri, and the themes it explores?
Thanks for reading, as always!
-Chris (Follow me on Twitter, and consider supporting Peach’s Almanac on Patreon!)