DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: Resilience: The Biology of Stress and Science of Hope




The measurement of stress is arguably the most subjective emotion we gauge in our lives.  The range of what people define or express as being stress is colossal.  The associated actions and reactions range from “just deal with it” and “suck it up” to the veiled admissions of “I’ll just forget about it” or “I’m fine.”  Society wants to believe that adults have built their character enough to understand and handle stress, but healing isn’t always that simple.  The kicker comes when the roots of adult stresses are found to trace all the way back to unresolved childhood events.

(Image courtesy of KPJR Films)

The light shed by the shared research, connections, and testimonials of James Redford’s documentary “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope” opens eyes and stirs immediate personal reflection.  Toward your own self or in the role of a parent, “Resilience” puts the right mirrors in front of faces.  It is a worthy alarm notification that encourages more character building than being told to “pull up your bootstraps.”  This documentary makes it Chicago premiere Saturday, November 5, 2016 at the Gene Siskel Film Center as the special presentation of the first annual CIFCC Showcase hosted by the newly-formed Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.

Redford’s documentary presents big questions that are creeping into multiple fields of work and society.  Patient survey research begun in the 1980s by Dr. Vincent Felitti and Dr. Robert Anda found patterns in adults experiencing depression, anxiety, substance abuse, lower life expectancy, and even increased odds of life-threatening heart disease and cancers that matched multiple findings of unresolved childhood traumas.  They termed those common stress catalysts “adverse childhood experiences” and their ACEs study begin to discover convergences between mental diseases and the physical symptoms and responses.

Digging deeper, those threads of stress have been tracked with findings in not just hospitals wellness facilities, but also public schools and federal prisons.  Data examination takes that further identifying the most problematic and susceptible demographics and environments.  The groundswell of interviewed practitioners and specialists in “Resilience” share the emphatic stance that this epidemic is no longer just a social problem.  There isn’t a smoking gun cure, only better treatment and experience, hence the documentary’s title term.  

 Through excellent blends of animated graphics and informative notes, Redford’s documentary is informative and, more importantly, never judgmental.  Each of its presented samples, miniature case studies, and observations of conscientious reform are backed with telling statistics aimed to cement the common sense many are sometimes unwilling to accept.  The film, true to its message, emits positive energy and an artistry to deliver that beacon with confidence and optimism.  Such is a stellar trait of a winning documentary looking to combat cynicism.

“Resilience” presents a springboard towards improved proposed societal and medical practices armed to tackle this growing adversity.  Understanding is first, reflection is second, and action is the goal.  The eager movement championed by this documentary is only beginning.  Redford is screening the film at the Third Annual Resilience Summit in Chicago before its public premiere.

Redford’s documentary is an able and worthy fire-starter that deserves a wide public and family audience.  Consider this new required viewing for counselors, teachers, school leaders, medical teachers, and open-minded parents that want to address what shouldn’t be bottled up any longer.  More effort is needed and even more work lies ahead.

LESSON #1: A HEALTHY LIFE AND FUTURE STARTS AT HOME-- From the simple data points of personal questionnaires asking about personal history with physical and mental trauma, the most common ACEs circle back to upbringing and family conditions.  Saying it as simple as “having a stable, caring adult” in a child’s life makes a world of difference.  Strengthening parenting skills and increased attention to counseling options for children are dutiful new initiatives sought by this movement.

LESSON #2: STOP DISMISSING CHILDHOOD TRAUMA-- Studies like those cited in this film show that the ripple effects of traumatic experiences and stresses imparted on youths cannot be ignored anymore.  Those aforementioned terms of “just deal with it,” “suck it up,” and “get over it” or the dismissive statements of “they’ll be fine” or “they’ll forget about it” should not be used and applied they way they have been in the past.  

LESSON #3: THE DEFINITION OF RESILIENCE-- To state it again, there is no cure for stress or trauma.  Troubling moments and events in life are inevitable.  What can be taught are skills and steps to be resilient when faced with stress and anxiety.  The simple dictionary definition of the “resilience” reads: “the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens.”  Dealing with adversities takes deeper communication and improved approaches to preventative medicine and therapy.