Nicolas Pesce's debut feature film, The Eyes of My Mother, was all the rage at this year's Sundance film festival and quickly became one of the biggest successes of the 2016 indie circuit. The film combines an art-house aesthetic with stomach-churning horror, and with surgical precision pulls the viewer into one of the most twisted victim-captor relationships in the history of horror.
Check out the terrifying trailer below:
This opaque horror tells the story of Francisca, a Portuguese-American girl who invites a stranger into her family home in the middle of nowhere, rural America. When the stranger takes a violent turn and kills her mother, Francisca's father takes revenge by wounding him and locking him up in the barn where he remains for the next 10 years. The more Francisca visits the captive in the barn, the closer they get and, as time goes on, he becomes her closest companion.
Their intimacy gives the violence an emotional twist, leaving audiences torn between the Francisca that shows compassion and her violent alter-ego. This bizarre friendship at the core of the film is a novel twist on the Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological disorder induced in kidnap victims who begin to develop friendships with their captors. We're going to take a look at several infamous, true cases of Stockholm Syndrome and why The Eyes of My Mother gets the disturbing condition so right.
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1. Patty Hearst Brainwashed By The Symbionese Liberation Army
Patty Hearst was the daughter of media mogul William Randolph Hearst and was kidnapped by the far-left paramilitary group, The Symbionese Liberation Army, back in 1974. After being isolated from the outside world for 19 months, Patty began complying with the SLA and agreeing with the radical ideas of the terrorist group.
She even helped them by reading propaganda statements over radio broadcasts and conducting violent crimes and bank robberies in their name. Little Francisca in The Eyes of My Mother holds a similar power over her victim and uses it to force him to perform the sickest rituals with his consent. Hearst was finally released back into society when the SLA collapsed, but the courts refused to pardon her. They could not accept that she was brainwashed and sentenced her to 30 years for bank robbery.
2. Mary McElroy Plagued By Guilt After Her Captors Get Busted
On May 27th, 1933, Mary McElroy was snatched from her bubble bath by four assailants who took her to a secluded location and held her for ransom. When the kidnappers asked her father for $60,000, Mary scoffed and claimed she's worth more than that. They eventually settled for half the amount and Mary was released after 29 days in captivity.
Three of the four criminals were imprisoned shortly after and sentenced to life. Mary had developed a strong bond with them over the 29 days and could never shake the guilt of having them jailed for life. The strange friendship in The Eyes of My Mother is a perfect example of the illogical compassion in Stockholm Syndrome sufferers — even after the victim has been released. On January 21st, 1940, Mary submitted to her remorse and committed suicide, leaving behind a tragically twisted note that read:
"My four kidnappers are probably the four people on earth who don't consider me an utter fool. You have your death penalty now - so - please - give them a chance. Mary."
3. Elizabeth Smart Hid In Plain Sight
Elizabeth Smart was 14 years old when Brian Mitchell snuck into her room and kidnapped her. After he held a bizarre wedding ceremony with his captive, Mitchell and his wife moved Elizabeth around the country. The teenager was kept outside, tied to a tree, where she was starved and sexually assaulted for nine months.
Many neighbors saw the trio in the garden and assumed they were a happy family and Elizabeth claims she had several chances to escape but didn't even think about it. The captors were tracked down and and imprisoned and Smart went on to help other survivors of trauma through her books and public speaking.
4. Jaycee Lee Dugard Thought God Was On Her Side
Jaycee Lee Dugard was captured by religious fanatic Phillip Garrido and wife, and forced to spend the next 18 years acting as his second wife. Garrido built a complex of tents, which he christened 'God's Desire' for her and the two children they conceived together to live in. He also wrote his own bible that he indoctrinated her with from the early age of 11. In The Eyes of My Mother, Francisca's father is equally religious and brainwashes her into thinking his violence is justified by God.
By the time Garrido and his wife were discovered and put through the justice system, Jaycee was 29-years-old and refused to let child protection services take her kids. In fact, she was so racked with guilt because of Garrido's imprisonment that she even suggested that her kids should spend time with their father and attempted to visit him in jail.
The Eyes Of My Mother Captures More Than Just Our Attention
Nicolas Pesce's grizzly look at Stockholm Syndrome implements many of the triggers we've discussed. Twisted kidnappers like Francisca and her father use the threat of violence, the word of God and the susceptibility of children to create the illusion of love and friendship with their victims. The psychological manipulation on display in the film has long lasting effects on Francisca and just like the real syndrome; life after escape is never easy for the victims.
What other films get Stockholm Syndrome right?