‘Labor Day’ Movie Review – A Psychological Exploration
What seems like so long ago, I was going through college as a lowly psychology students. I chose psychology because I was very interested in the brain, but more importantly: I wanted to know why people do the things they do. Things like the Stanford Prison Experiment and the bystander effect both interested and haunted me. Then, I learned about Stockholm Syndrome. Later on, I became more and more invested in the movie industry, and I longed for the day I’d see Stockholm Syndrome mix with the movie industry. That day came yesterday in Jason Reitman’s (Juno) drama-to-the-core Labor Day. It certainly isn’t a flawless movie, but Labor Day is an engrossing and interesting look at growing up, love, depression, and, my favorite, the human mind.
Labor Day is based on Joyce Maynard’s 2009 novel of the same name. It tells the story of Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin) – a man who goes to prison for murder, then escapes – alongside Adele (Kate Winslet) and Henry Wheeler (Gattlin Griffith) – a mother-son duo that is struggling through her crippling depression. When the Wheeler family makes their monthly trip outside, they cross paths with the freshly-escaped Chambers, who forces them back to their home. Once home, the three embark on an interesting five-day stretch, where they turn from prisoners to…family.
Stockholm Syndrome, for those that don’t know, is the psychological event in which prisoners develop positive feelings towards their captors. It became famous in 1973 after a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. During the six-day ordeal, the prisoners became attached to the captors, eventually rejecting assistance and defending them upon their release.
As you can probably tell, even without seeing the movie, Labor Day explores this tough subject. It explores what it means to be a prisoner both literally and figuratively.
At one point, Reitman (who wrote the movie, too) put in a nice touch about Adele’s depression making her a prisoner in her own body. This, to me, is even more terrifying than having an escaped convict in my house for five days.
Back to Frank, people are inherently going to be skeptical, or downright unwilling, to root for the captors. In this situation, it is Frank. Reitman jumps us pretty much straight into the action knowing we probably won’t root for the “bad” guy. He intercuts Chambers’ backstory throughout the movie in order to slowly let us become attached to him. Some would call it a little manipulative, but I think manipulating time in movies is perfectly fine.
The movie is also a huge departure from a director we’ve continually see be great, albeit very similar. His filmography includes comedy-drama after comedy-drama (Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air, and Young Adult). Labor Day is thematically similar, but it’s more of a stretch than anything else. If you’re a Reitman fan and looking for something a little different, this is definitely your chance.
Theme is where this film works best because, like I mentioned earlier, people are inherently skeptical. It’s unlikely we’ll buy the actual plot. In other words, it’s hard for us to make sense of why they don’t just pick up the telephone. The plot also plays into the ending…one of which I don’t think I like.
By the end, I ultimately fall somewhere between the people clapping and the couple that walked out after about an hour. I still find it hard to empathize with Frank, even if I see the things he’s capable of. The story relies on circumstances, meaning the perfect situation had to come together for this to happen. However, Labor Day will make your heart beat – both because it gives a great look at a flawed couple and because, at some points, it feels more like a thriller than a drama.