"Thirteen" is the tragic tale of a teen who stumbles into the destructive world of drugs and risky behavior. The plot of the story, a good girl turned bad, is not new but the tight detail and realism make the movie special.
The story is not just about the transformation the main character, Tracy, makes-changing from a naïve, somewhat dorky kid, to a troubled and out-of-control teen-but about the things that drove her to that point. In the first 10 minutes of "Thirteen," Tracy seems to have a pretty easy life. Throughout the movie, more and more problematic characters spin around her. There is her recovering alcoholic mother with a cocaine-addicted boyfriend, the divorced father who is never around and an older brother who treats her like a toddler. Then she is introduced to drugs, sex, shoplifting and self-mutilation by the other central character, Evie, the bad girl who is pretty bad.
Tracy sees Evie as beautiful, popular and rebellious-a powerful force living a glamorous life, worshiped by guys. When Tracy changes her clothes and personality to fit in with Evie, she sees the dirty and troubled nature of Evie's life. Tracy begins to steal, regularly cuts her arms to feel the pain, explores drugs, gets piercings, ditches classes, even starves herself. Her relationship with her mom weakens as she spends more and more time with Evie.
At this point, Evie's personality begins to unravel. Evie is without a mom; she is cared for by a friend of the family. Evie starts to gravitate towards Tracy's mom, Mel, as a mother figure who can relate to her struggles. The closer Mel gets to Evie, the more distant she becomes to Tracy. Mel's empathy for Evie blinds her to the awful reality affecting her own child. Evie's manipulative personality becomes more evident to the audience, but Tracy just cannot see a way back to a more normal life.
If this sounds scary to you, that is normal. It is scary to think of a 13-year-old having such intense experiences. It is especially scary to see things in her life go so wrong so fast. And it is scary to think that one child could go through such a radical transformation without a parent intervening. Yet, it happens. It is happening all around us.
Some parents are reluctant to expose their kids to this film. For me, being almost 13 and seeing this movie opened my eyes. It has shown me the world of drugs is not the least bit glamorous. My parents and I talked about whether the R-rated "Thirteen" was appropriate for me to see. We decided to go to the film together and to be prepared to discuss the issues afterwards. It really helped me to understand the film to talk about it with my parents, and I recommend any kid my age to see it.
For parents who are contemplating taking their kids to see this film, there is a risk. The risk is that your child might see this movie and be shocked by the unexpected world it explores. Or parents could not let them see it and take a risk that their kids may end up like Tracy.
Adults often want to know if 13-year-olds really can relate to this film. On my way out of the theater, a woman asked if I thought it was realistic. I paused for a second before replying, "Yes. I recognize this." I have never gone through any of the ordeals Tracy did, but I know people who have. I told the woman that the most frightening and realistic part to me was when she was cutting herself. I know people my age who have gone through that, and watching it on film made me cry.
Still, most kids will never go through anything as crazy and horrifying as Tracy did, or deal with their problems in that way. However, it is clear is that Tracy was an emotionally injured person. Everyone hurt her. Her mother by not stopping Tracy when she went off-track and by being a poor role model. Her mom's boyfriend by exposing her to his addiction before she could handle it. Her workaholic father by not being there to support her. And Evie by using her at a vulnerable moment and pushing her in the wrong direction.
Tracy's journey was unique, intense and horrifying but not pointless. It teaches us there is more than one way to hurt someone. Most important, it teaches us that the best way to love your kids is to really listen to them and then find ways to talk to them that actually helps. That is what 13-year-olds need most.
Dede Minter, who turns 13 in November, Oak Park
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