Stress and Cancer part 2

Yesterday I wrote a piece about stress and illness.  In this article I focused on the role that stress plays in all areas of health.  When my mother read it she astutely responded, “Some issues I would want to discuss — the need to be careful not to go so far to one side that the complexity of mind-body gets lost (as people often do, as you note, by disregarding the mind aspect).” While I understand what she is talking about, I told her that I’m not arguing that everything is stress, but instead that stress and the repression of our emotions is clearly linked to all aspects of health and illness.  In fact the opposite is true, the medical system is only just beginning to recognize stress as a causal factor in illness, and the general negation of it is extremely problematic.  I believe that our cultural understanding of the situation is extremely out of balance in the opposite direction and sometimes you have to shake the frames with serious force to bring things back into balance.

For the past few months I have been somewhat obsessed with the ideas of “framing” and balance.  The two go hand in hand, as we need frames in order to make sense of the chaos that is the world, but if we become too rigid in our framing then our understanding of the world become out of balance in the other way.  This connection between balance and framing has a lot to do with our personal – and group – interactions with health care, government, education, parenting, etc.  On some level our understanding of all art is related to these concepts.

Everything that we know is defined by unconscious social constructions.  If we become overly aware of this we can become paralyzed as we analyze every movement we make or thought that we have.  In terms of filmmaking, we talk a lot about moments that “bring people out the movie”.  These are the things that make people aware of the construction of the film, things that don’t fit the world that we’ve framed, or get out of rhythm with the pacing we’ve set.  When people notice the set, or hear a badly delivered line that doesn’t fit, they get taking out of the frame that we have established.  Conversely, again in terms of filmmaking, a rigid adherence to the “internal rules” of the story, or character expectation, leads to a film that becomes boring and predictable.  The middle way is to go through life with awareness that our world is a construction of the supercomputer of our mind.  Given this reality we play the role that we are given, like an actor in role-playing computer game.  In a film this ideal is manifested in storylines that surprise us, and characters that don’t do exactly what we expect them to, but do them in ways that are believable.

We name things to make them “real” because there is no way for us to hold them in our minds without words to define them.  Names are like computer code that make things “of this world”, or readable.  Consider the question, “If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one to hear it, does it make a sound?”  If we frame it differently it could read, “If we did not have a word for sound would we be able to “hear” a tree fall?”  Does “sound” exist without a listener to give meaning to the word sound?  All concepts are social/linguistic constructions.  When we try to create universal truths we turn supple clay into breakable pottery that cannot handle challenges.

Stories and films only make sense to us when they follow the rules of our social constructions.  If the people on screen do and say things that we don’t understand then the films only have meaning in the sense that we understand them in relation to our own constructions.  If films depict behaviors or ideas that clash with our social constructions (liberal ideology if we are conservative – pornography which goes against our moral beliefs) then we will be “offended by it” and likely unmoved by whatever message it might be trying to get across.  We might be moved to hold even more tightly to the current constructions and ideologies that we adhere to.  I agree with my mother in the sense that people can’t listen if they feel attacked or offended.  At the same time I believe that the system is so out of balance that it needs some shaking at its foundations to get it back on track.

Our challenge as filmmakers is to take on the story of the relationship between healthcare and stress in such a way that we challenge people enough to get them to question the social construction that we live within (ie that stress doesn’t “cause illness” ) but not so much that they refuse to listen to the messages of the film.  In the end, while the film is “about” the relationship between stress and illness, it is also about much broader philosophical ideas of culture, framing, and balance.

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