3 Stars – Thought-Provoking
Written by a young teenage woman whose recent memory provides us with a window into her thirteenth year, “Thirteen” is invaluable in understanding how lives become broken and in need of love and healing.
Nikki Reed’s brutally realistic portrayal of the precarious world of rebellious thirteen-year-old children is powerful. A difficult time for any young person, the transition from elementary school to the middle and junior high school environment is an especially dangerous time for those whose families cannot provide the spiritual, emotional and moral stability such transitions require. Living in broken families that are often financially and socially challenging, these parents are themselves struggling to survive and have little strength to nurture and protect their children.
Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) is the youngest child of a divorced mother, Melanie (Holly Hunter), who must attend daily AA meetings to keep herself sober. Her father is an ambitious professional who has divorced not only his wife, but also his children, and places them second to the needs of his career. There is an older brother who is openly addicted to marijuana and, though he has concern for his sister, he does not have the maturity or ability to be of help to her.
Beginning junior high with insecurity and a desire to fit in, Tracy sees Evie (Nikki Reed) as the “hottest girl in the 7th grade.” Although it is clear that this assessment is based on her pushing the moral and social boundaries, Tracy decides to be like her. What she doesn’t realize is that Evie is living a life of deceit, thievery, drug dealing, and bisexual immorality along with drug and alcohol use.
Raised by a woman who is herself deeply damaged and working as a bartender while pretending to be an actress, Evie is reaching out for family in the only way she knows how and ends up moving in with Tracy, her mother Melanie and her brother. Lying her way into Melanie’s heart, Evie exacerbates the wedge that has already begun between Tracy and her mother.
This reality that evil can take advantage of the vulnerability of a person and a family could not be more graphically displayed on film. The absence of a healthy community of faith to which they belong leaves the family isolated and vulnerable. When Melanie’s sponsor from AA tries to intervene and get Evie to leave, she is woefully unprepared for the aggressive resistance she receives. Washing her hands of the problem and deciding to go “back to work so I can sell a house,” it is clear that there is no one with on-going commitment to see the family through this crisis.
The destruction Evie causes is multiplied not only because the family is overwhelmed and unsupported, but also because Tracy masks her emotional pain by the physical pain of cutting herself. Hiding in the bathroom, Tracy slices her arm in an attempt to refocus her soul’s injuries to those of her body.
When Tracy and Evie’s true behaviors are revealed, Melanie extends a mother’s unconditional love and support and holds her until they fall exhausted into sleep. What is disappointing is that the film leaves us in that place without either offering a hope for resolution or a larger community of people who will love and support her, committing to helping the family navigate through life.
Without spiritual direction from faith in God or a faith-based community to help us raise our children, the task is overwhelming and dangerous. It takes a community of faith to raise a child and mature their soul; to try it alone is unnecessarily difficult, overwhelming and dangerous.
- The difficulty in Tracy’s life began with the adults who conceived her and were responsible to raise her to maturity. What would have been different in her life if her parents had been people of faith in Jesus Christ?
- Churches provide youth pastors to help young people transition from childhood to adulthood. When parents choose to not place their children in a church, who are they expecting to teach their children how to be adults? What are those “teachers” teaching?
- The lack of any adult being committed to be there for Tracy and her mother was painfully evident in the film. What do you think brings about the kind of relationships in which people are committed to help one another in their real-life problems?
- The dress and behaviors of the MTV generation rush young teens into adult decisions for which they are not prepared. What do you think a responsible parent must do today to protect young teens? Why are parents so often unwilling to do it?