Film Reviews

Review: ‘PTSD: Beyond Trauma’

New doc from White Pine Pictures

Lauren McKeon, writer and author of feature article recounting her history of being sexually assaulted and its consequences—including flashbacks, dissociation, anxiety and other PTSD symptoms. Toronto, Ontario, Canada


PTSD: Beyond Trauma
(Canada, 44 min.)
Dir. Patrick Reed

“Put your head down and keep your feet moving,” is one tip that filmmaker Patrick Reed’s father used to share with his children, as the director notes in his statement for the new White Pines Pictures documentary PTSD: Beyond Trauma. In the film, Reed draws on the experience of seeing his father struggle to keep pace with his own advice following a traumatic bus crash in 2010. Mr. Reed survived and was physically unharmed, but he still carries emotional and psychological wounds from the incident in which four people died.

Reed’s father doesn’t appear in PTSD: Beyond Trauma, but the doc shares the experiences of other survivors living day to day with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The doc, which airs Thursday on CBC’s The Nature of Things, offers an informative and humanising perspective on moving forward from a tragedy while feeling the daily rub of PTSD.

Host David Suzuki guides several narratives in which survivors tell of the events that changed their lives and share how they’ve dealt with the aftershocks. One couple, Ute Lawrence and Stan Fisher, still undergo treatment for PTSD after witnessing the record 87-car pile-up on the 401 in 1999. They still hear the screams of people trapped within burning cars.

Torontonian Lauren McKeon, on the other hand, carries the effects of surviving a sexual assault from a friend at the age of 16. She still feels the carpet on her skin and the pressure of his body pinning her down to the floor.

In Chicago, the murder capital of the USA, groups of teens raise their hands in unison as a social worker surveys the room to see who have lost friends or family members to violence. These teens walk in fear, like a solder avoiding a landmine.

Reed connects these stories and others with an objective look at PTSD. The trauma causes profound effects on a person’s psyche. Interviews with doctors explain how trauma alters the mind differently from person to person: a study with Lawrence and Fisher, for instance, triggered opposite reactions to a memory. Whether it’s a car crash, witnessing a horrific crime, or being in close proximity to a loved one with PTSD, these stories show a universal weight to diverse symptoms.

Interviews with doctors and innovators exploring new techniques add a Suzuki-esque approach of forward thinking. The doc outlines the science of the brain that helps doctors and researchers understand the chemistry of PTSD in hopes of finding treatment. Given the complexity of the condition, and the range of symptoms and degrees with which one experiences it, it’s reassuring that studies are ongoing to help balance the dizziness and anxiety of this disease.

In Chicago, though, an alternative remedy encourages teens to engage their minds and bodies to relieve the pain. Using glass-blowing classes, the youths find peace of mind through concentration and careful balance with the nimble glasswork.

These approaches may be different, but they’re routes to the same endpoint. Patrick Reed’s doc offers an informative look at the hurdles researchers undertake to make everyone fully human day by day. More significantly, though, Beyond Trauma provides a humane account of how survivors negotiate the difficulty of living in the present moment when one has PTSD.

PTSD: Beyond Trauma airs tonight on The Nature of Things.