Modern Australian

Is it wrong to make a film about the Port Arthur massacre? A trauma expert's perspective

  • Written by Richard Bryant, Professor & Director of Traumatic Stress Clinic, UNSW

A film being made about the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, which claimed 35 lives, has been criticised by Tasmanian politicians, survivors of the mass shooting, the local community and police.

The film, to air next year on Stan, is directed by Justin Kurzel who made a 2011 film about the Snowtown murders. Titled NITRAM (the name of the Port Arthur killer spelt backwards), it is being filmed in Victoria and will look at “the events leading up to one of the darkest chapters in Australian history”.

Although it is almost 25 years since the massacre, many have argued dramatising the event in a film is insensitive to those who lost loved ones, were personally injured, or witnessed the horror of that day — and could severely affect their mental health.

People who are deeply affected by exposure to traumatic events can develop debilitating psychological conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Others who suffer the loss of a loved one, especially when it happens in traumatic circumstances, can develop prolonged grief disorder, a persistent grief reaction that does not ease over time.

Both conditions are characterised by distressing memories that can be triggered by reminders of the trauma. It is reasonable to think most Australians would find watching a reconstruction of the massacre, or even a film about events that led gunman Martin Bryant to behave the way he did, disturbing.

Is it wrong to make a film about the Port Arthur massacre? A trauma expert's perspective Family and community members laid 35 floral tributes during the 20th anniversary commemoration service at Port Arthur. AAP Image/Getty Pool, Robert Cianflone

However, a film about the shootings is likely to be very distressing for those people directly impacted by the massacre, particularly those who still have PTSD or strong grief responses.

We need to remember that PTSD and severe grief can last for decades in some people, as we have seen in many war veterans. Of course, those people directly affected by the massacre can choose to not see the film. However, they will probably be unwittingly exposed to advertising, media coverage and conversations about it, which can all trigger trauma memories.

Read more: Explainer: what is post-traumatic stress disorder?

Intentionally triggering trauma

But is triggering trauma memories necessarily a bad thing? We know from many studies of both PTSD and grief that the best treatments available are psychological interventions that involve re-living the trauma memory in a therapeutic setting.

In this safe and controlled environment, the person can master their emotions and understand the experience better. Thus in therapy, we intentionally trigger trauma memories.

Film still Justin Kurzel, who is directing this new film, also directed the controversial Snowtown, about the murders of 12 people in Adelaide’s north. Madman Films

This is done in a very different way, however, to the experience of seeing a film. Whereas a film involves a single exposure, in therapy this process is highly personalised, is imagined for at least 30 minutes in a way that engages one’s emotions, and is repeated frequently so the person learns that the memory is no longer distressing.

In this sense, it is unlikely that seeing a film about the massacre would be therapeutic for someone with PTSD.

However, it could be constructive if it prompted a person to seek evidence-based therapy to address their PTSD or grief reactions. We know that most people with PTSD or prolonged grief do not receive this treatment.

Memory reconsolidation

The other psychological mechanism that is important in discussing the merits and potential pitfalls of such a film is termed “memory reconsolidation”.

Each time we recall a memory, it becomes malleable or flexible in our brain. This occurs because of plasticity in our brains, which causes the memory to become unstable and then gradually stabilise again in the following hours. This is important because it means the memory is susceptible to modification during that time.

Read more: Forgetting Martin Bryant: what to remember when we talk about Port Arthur

Administering pharmacological or psychological interventions during the period of memory instability has been shown to “update” the memory. This process suggests a film about the Port Arthur shootings has the potential to not only trigger memories but also contribute to how these memories are reconsolidated — and in turn how a person may feel about the event.

How the film is made

This leads to an important issue about the content of this film. The key question may not be whether it should be made but rather how it is made.

Much criticism of the film, which will reportedly star Judy Davis, Anthony LaPaglia and American actor Caleb Landry Jones, has been around its possible impact on survivors and the community.

Justin Kurzel Kurzel and the creative team would do well to consult trauma experts and the survivors of the event. EPA/Franck Robichon

Without minimising the merits of this argument, our knowledge about trauma memories suggests the main challenge for the film’s producers is that it be made with sensitivity to those directly affected by the shootings, and does not aggravate any psychological distress.

If a film depicts much graphic violence or idealises or excuses the shooter’s actions, it could compound the traumatic nature of people’s memories. This could be detrimental to someone whose memories of the event are triggered by the film.

The producers would do well to consult with those directly affected by the shootings, as well as mental health experts, to ensure the film minimises exacerbating psychological distress.

Authors: Richard Bryant, Professor & Director of Traumatic Stress Clinic, UNSW

Read more https://theconversation.com/is-it-wrong-to-make-a-film-about-the-port-arthur-massacre-a-trauma-experts-perspective-151277

NEWS

Everything You Need to Know about 5G Technology

Smartphone users today want faster data speeds, accompanied by more accessible services. 5G, the Next Generation of wireless networks claims to extend the same and much more. 5G allows users...

As Joe Biden prepares to become president, the US still reels from the deadly consequences of 'alternative facts'

Every four years on January 20, the US exercises a key tenant of democratic government: the peaceful transfer of power. This year, the scene looks a bit different.If the last...

Forget about the trade spat – coal is passé in much of China, and that's a bigger problem for Australia

Greg Baker/APAustralian coal exports to China plummeted last year. While this is due in part to recent trade tensions between Australia and China, our research suggests coal plant closures are...

Morrison government drops the ball on banking reform

Political pressure forced the federal government in 2017 – when Scott Morrison was treasurer – to call the royal commission into misconduct in the banking, superannuation and financial services sector.Commissioner...

The Rise and Fall of Saint George shows the transformative power of music

Bianca De Marchi/Sydney FestivalThe Rise and Fall of Saint George is a story about place, belonging and community that taps into universal tensions of identity and faith in multicultural societies...

why people can hold political views that disadvantage their own sex

The views of women and men can differ on important gendered issues such as abortion, gender equity and government spending priorities. Surprisingly, however, average differences in sex on this front...

is it safe for kids to go back to school? And what about the new mutant strain?

A year ago, in late January 2020, Australia reported its first cases of COVID-19. Since then, we have seen almost 29,000 confirmed cases and 909 deaths. As cases climbed in...

Not feeling motivated to tackle those sneaky COVID kilos? Try these 4 healthy eating tips instead

ShutterstockIn Australia and around the world, research is showing changes in body weight, cooking, eating and drinking patterns associated with COVID lockdowns.Some changes have been positive, such as people cooking...

The Conversation's submission to the Australian Senate Inquiry into the News Media Bargaining Code

BongkarnGraphic/ShutterstockOn 10 December 2020, the Australian Senate established an inquiry into a government bill proposing a ‘mandatory bargaining code’ between news media organisations and digital platforms including Google and Facebook...

Trumpism doesn't end with Trump — NZ needs to take a firmer stand against a global threat to democracy

America is currently experiencing its worst political and constitutional crisis since the civil war when the very survival of Abraham Lincoln’s government “of, by and for the people” was at...

older, underinsured and overexposed to cyclones, storms and disasters

News of storms battering parts of Queensland and the threat posed by Cyclone Kimi reminded me of a recent experience I’d had.A few months after Cyclone Marcus unleashed havoc on...

The economy can't guarantee a job. It can guarantee a liveable income for other work

When the coronavirus pandemic hit Australia in March 2020, the Morrison government took bold and imaginative action. The most notable examples were its income support programs – JobKeeper, paying a...



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion













Popular articles from Modern Australian

Importance of Texture and Layering in Interior Design3 Ways Your Drains Become Blocked 5 Reasons for No Power at HomeHow Is Tequila Made?Why You Should Enlist The Services Of A Property StylistTop Luxury Resorts For A Restorative Staycation In AustraliaUnderstanding Employee Car Allowance Rates in Australia7 Bucket-List Worthy Experiences in DubaiThe Effects of Pollen Throughout the Year What Qualifications Are Required to Work as a Chef in Australia?How You Can Create A Café With A Shipping ContainerA Few Great Uses For Laundry DetergentHow To Make Living With Housemates SimplerGreat Tips For Buying Flowers For Valentine’s Day Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series Becomes The Fastest Sports Car