It is hard to describe how “Stromboli” makes us feel. The journey seen through our main character, Sara’s perspective, starts off with her giving major “pick-me” vibes and going through an incredible journey of healing that we still don’t know how to process. As part of her “pick me” persona, she is constantly drunk and obviously tries a little too hard to make people like her. Be it Gustav, whom she meets right off the boat, or Harold, whom she just met but insists on spending the day with, Sara is a picture of enthusiasm who goes where the wind takes her. But a kinder perspective would be that she is an incredibly lonely woman who is trying to figure out how to fill the void inside her. Her marriage just broke down, and she is on bad terms with her daughter. While we don’t know the complete details of her life, it is safe to assume that Sara’s husband must have been someone with a violent temper. It is one thing to be angry with your wife and another to throw something that might potentially hit her. That was probably the moment when Sara decided that she didn’t want to try anymore. But that did not stop her from blaming herself for letting her relationship get to that point.
Sara is someone who clearly does not know how to deal with her problems. When she loses her bag, instead of trying to track it down, she decides to get further drunk. When she finally finds her way back, she just wreaks more havoc, which leads to her getting kicked out of her place. Her response to that is to steal the donkey and go to another place, still getting drunk throughout. It did not occur to her even once to go to the local police. Had she not met Jens, she might have spent the night on the streets. When she found out that she was at a self-help retreat, she decided to continue staying there without making any inquiries about what it would mean for her. Yet, we understand her so far. She is pushing herself away from her emotions. However, she is not able to ignore them any longer when she is so rudely rejected by Hans. That kind of behavior and sudden coldness can come as a shock to anyone. She finds herself more and more affected by the people and the retreat. When she sheds tears for the first time, it is because she is in a position, literally, where she cannot run away from her thoughts. Now, we are not have licensed therapists, so we are not sure whether the things shown in “Stromboli” are actually how things happen. But there was something very wrong about Jens provoking Hans to unleash his anger in front of an entire group of people or even when he publicly revealed Sara’s secret. It is information that is personal to the victims, which they must be allowed to talk about on their own terms. What Jens did was shocking and a violation of what should have been a safe space for Hans and Sara. It doesn’t matter that this caused them to better understand each other because the path to that conversation should have been safer.
There are some scenes here that really leave us in two minds. One is where everyone enacts characters who have been the cause of a person’s trauma and get confronted for it by the victim. We see what is happening here. We are often not able to fight for ourselves the way we would have fought for others. By making people play interconnected characters, Jens is forcing the participants to see their own trauma in a different light. We especially noticed this in the case of Hans and Sara. She was let down by her father, and it was when Hans confronted her father’s character for her that he ended up facing the anger in his own heart for his dad. Again, we are not sure whether this is a certified form of therapy, but it feels extremely wrong. People don’t share their deepest secrets with just about anyone, especially people they met on a retreat, just because someone is pulling the strings. Even the process of finding a therapist is an arduous one, where one has to go through a few hiccups before finding the right fit for their mental health and personality. That is why this scene feels more like a violation of the vulnerable victims’ personal space than a certified healing process. Let us suppose for a second that such a method is valid and possible, but there is no way that we will accept that the way Sara was made to relive her most horrific nightmare was justified. It is incredibly hard to put that scene into words. She had never spoken about that incident to anyone, yet she must give the instructions for its re-enactment to supposed actors in front of everyone? Whoever wrote the script of “Stromboli” is a believer in the philosophy of “ripping the band-aid off,” even if it takes off the skin on your bones.
There is a difference between pushing people out of their comfort zones and violating their boundaries. Jens has no idea about it. He brings a woman to a retreat to help her but just makes her a part of the program without informing her of everything that comes with it. When she tries to leave, he acts as if he has no issue with it but ends with getting her to open up and use that information against her consent in front of everyone. We don’t think he has a license for what he is doing, and if he does, it should be revoked.
Overall, “Stromboli” as a movie made us feel bad about the dismal state of mental health awareness in this world. The worst part about it is that it wasn’t just one person’s idea. There was an entire cast and crew who went along with it and millions of people will watch it and have their half-baked opinions reaffirmed. As angry as it makes us, the only thing we can do is wish that Netflix learns to do better, and that people avoid “Stromboli” as much as they can.
“Stromboli” is a 2023 Drama film directed by Michiel van Erp.