In her semi-autobiographical coming-of-age film Suncoast, Laura Chinn challenges the notion that there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to grieve. The hint of dark comedy balances out the emotional journey that the film closely follows. Doris’ life is unlike most teenagers. She does not have any friends at school because most of her time is spent taking care of her brother. Max suffered from brain cancer, and he had been unresponsive for a long time. While her mother, Kristine, worked hard to keep them afloat, Doris was responsible for running the household. Death had been a constant in Doris’ life, with her grandmother dying the day she was born and her father passing away when she was three. As a teenager, she often felt conflicted—on the one hand, she wanted to experience a normal life, and on the other, she could not completely abandon her family.
Who was Paul Warren?
Paul Warren was among the many activists who had gathered outside the Suncoast hospice to protest against the court’s decision to have Terri Schiavo’s food pipe removed. Warren strongly believed that every life mattered, and when he heard about Max’s condition, he wished for his recovery. Doris barely had a social life, and meeting Paul at the eatery was a welcome change. Paul’s wife had passed away, and he missed her, and perhaps his inability to save his wife made him feel more passionately about the Terri Schiavo case. His only advice to Doris was to make an effort with her brother. It had been a long time since Doris had spoken to Max because perhaps the silence that followed made the situation feel more grim.
Over time, Paul almost became a father figure to Doris. He had no ulterior motive behind being friendly; he simply could relate to her situation. He was afraid that Doris was failing to realize how badly she would regret not making an honest effort when she would no longer have Max in her life. Doris could not help but selfishly think about all the years she lost not living her life to the fullest because of her brother. Kristine was always too occupied taking care of her son, and Doris often felt abandoned. In Paul, she found an adult to advise her, though she did not appreciate his opinions at all times. With time, Doris realized that Paul was right about feeling regret, and after Doris held a mirror to his face, Paul, too, learned that it was time that he accepted the loss of his wife and forgave himself for all the little things that he missed out on during that time.
How did Doris’ relationship with Kristine worsen?
Kristine was so busy taking care of Max that she had unintentionally created a distance between her and Doris. Every time Doris begged to live a normal life, Kristine reminded her how blessed she already was compared to her brother. She had no time to reflect on how challenging everything was for her teenage daughter. Kristine wanted to make sure that she spent every single minute possible with her son and provided him with all the help that she could afford. When the grief counselor inquired about whether Kristine had a second child, she was taken aback by her response. At that moment, Doris had completely slipped out of her mind, and the counselor helped her realize that even though life would be different without Max, she would still have her daughter by her side.
Doris felt extremely neglected, knowing she had never been her mother’s priority. While her classmates planned parties, she was expected to spend her free time at the hospice. When Kristine declared that she would start staying at Suncoast, Doris was initially against the idea. She was not comfortable staying home alone, especially during a hurricane. Doris was desperate for company, and when she realized that her classmates were searching for a place to party, she offered them her house. To Doris’ surprise, the popular girls at school, Brittany, Laci, and Megan, were accepting of her, and soon they became good friends. They could not quite grasp the emotional turmoil Doris went through, but they supported and appreciated her in every way possible, Laci and Brittany more so than Megan.
Kristine was furious when she caught Doris and her new friends partying at her house. She shamed Doris for having the time of her life while her brother was terminally ill. Kristine decided that from then on, Doris would spend the night at the hospice. To be surrounded by sickness at all times was not Doris’ idea of a normal life, and even though Paul helped her realize that there was more to life than making friends and partying, at that moment, she desperately wanted to avoid her reality and spend time with her newfound friends.
Kristine later apologized to Doris, realizing that she had been tough on her and she promised to be better. Doris snuck out of the hospice that night to party at a club, and all of a sudden, she received a call from her mother informing her that Max was about to die. Even though she knew that this day would one day arrive, Doris could not help but feel extremely emotional, so she rushed back to Suncoast. She was shocked to find that Kristine had lied to her. Doris thought her mother was a monster for lying to her about something so important, and she packed her bags and returned home from the hospice.
Did Doris get to say her final goodbye to her brother?
During Suncoast‘s ending, Doris started to stay alone at home. In a way, the false alarm helped her realize how devastated she would feel if Max passed away. She had stopped communicating with her brother since he became unresponsive, but the thought of not having him around made her think about the many conversations she wished to have with him. She watched old home videos of her brother and her and was reminded of the good times they had together. On the morning of prom, Doris received a call from her mother informing her that Max might not survive the night. Doris was confused; prom was supposed to be the most important night for high schoolers; would she miss it for what might be another false alarm? The fear of not being by Max’s side during his final moment bothered Doris all night long, and at the end of “Suncoast,” she decided to head to the hospice.
By the time Doris reached Suncoast, Max had passed away. She regretted not arriving early, and she felt extremely guilty for not doing more for her brother. Kristine reassured Doris, saying that her brother knew how important he was to her. Doris realized that, when it comes to death, regret is often the strongest emotion one experiences. As much as it pained her, she comforted herself, thinking that her brother was finally free from his torturous existence. Doris’ thought process surprised Paul and perhaps made him realize that breathing is not the same as living. Doris questioned why euthanasia was deemed sinful if heaven was a better place than the mortal world. Doris and her mother returned home, and for the first time, she was allowed to drive the van. Kristine realized there was a lot about her daughter that she did not know, and from now on, they would be each other’s support system and make up for the lost time.
Death is often an awkward topic to discuss, and Suncoast tries to normalize the idea that there is no right way to deal with grief. Instead of holding a moral high ground about how one must perceive or react to death, it is important to accept the negative emotions that come along with losing a loved one.