It’s been 11 years since I read the very first Hardy Boys book, but if you were to ask me about its ending, I would be able to tell you everything about how Frank and Joe Hardy solved their first mystery together. Because of my really good memory when I was younger, I never understood how people could read the same book or watch the same movie over and over again. If I already know how the story is going to go, then what is the point of seeing it all unravel again?
But since I’ve been getting older — and possibly wiser? — and my memory is no longer that sharp, I’ve discovered that certain things are worth experiencing more than once. Specifically, movies like Short Term 12.
Short Term 12, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, was released in 2013, but I didn’t discover it until probably 2016. I was 18 years old and had recently seen a trailer featuring Brie Larson in soon-to-be released Room (dir. Lenny Abrahamson, 2015), the movie that would eventually win her an Academy Award. I found Short Term 12 while skimming through Larson’s past work. I read the little synopsis that Google gave me, and I was hooked.
The film originated as a short film project by Cretton produced back in 2009 before it was eventually expanded into a feature-length film. The story centers around Grace, a young woman working at a short-term care facility for children and teens coming from a variety of less than ideal backgrounds. There’s Sammy, who hasn’t spoken to anyone in years. Then there’s Marcus, who is about to turn 18 and is struggling with the idea of leaving the facility. And then there’s Jayden, a mysterious newcomer with whom Grace forms a unique bond.
As people — kids and adult staff alike — come in and out of the facility, Grace and her longtime boyfriend Mason, who also works at the facility, have stuck around for all the ups and downs. Every day brings new struggles for Grace, who is constantly haunted by her own past and has a tendency to take her work home with her.
That was my really loose summary of what the film is about, but I really must say that I don’t think it’s possible for me to do it justice. The movie is sad but in an almost necessary way. I know with respect to my own life, watching this movie forced me to look at my own life and the way past traumatic experiences may affect the way I see the world around me. And then I was able to look past myself and think about the people around me.
There’s a moment toward the beginning of the film when a new staff member shows up on his first day and tells the residents that he is excited to get started because he’s never worked with “disadvantaged kids.” Though obviously a “faux pas” on the part of the new staff member, I think this scene really speaks to how easy it is to be oblivious to others’ situations and past experiences. It’s impossible to read other people’s minds. And yet, we need to still make an effort to be conscious about the stories and the lives of everyone else.
What’s more, I found this movie inspiring in a way the run of the mill dramatic movie usually isn’t. Obviously, it’s not a requirement that in order to help young people we must work in a short-term care facility and face the same problems Grace does. We don’t have to be noble and caring and constantly on the front line of duty. But if we’re going to try to help people, we have to remember to think critically about what we’re doing, who we’re doing it for and why we’re doing it in the first place.
Overall Short Term 12 is a movie about life — specifically, how to find meaning in the really rough patches of our lives. It’s a movie about carrying ourselves in a way that means we can help ourselves by helping others through the dark times that we never wish to acknowledge as having happened at all. And believe me, everybody has them.