Explaining the unexplainable through grief

13 August 2021

In the psychological thriller, Strange but True, we meet a dysfunctional family who are wrapped up in grief. Melissa (Margaret Qualley) turns up at her ex-boyfriend Ronnie’s (Connor Jessup) house announcing she is pregnant. The twist: Ronnie died 5 years ago in a car accident on prom night. This causes old wounds to reopen for Ronnie’s loved ones. Is this simply an attempt instigated by Melissa to keep the memory of Ronnie alive? We are thus led on a journey exploring the conflicting emotional distress and reasoning of those connected to Ronnie.

Grief stricken mother Charlene (Amy Ryan) is bitter with the loss of her son Ronnie’s death which is shown through her hostile interaction with her younger son Phillip (Nick Robinson) and ex-husband Richard (Greg Kinnear). As a former librarian, she is very methodological in her emotional processing by using inductive reasoning to seek a reasonable explanation. However, we question Charlene’s state of mind over Melissa’s as the film portrays the association between grief and substance abuse for Charlene emotionally numb the pain of unresolved grief. Melissa’s vulnerability, on the other hand, comes from a place of immense grief and guilt. She turns to magic and psychics to find comfort in her grief. Cynical thinkers may argue that confirmation bias is easily achieved when grief is exploited by shrinks. One may also question Melissa’s motives behind her pregnancy claims, but this gives insight into Melissa’s craving for family attachment: her parents never understood her grief. 

In contrast, Richard uses deductive reasoning to uncover the truth and explores scientific explanations in line with his medical training. Richards guilt to fulfil his duties to his son as closure may explain his connection to Melissa. However, as the film progresses, we see very quickly how Charlene’s emotional persistence to uncover the truth clouds his own logical medical judgement.  

Phillip takes a more therapeutic approach as the ‘counsellor’ by focusing on Melissa’s state of mind to establish the truth whereby avoiding his own grief. His calm demeaner allows him to seek answers rationally whilst displaying understanding and compassion towards Melissa, unlike his mother. 

The audience are pulled to an intersection of which character to believe the most. Throughout the film, we explore alternative truths whilst still acknowledging the likelihood of supernatural interventions from beyond the grave. Ultimately, this reflects our own personal beliefs and how we navigate our thinking through emotional circumstances. 

Interestingly, and reminiscent of the main character of the show, I Hate Suzie, the characters in Strange but True are shown to be at different stages of grief (Kubler-Ross). Logical thinking is masked by emotional reasoning whilst narratives are created as unspoken bonds between the living and the dead. We begin to emphasise with Melissa as her own words “some strange miracle” haunt us throughout the film. However, there is something deeply comforting in how Melissa innocently upholds her truth despite the family’s resistance. If grief reflects coping strategies, why can’t we believe what we choose if it makes us happy? 

- Reviewed by Priya Ahmed, PhD Health Psychology Student at Teesside University; T: @PriyaAhmed94; E: [email protected]