2013-2014 Film Series “Children and Trauma” kicks off on Sept 29 with The 400 Blows
According to philosopher Janoff-Balman (1992) parents are charged with instilling 3 basic assumptions in their beloved children: 1) that the world is benevolent; 2) that the world is meaningful, and 3) that the self is worthwhile. Psychoanalyst Eric Erikson noted that infancy, if the baby’s needs are attended to in a timely and good enough fashion, is the time a child learns a sense of basic trust, and that this early attunement is the most fundamental prerequisite of mental vitality. This sense of basic trust developed from the loving care children receive from their caregivers enables them to be content with themselves, with relationships, and with the world, and contributes to these three basic assumptions, that the world is benevolent, the world has meaning, and I am worthwhile; I have a right to be here. By providing for the child’s basic physical and emotional needs, parents contribute to the child’s sense of self and self worth.
Traumatic life events impact our basic assumptions, our sense of trust, and our self esteem. Chronic neglect and disregard or mis-attunement and misrecognition are considered traumatic for they assault the child’s assumptions about the world and the self in the world. The self, necessary to sustain relationships with others, is undermined as is the belief that there is meaning to human experience. The child’s faith in the natural or divine order of things is violated, which can lead to a state of existential crisis. Children thus injured must then work hard to find divertissement from their existential anxiety, their sense of meaningless and sense of worthlessness. Their ability to participate in Society in a way that brings joy and allows them to share themselves with the world is vitiated. Without love, acceptance, being enjoyed, and engaging in mutual recognition—all which give meaning to life-- a child is at risk for cynicism and alienation; a child might feel unlovable, unacceptable, incapable of joy, and feel he does not deserve a place in the world.
Director Francois Truffaut like Doinel was an unwanted child. His mother gave him up to his grandparents for the first years of his life. He found solace and meaning in cinema. The famous final shot of the 400 blows is the face of Antione Doinel, a restless boy who seems to beseech the audience with questions like’ where do I belong?’ and ‘what do I do now?’