If you have been following my blog, you know by now that I enjoy using film and TV characters to discuss and illustrate psychoanalytic concepts. I’ve discussed “Sharp Objects,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Wild,” “The Tale” and “13 Reasons Why” to name a few. That said, in this time of uncertainty, coronavirus and loss, I want to share with you a film that I recently saw on Amazon Prime that stayed with me, brought me to tears a couple of times and inspired me to become more involved with the local Girl Scouts in my own community. “Troop Zero.”
Coping with Loss
The main character, Christmas, is a sweet, blond girl in elementary school, who recently lost her mother. She has no friends except for a boy neighbor. Her dad is the local lawyer, who struggles to pay attention to her and often leaves her with his assistant, Rayleen, an African-American woman with big hair and big personality. The setting is in 1976 in a small town in Georgia. People smoke and open beer bottles with their teeth.
The movie opens up with Christmas’ thoughts about her mother and her fascination with space, the planets and the stars. Christmas recently lost her mother. Shortly after her mother died, someone told Christmas that her mother is “in the stars” and we see her visit the local library to borrow books about space and tinkering with several small radios, searching for signal of alien communication. Then, the best thing happens – a NASA scientist comes to Christmas’ school and announces a chance to have her voice sent to space on the Voyager Golden Record. In order to win, she has to join the Girl Scouts and form a worthy troop of her own.
A Troop of Misfits
Christmas manages to convince her father’s assistant to be her Girl Scout Troop leader and gathers a troop of misfits – a feminine boy and her best friend, Jospeh; an angry, black girl, Hell-No, and her Hispanic feisty friend, Smash, and Betty Higgingbotham, an anxious girl with an eye patch. Their task is to win a talent show against the all-time winners and “exemplary” Birdie troop of mean-spirited girls, who often bully Christmas and her friends.
The film does a great job of portraying the “popular” kids in one troop versus the “misfits” in the other troop and putting them in a lovely opposition of each other – “doing what you are supposed to do” in order to win in the popular kids and “doing what you feel you want to do” in the misfits. It is important in psychoanalysis to make space for what and who does not always fit in within the social norm in order to support the quest of the individual subject that may have something novel to say or contribute to humanity as a whole. We see that idea very well expressed in the movie during the scene of the talent show and through the symptom of peeing oneself.
Enuresis is a common struggle for anxious, young people, who regress in their psychological and physical development and lose control of their bladder due to trauma or loss. In “Troop Zero,” Christmas wets the bed and somehow everybody in town knows about it. She gets teased, which she usually responds to with a defensive “I do not do that.” There are a couple of powerful scenes in the film that address the issue of enuresis:
1. The first one is when Christmas’ friend Hell-No stays up with her all night during their camping trip, in which Christmas is afraid to fall asleep because she then admits, sometimes, she may wet the bet. This is a wonderful display of empathy and support from Hell-No and the beginning of a strong friendship between the two girls.
2. The second scene is during the talent show competition. Spoiler alert – this is powerful moment in the movie so if you plan on watching it, stop reading here. Christmas gets overwhelmed during the performance and pees herself on stage. In an act of friendship and solidarity, her peers join in with her in singing and pee themselves too. Naturally, peeing yourself on stage doesn’t usually win people contests. So the troop lost the talent show but won true friendship in each other and a great sense of community.
Challenging Existing Structures
What stuck with me in this film is the glorification of the imperfect, the broken, the weak, the misfit. The theme of what a little girl can or cannot do in society appears throughout the movie in different forms. The question of gender and gender roles is also raised in the inclusion of a boy in a girl troop and in the role Christmas’ father eventually takes as the troop’s mother. This challenge to the existing structures was done with grace and at times, not so much. It was funny, entertaining, inspirational and overall, a positive example of what a Girl Scout Troop can do for a girl (or a boy in this case), if it’s done from the position of supporting the individual in their differences rather than in an attempt to conform them to the common narrative. It also shows us how important friendship, role models, community and in this case, the love of science can be for a little girl.