Short Term 12

Friday 13 Jan 2017

Film released in Australia December 2013

I came across this 2013 film on Netflix last night and the reality and truth it displayed is still with me. There is no doubt in my mind that this film is a 5 star production.

It is a story about a “group home” for troubled youth that puts the focus in the right place to bring about healing --- if it is to happen. There will always be some who do not make it! The films power rests in how the stories it explores have a resonance in each of our lives!  A vignette of stories showing how all people, to a larger or lesser extent are used or abused by us all! The group home portrayed in this film has a young woman Grace, in a lower hierarchy of management, with her level charged to keep the house guests safe. We can presume she has a store of good karma because like her charges, she comes from a troubled and abusive background. Somehow her goodness and insight was not destroyed by the wretched conditioning metered out to her by her father. She uses her trouble to be empathetic and compassionate to each of her charges. She knows how to care for and listen to them.

Grace has partnered with a beautiful man Mason, who also works at the home. She knows he is good but is still watching to weigh him, in order to disprove what her past tells her about men. We find later that he too has had his troubles and has been raised in a foster home. We see also that this foster home was balanced and loving with the best parents caring for a tribe of foster children and how it helped make him the balanced healthy person he was.

Our heroine Grace, uses her experience better than if she had a Master’s Degree in life, especially when compared to the more qualified hierarchy above her. It should be said however that this house (probably unrealistically) had the very best of humanity employed at all levels.


One of the house guest Jayden was being sexually abused by her father and ended up explaining herself to Grace with the following allegory about the “Shark and the Octopus”. It was after a tense scene following another betrayal of Jayden by her father and she makes it clear she does not want to talk about it, but as Grace is leaving she says ----

You want to hear a story I’ve been working on?

– Of course.

– Well, it’s a kid’s story, so there aren’t any big words.

– OK

– Once upon a time, somewhere miles and miles beneath the surface of the ocean, there lived a young octopus named Nina. Nina spent most of her time alone making strange creations out of rocks and shells. And she was very happy. But then on Monday the shark showed up. 

“What’s your name?” said the shark.

“Nina,” she replied.

“Do you want to be my friend?” he asked.

“OK. What do I have to do?” said Nina.

“Not much,” said the shark.

“Just let me eat one of your arms.”

– Nina had never had a friend before, so she wondered if this was what you had to do to get one. She looked down at her eight arms and decided it wouldn’t be so bad to give up one. So she donated an arm to her wonderful new friend.

– Every day that week, Nina and the shark would play together. They explored caves, built castles of sand, and swam really, really fast. And every night the shark would be hungry, and Nina would give him another one of her arms to eat. On Sunday, after playing all day, the shark told Nina that he was very hungry.

“I don’t understand,” she said.

“I’ve already given you six of my arms, and now you want one more?”

– The shark looked at her with a friendly smile and said,

“I don’t want one. This time I want them all.”

“But why?” Nina asked.

And the shark replied, “because that’s what friends are for.”

– When the shark finished his meal, he felt very sad and lonely. He missed having someone to explore caves, build castles, and swim really, really fast with. He missed Nina very much. So he swam away to find another friend.

(~ extract from the film ‘Short Term 12’)

I see this story as an allegory for us all. We all use each other; the best of relationships are equal but then others? The Four Corners story called “Ripped Off” about the exploitation of Aboriginal Trusts was repeated this week on ABC TV! We are all taken advantage of by others sometimes. Often knowingly and other times unknowingly. We in turn use our skills to get an advantage for ourselves. When all our cards are on the table we may think it is fair, even if the other party feels robbed. But mostly we are not aware, it is just conditioning that kicks in, probably like Jayden’s father!

We confabulate and justify our stories. We easily justify because we see the world as external to us. Because we see it as separate from us we can mentally cut ourselves off from it. All of our traditions, history, legends and the ways we support ourselves and each other come from the idea that we are separate from the world. This is why I found this film so engaging. Grace was able to see past her conditioning and attend to those in her care, because she somehow had knowledge that she was part of them. Her maturity coupled with the congruence she displays is an excellent pointer to freedoms pathway.

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