The modern century has showered us with gifts of technology, science, medicine, and whatnot. But do you often wonder if we are a generation of loners? Social platforms may have widened the horizon for connecting with others, but the connections are superficial. None of us shares our true feelings or addresses the real issue. We beat around the bush until we were tired, and then we hide the problems in a wooden box and throw them away. We suffer in silence, yet we say, “communication is key”. Rabindranath Tagore, in one of his famous short stories, “Homecoming,” has beautifully captured the essence of teenage life. He said that teenagers are neither useful nor ornamental. We know no better definition of a teenager to date.
Nonetheless, the ones who think teenagers are neither ornamental nor useful are adults who hide away from addressing their real issues. Mental health at any given age plays a pivotal role in defining who a person is. Since we unapologetically hide our true mental health, we are often plagued with thoughts about who we really are. Ben Epstein’s film “Who Are You People?” rightly points out the problem. The film narrates a wonderfully heart-touching tale of a teenager trying to find out who she is and, in turn, finding out a lot about the adults in her life. The film is like an emotional roller coaster that reassures us that we are all searching for a way to redemption.
Alex: A Normal Teenager With A Not-So-Normal Life!
Alex (Ema Horvath) is a sixteen-year-old teenage girl who is desperate to find her identity. She lives with her parents, Judith (Alyssa Milano) and Cary (John Ales), and her twin sisters. Cary was a successful lawyer who had a temper problem, and Judith worked in PR and always had a fake smile on, even in the toughest situations. Alex always felt out of place with her parents. Her parents had a cute little story about her twin sisters’ birth, but were awfully silent about her birth. Like any other teenager, Alex wanted to grab her parent’s attention, but for her parents, she was always “acting out” . Alex wanted her parents to tell her the truth about her birth, for she felt they were hiding something. Alex had no healthy boundaries whatsoever with her parents. They would walk into Alex’s room without knocking and criticize her for every single thing. Furthermore, they were not interested in her life. Alex’s best friend, probably her only friend, was in another school, which even made her life harder. Thus, Alex befriended her English teacher.
Alex and her best friend, Nancy (Kiah Butts), would often talk about s*x. Alex was concerned about herpes, and it seemed clear that she was not ready to be in a physical relationship. But, like any other teenager, she wanted to experience it and be able to talk about it. Thus, in a moment of desperation, she tries to seduce her English teacher, Rohan (Siddharth Dhananjay). Alex’s parents were out, and Rohan had come to work on his book and help Alex write her own. But soon, it turned out to be a love-making session. Unfortunately, Alex’s parents came back home and saw the two in the act. None of her parents talked to her or tried to find out why she did what she did. Rather, they were quick to judge her and immediately thought of the right punishment. Alex’s school was notified, and Rohan was obviously no longer allowed to teach. Everyone in her class secretly laughed behind her back. Alex was too ashamed to stay in school and came back home.
Upon finding her parents were out, once Alex returned, she decided to sneak into her mother’s home office. There she found a letter from a man named Karl (Devon Sawa), dated six months before her birth. She also came across pictures of her mother in her younger days, when she was in a band. Alex decided to talk about it with her parents, but they came back only to inform her that she would be sent away to a boarding school.
Flight, Not Fight!
Alex figured out who Karl was, and she was determined that he was her father. She canceled her admission from the boarding school and went away to meet Karl. When she walked in, she met a woman called Sarah (Yeardley Smith), Karl’s cousin. Karl was not impressed after seeing Alex. He had no idea that he had a daughter. He was uptight and awfully silent after hearing Judith’s name. Sarah made Alex feel at home. However, Alex hid the fact that she had run away from her parents. In Alex’s mind, Karl and Judith had a romantic affair, and Alex was their love child. She believed she would find a strong connection with Karl, and they would bond well. Alex was in a happy place even though Karl was uptight.
Undoubtedly, adults think it is wise to lie to kids to protect them from the pangs of truth. What they fail to fathom is that lies weaken any bond, and the child grows up with trust issues. Karl kept secrets about himself. However, Alex was determined to find the truth, and she found out that her artistic, mechanic, and church-going father has an abusive alcoholic side as well. This was probably the trauma response, for Karl had an abusive and drunken father.
Despite all of these, Alex was finally getting recognized, and she felt she was noticed. Unfortunately, her parents (Judith and Cary) found out she was not at her boarding school. Thus, they immediately connected with the local sheriff. Karl had a bitter history with his sheriff, Reggie. Karl had beaten Reggi’s young son at a bar. Karl was drunk, and he beat the young lad for inappropriately touching a young girl. Reggie found out that Alex was reported as a missing person, and Karl could have been arrested for kidnapping. Judith and Cary were informed about Alex, and they came over to take her away.
Alex thought this reunion was a good thing, so she was mad at Cary for being so angry and shouting. But it is there that she finally learns the truth about herself. Karl was undoubtedly her father, but she was not born out of love. Karl was a struggling artist and much younger than Judith. Judith recognized Karl’s art and wanted him to shine. Judith was going through a tough time herself as she and Cary were trying to get pregnant but were failing. One night, Karl and Judith were at a bar, where they had a couple of drinks. Although they started kissing, Judith wanted to stop. Karl did not, and he forced her to have s*x. Karl raped Judith, and Alex was conceived.
‘Who Are You People’ Ending: Who Are We?
In the end, we see Alex struggling with her true identity. She thought she was dirty but simultaneously had a strong feeling about finally knowing her biological father. She knew she was artsy like Karl, and he was not a completely hopeless chap. At the same time, we see Judith and Cary finally breaking the silence about Alex and sharing how they feel. We watch Alex stop his father, Karl, from beating his father (Alex’s grandfather), who had broken Karl. Towards the end, we see Alex return home with Judith and Cary. All of them were in therapy, and for the first time in Alex’s life, they were having a real conversation. Judith and Cary had allowed Karl to contact Alex. The film ends with his call to Alex. In his call, Karl apologizes and says it would be great if Alex would visit. Alex was in two minds. Karl says that he would let her go, understanding how difficult it is for Alex.
Letting go in this context has a broader aspect. It was not just Karl freeing his daughter from the burden or the pain of visiting him, but releasing her from the trauma and the obligation to think of a father like him. It was also letting go of the past to make room for better days in the future. It was also a way of redemption for Karl, Judith, and Cary as well.
“Who Are You People?” wonderfully portrays where parents go wrong. It rightly points out how childhood traumas disfigures a perfect human. It further emphasizes that mental health is important for the overall growth and well-being of an individual and family. Also, the film stands by every rape survivor and the kids who were born out of it. No human on this planet is white or black; we are all gray. It is just our conscious decision to see what patches we like better, white or black.