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‘Delicate State’ fuses hope, caution and practicality

“Delicate State” (2021). Cast: Paula Rhodes, Charlie Bodin, Glenn Morshower, Cathy Baron. Director: Paula Rhodes. Screenplay: Paula Rhodes. Web site. Trailer.

How does one survive when the world is falling apart? What’s more, how does one accomplish that when simultaneously assuming a significant new responsibility? That’s a rather full plate to handle, and making decisions on how to proceed may be difficult, if not overwhelming. Such are the circumstances faced by a young married couple in the disturbing new speculative drama, “Delicate State.”

Imagine if you were parents-to-be, blissfully happy about the impending blessed event. Such is the case for a young middle class couple, Paula (Paula Rhodes) and Charlie (Charlie Bodin). And, because they want to remember as much as they can about the experience, they decide to record a detailed video diary, a gift they one day hope to share with their young one.

In the diary, Paula and Charlie speak to their unborn child as if he or she were already present. They discuss everything, from their feelings about becoming parents to the naming process to their hopes and aspirations for the future. They exude tremendous joy at the prospects that await them, and it shows in virtually every frame of the vlog. But, in the interest of authenticity, they also hold nothing back, such as their concerns when some potentially problematic issues arise with the pregnancy. Through it all, though, they try to put a happy face on matters as much as possible. Little do they know, however, that these are the least of the problems they’ll face as their story unfolds.

Before long, circumstances outside of the pregnancy begin to change drastically. The expectant parents, who reside in a modest residence in an unspecified American city, become increasingly caught up in the cross-fire of civil unrest. Helicopters hover overhead while disturbing nighttime noises break the peaceful silence of their urban neighborhood. Paula and Charlie are concerned but dismiss it as something that will pass. After all, their everyday life and efforts to provide for the newborn’s arrival take precedence, right?

In no time, conditions seriously escalate, with warnings posted on the front door of their home. What’s more, Paula’s sister, Cathy (Cathy Baron), makes a desperate plea for the couple to evacuate to safety. Even with those stern cautions, though, Paula and Charlie remain committed to staying put, digging in to preserve what they’ve built for themselves. And, through it all, they continue recording the video dairy, all the while believing that they’ll be safe. However, such ostrich-like behavior isn’t enough to protect them when the roadblocks go up, riots break out and warplanes begin firing at ground targets.

With full-fledged civil war soon in effect, Paula and Charlie must hurriedly flee for their lives. But where do they go, what do they do and who can they trust? As circumstances worsen and their resources for survival become increasingly taxed by intensifying conditions on multiple fronts, their future becomes ever more uncertain. And, with the baby’s arrival fast approaching, will they be able to fulfill their promise of safely delivering the child into the world, one in which their very survival is far from guaranteed?

When faced with difficult choices, it may be tempting to select the one that’s most palatable, one that seems it will cause us the least disruption and discomfort. But will that outcome ultimately pan out? We can hope for that as much as we want, but there’s no guarantee it will result. And no matter what we believe, that mindset may lead us down some paths that prove more arduous than we thought.

This is important to bear in mind, considering that our beliefs form the basis of our reality, the product of the conscious creation, process, the philosophy that maintains we draw on these resources in manifesting the existence we experience. But, in implementing this practice, we must retain sight of exactly what those beliefs are, for they will ultimately shape what materializes, generally with remarkable fidelity. And that’s where our beliefs can potentially get us into trouble.

For example, there’s a fine line between holding out hope and wishful thinking. The former is realistic and grounded, largely because it’s optimistic despite an implicit understanding that the desired outcome may not unfold, keeping expectations realistic. It’s essentially a restatement of the notion of hoping for the best while preparing for the worst. The latter, however, tends to be grounded in desperation, where the result is unrealistically deemed a foregone conclusion with no regard for the possibility that outcome might not happen. And, should that occur, the disappointment can be devastating.

The parents-to-be in this story don’t appear to have a good handle on knowing the difference. That’s especially true for Paula, who’s so caught up in her pregnancy that she’s willing to overlook what’s going on around her. It’s as if she and Charlie simply want to wish away the impending conflict because of their personal considerations, but the coming war involves circumstances bigger than they’re able to effectively address. So what are they to do?

While it’s understandable that Charlie and Paula want to successfully deliver their newborn, they can’t ignore what’s transpiring around them. This raises the significance of two important considerations that they must examine – denial and discernment.

Denial is seldom healthy, yet, like everything else we consider in life, it’s a belief – and a powerful one at that. It often digs in its heels and wreaks havoc with our lives and expectations, primarily because it’s based on false assumptions of what’s going on and how those events will affect us. And, the worse conditions get, the stronger our denial beliefs tend to take hold. Unfortunately, as time passes, we tend to see an escalation in the negative impacts affecting us. Before long, we, like Paula and Charlie, may find ourselves overwhelmed and unsure about what to do. At times like that, desperation tends to set in, prompting us to engage in acts based on paranoia and panic, beliefs that frequently make difficult situations even worse.

This spotlights the value of discernment. It’s a valuable tool that can help us to assess our beliefs and resulting circumstances. It helps enable us to circumvent the difficulties that can arise when escape routes are blocked and jet fighters begin firing on our residences. Of course, in order to make use of it, we must take it seriously, no matter how much we might not want to. When we see warning signs emerge, for instance, we must recognize them for what they’re trying to tell us. The official notices posted on the couple’s front door, the impassioned plea made by Paula’s sister and frantic televised news reports are all evidence that we’re trying to tell ourselves something, cautions we should genuinely take seriously.

Nevertheless, the question raised here is, “Will we take them to heart?” The power of denial often makes it easy to dismiss them. What’s more, being able to read these warnings for what they are usually requires us to make use of our intuition, something else that many of us readily disregard out of hand, largely because it involves impressions that often seem illogical and irrational, making them inherently untrustworthy. Indeed, even with such scary calamities going on around us, we may still be skeptical, asking ourselves, “How can these things be happening to us in what is supposed to be an innately civil society?”

While this question may seem patently oblivious under the circumstances, it’s by no means unrealistic given the nature of our prior experience. However, when we’re faced with situations that threaten our safety and well-being – not to mention that of the unborn children who still reside in their mothers’ wombs and are nevertheless susceptible to the fallout of these dangers – this is no time to ask such rhetorical questions. This is something that the residents of Bosnia and Lebanon and Iraq and any number of other nations have no doubt had to ask themselves when bombs started going off overhead and on the streets of their once-tranquil neighborhoods. That’s especially true of the mothers who were carrying innocent unborns at the time of those calamities, a point that director Paula Rhodes sought to illuminate in making this film. Indeed, if it could happen in the urban centers of these other nations, who’s to say it couldn’t happen here as well, especially in a society that has become increasingly polarized and antagonized? What would we do if it were to happen here?

This raises the value of acting practically. And that would include some unconventional acts on our part, such as listening to our intuition, no matter how seemingly outlandish some of its messages might be. They could well play a vital role in protecting us, enabling us to forge beliefs that allow us to devise realistic solutions for survival under unrealistic conditions. It’s a possibility we might not want to face, but addressing it could spell the difference between keeping us – and our offspring – alive at a time when they’re seriously being threatened.

In fact, the simple act of staying alive under such circumstances could have a profound impact that we may not fully appreciate or understand at the time. Children often represent our hope for the future, the ones who will help to shape a better world for our posterity. And being able to see that they have that chance is crucial to that possibility unfolding. It’s something that enables us to have faith in that idea becoming an eventuality. Faith, like denial, is also a belief and, again, a powerful one at that. But, if it’s to have a chance at succeeding, it needs to have a chance at existing in the first place, and that’s where we need to make the effort to see that our hopes have an opportunity to materialize to begin with.

In many ways, this echoes the foregoing discussion about the difference between hoping for the best and wishful thinking. We should genuinely strive to have faith in manifesting a safe and successful outcome. But, to make that happen, we must take a practical and realistic approach, doing whatever it takes to yield that result, to genuinely birth a future (including those who will shape it) in which what we hope to achieve will indeed become fully realized.

After a somewhat slow and slightly unfocused start, writer-actor-director Paula Rhodes’s debut feature soon changes lanes and spins a chilling tale that grows ever-more compelling as it unfolds, leaving viewers on edge as they witness developments taking place in a simulated real-time context, thanks in large part to the vlog approach used in telling this story. The picture brings an added touch of realism to the narrative as it was filmed during the actor-director’s own pregnancy, accompanied by real-life husband Charlie Bodin as the protagonist’s co-star. The result is a startlingly eclectic mix of unnerving terror and relentless hope fused into one story with an all-too-familiar sociopolitical backdrop. Credit the inventive work of this primarily two-person crew and cast in bringing this film to life, handily one of the most unusual releases I’ve seen in some time. It inspiringly gives us hope yet also offers us a potent cautionary tale that we had better take seriously if we expect our society to survive – or otherwise run the risk of lawless, uncontrolled collapse. The film has been playing the film festival circuit but is now also available for streaming on a number of online platforms.

Under seemingly insurmountable circumstances, we may be faced with the hard choice of receding into our shells or taking deliberate action to see our way clear out of the chaos. Neither option may be particularly easy or appealing, but shirking our responsibilities and hiding solves nothing, perhaps even complicating matters further. It calls for courage and conviction, but it also takes being real with ourselves, assessing what we’re up against with resolute honesty and realistic discernment. Let’s hope we rise to the occasion.

Copyright © 2021-2022, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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