Reviewed by: David Linhardt
SELF-MUTILATION—Help for Cutters (and others who self-injure in some way)
LYING—What does the Bible say about it?
How far is too far? What are the guidelines for dating relationships? Answer
Are you good enough to get to Heaven? Answer
Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Holly Hunter, Nikki Reed, Brady Corbet, Jeremy Sisto | Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke | Produced by: Jeff Levy-Hinte, Michael London, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte | Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Tagline: It’s happening so fast.
Imagine the consequences of a total absence of a father were played out fully in the life of a young girl—like others I’ve seen in America and Romania, Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) is a girl with a void in her heart. Her absent, “So, what’s her problem?” father never tries to delight in or cherish her, and like others I’ve seen, Tracy looks to other things and young men to give her what her heart desperately needs.
Enter Evie (Nikki Reed, who also co-wrote the film with director Catherine Hardwicke). Evie seems to have everything together—she has no qualms about… well, anything. She does what she wants when she wants, and can manipulate almost everyone. She is the alpha female, and she takes Tracy under her dark wing. Tracy goes from innocent to indecent and far beyond in a self-destructive spiral toward oblivion.
“Thirteen” isn’t spectacularly violent, and it breaks no barriers in terms of nudity or language. The barriers it does break are those of innocence: how many thirteen-year-olds have you seen snorting crack and inhaling aerosol? Tracy and Evie dress like prostitutes, and Evie teaches Tracy how to be sexy and seduce the boys—and while sex is only referenced or shown before too much skin comes into play, the shock of young teens petting and making out gives “Thirteen” its R rating. Tracy and Evie use the F-word repeatedly, steal, lie abundantly, and basically try every avenue possible for numbing the pain of their lives.
Only because I’ve taught girls like Tracy and Evie would I begin to imagine that I understand the depth of heart-wrenching self-hatred and search for pleasure and numbness that these girls search for. They long to be accepted, loved, and cherished—they long for godly fathers. Though Ms. Hardwicke was in no way trying to exemplify a young heart without its God or a father, the pain of Tracy’s heart and the self-destruction of Evie fairly shout for love and redemption. The true nature of self-mutilation (dealt with, as other sensitive subjects are in the film, a brutal, pain-filled frankness) is this: the blood and scars on Tracy’s arms are simply her body conforming to the state of her heart.
I’m not sure I could have believed this movie without having seen it in reality with my friends at home and my high school students in Romania. Young people desperately need mature, grace-filled love—they need most of all for their parents, fathers especially, to believe in them. To see them as Christ does.
“Thirteen” is like other similarly brutal and frank films about the human heart and our need for God (“Magnolia” and “Schindler’s List” are similar). Some truths are horrible—and “Thirteen” isn’t a family favorite to view over and over again. For some mature audiences, but especially for parents and those who work with youth, “Thirteen” works like a laser to cut to the heart needs of every teen. It is cruel and tender at the same time—watch what Tracy’s mother does with Tracy’s scars at the end of the film.
Like the horrific lives of the characters of “Magnolia” or the ruthless reality of the Holocaust in “Schindler’s List,” some parts of life need to be seen to show us who we really are. And to show us Whose likeness God will transform us toward. “Thirteen” rips the cover off the bleeding, scarred soul of the postmodern teen.
Violence: Moderate | Profanity: Heavy | Sex/Nudity: HeavyYear of Release—2003 / August 20, 2003 (limited)