A question that is repeated several times in Concussion is “Why did they split up/get a divorce?” Robin Weigert’s character Abby asks it herself several times, but she is not the only one. It isn’t Abby, it seems, that is haunted by the question, and the death of relationships it refers to, but the world of the film itself is.
This is not the obvious question for the film to concern itself with. The titular concussion occurs right at the opening, with Abby’s son (whom she is raising along with her life partner, Katie, played by Julie Fain Lawrence) throwing a baseball at her head. It is implied that, as is so often the case with children, the act is simultaneously purposeful, and an accident. She experiences anger and emotional difficulties in the days that follow, and is determined to get back to work in real estate. Having not known her prior to the beginning of the film, however, it is impossible for us to know whether or not this is uncharacteristic for her. She appears to be sexually frustrated, and clues throughout the film suggest deeper issues in her life, including her relationship with Katie. Abby’s sexual desire appears to be awakened, either through the head trauma, or as a result of subsequent events, and as a result, she ends up engaging in prostitution. This is definitely not out of financial desperation, but rather out of an emotional one. Stacie Passon, the writer/director, avoids ever pinning down how much of this is due to the concussion itself. No direct link is made with it, but it being the title and the opening of the movie makes us wonder.
To be frank, I don’t know how much of the omission is deliberate, and what part of it may simply be the remnants of a vestigial storyline the screenplay or the final edit of the film evolved past. Overall, while the filmmaker does not always maintain the tricky balance in that regard, she does not fall, which she certainly deserves a lot of credit for – that is a tricky act to pull off. To suggest that she is only doing this because of an injury would be to reduce the character to someone who is simply mentally ill. As a consequence, her actions would lose validity, the story would become simply sad, rather than exciting, which Concussion rather is, at times. The concussion does serve a purpose, however. In its absence (and without the addition of some major psychological or physical abuse, which would easily tip the movie into melodrama), Abby’s journey of sexual awakening would make her a cheating wife. Yes, an understandably frustrated one, but dishonest nonetheless. Audiences would turn on her, when ultimately, we are meant to sympathize with her.
There are several other things addressed in Stacie Passon’s film to mention. The first of these is the opening, which contains just the audio of an extraordinarily, offensively, misogynist conversation, delivered entirely by women. The shallowness of the conversation’s content, about having to “choose between face and ass” when it comes to deciding on one’s ideal weight rings very true, and illustrates very clearly how deeply ingrained the sexual objectification of women has become in our society. This is followed by opening credits of women working out. In fact, working out, and looks, take up a large portion of the character’s lives – outside of other housewife duties, the characters typically take various fitness classes or work out and gossip. This seems simultaneously genuine and depressing, which helps identify with what Abby must be going through.
Another interesting topic is that while both Abby and Katie seem like familiar characters, or even archetypes in certain situations – the housewife, and the overworked/disinterested spouse – they are a same-sex couple, raising children, with no big deal made of the subject. The film does not use that as some big surprise or twist or plot point – instead, the movie may work just as well (though adjustments would, naturally, have to be made) if the characters were heterosexual. The fact that Abby’s clients, once she starts in the escort business, are exclusively women, does provide an interesting facet to the story, however. When she has her first experience with a prostitute, she is unimpressed, perhaps in part because she cannot see herself in the woman, whom Abby finds rough and physically unclean. It isn’t until she sleeps with Gretchen (Kate Rogal) that she considers taking on clients herself. Afterwards, she is able to develop certain relationships with the customers, seeing her own struggles in theirs, and helping them as a way to help herself.
Ultimately, there is plenty to work through in Concussion. Whether you want to examine the process of a relationship’s breakdown or what causes it, the complex relationship our society has with sexuality, or the strain we put on unrealistic standards of beauty for women, there is something for you here.