One thing we can all agree on is there is a severe refugee crisis happening all over the world. The governments of small countries hold tight to what power they have, all at the expense of its citizens. The choice is to put your life at risk and stay in the place you’ve known as home all your life; or flee to a neighboring free country. It’s not just the U.S. taking a hard stance against the out-of-control crisis; it’s every country.
The word refugee connotes a group of people. The reality is this group is made up of individuals and the stress of finding safety and security takes its toll on families and particularly children. Filmmakers John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson take on the little-known disorder known as Resignation Syndrome in their documentary Life Overtakes Me. This syndrome primarily affects children. The effects of the syndrome start with a child becoming increasingly tired and withdrawn, eating very little and eventually falling into a self-induced coma. The children are very much alive but lay in bed like Sleeping Beauty.
“…a child becoming increasingly tired and withdrawn, eating very little and eventually falling into a self-induced coma.”
For some reason, the occurrence of Resignation Syndrome seems to plague the country of Sweden, who has been accepting refugees and asylum-seekers from the Crimea and the Baltic states. The number of children is in the hundreds. We meet Daria, whose father was beaten and tortured and mother was beaten, tortured, and raped. Her family escaped to Sweden, and they are now in the middle of their asylum hearing. Their chances of staying in Sweden are unknown. The intense anxiety from just the small possibility of going back to her homeland placed Daria into her coma.
Every day, Daria’s parents have to feed through a feeding tube, bend her arms and legs for exercise, and live as much of a normal life as possible. The goal is to reduce the stress in both the environment and within the family dynamic in hopes of pulling her out of her coma.
Haptas and Samuelson have amazing access to several families coping with the syndrome. The cameras are there capturing their daily routine, the parents are open and honest about their situation, and a great deal of insight is brought to light in the global debate of asylum seeking today. Because of its high numbers, some bureaucrats think the kids are merely faking it to ensure a favorable decision in the courts; but compassion has a way of overriding political decisions.
You know a documentary is doing its job when it shows you something you’ve never seen and then plays right into your sympathies. Life Overtakes Me succeeds in making a problem on the other side of the Earth feel local, and you just want to help. There is light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope for these families.
Life Overtakes Me (2019) Directed by John Haptas, Kristine Samuelson. Life Overtakes Me screened at the 2019 San Francisco International Film Festival.
8 out of 10 stars