Once we experience physical or emotional trauma, it’s always with us. Therapy and other coping strategies my help us get through the day, while various attempts at self-medication, though often ill-advised, shepherd us through the darkest of times.
Still, like a hidden beast ready to pounce at any time, the slightest, most unexpected trigger can send us down a rabbit hole of despair, prompting questionable behavior or skewing our sense of reality in such a way that we are no longer ourselves, but rather a person in survival mode, doing anything and everything to simply deal with the pain we foolishly thought we’d held at bay.
Yuval Adler’s “The Secrets We Keep” focuses on a woman who has such an existence.
On the surface, she seems a loving wife and doting mother, a responsible citizen in her community who would instinctively do a kind turn for anyone she meets. Yet, she carries an awful burden, one she has not shared with her husband, thinking she had put a harrowing period permanently behind her.
However, circumstances occur that show just how tenuous her hold on sanity really is.
A Romanian immigrant living in a small Midwestern town in the early 1950s, Maja (Noomi Rapace) has carved out a modest life for herself as the wife of the local physician, Lewis (Chris Messina). Her days are spent helping him run his small clinic and raising their young son, Patrick (Jackson Dean Vincent). For all intents and purposes, a normal, quiet, peaceful life.
Yet, it is shattered one day by a voice she hears offhandedly, a man’s voice in the hardware store, one she thinks she recognizes. It’s only later when their paths cross again that she realizes this man is in fact a former Nazi soldier, one of many who assaulted and raped her and her sister many years ago. She is so certain this is her tormentor that she manages to kidnap him, tying him up in the basement of her home, intent on exacting revenge.
After getting over his initial shock, Lewis questions not only his wife’s actions, but her memory as well. Is she sure this is the man? Isn’t it improbable that her attacker would just happen to settle in the same town in America? And what of his wife and child their captive speaks of as Maja torments him? Surely a loving father could not be the same man that committed such atrocities.
Bearing more than a passing resemblance to Ariel Dorfman’s 1990 play “Death and the Maiden,” Adler’s film is a taut examination of the extremes we turn to when dealing with almost debilitating stress as well as the reliance of memory. What with repression being a coping tool in dealing with experiences such as Maja’s, the fact that she could be mistaken is a logical conclusion, one that’s given significant weight in the story. We’re never quite sure if she’s right or delusional, while a very clever twist puts all she’s done and said in doubt. And yet, she’s so adamant, it’s hard not to take her seriously, a situation Rapace and Messina mine quite effectively in some of the film’s finest moments.
Sporting spot on period details, “Secrets” plays out not simply as an effective thriller, but also as an examination of a marriage under duress. While Maja’s reasons for not revealing her past to her husband are logical, their revelation plants a seed of doubt in his mind that rapidly grows and festers, altering the way he sees his wife, as well as affecting his behavior. Violence creates an insidious ripple effect that infects those not immediately victimized by it, a brutal reminder the film hauntingly displays.