Shove a load of prisoners in a room with some non-criminals and make them talk. It may sound hopeless, but this emotional masterpiece of a documentary showcases the true difficulties of rehabilitation, and the ultimate need for support. In particular, support from men for men.
The stigma around, and the lack of talking about men’s mental health causes some of the highest suicide rates, and yet The Work manages to prove just how important it is to have someone to talk to. There's no shying away from showing you exactly what happens during these 4-day intense group therapy programmes. From the minute we’re introduced to the men, we’re thrust into the sessions with them.
The men are sectioned into groups, and then sit around in a circle and all are given the opportunity to talk about whatever they’re struggling with. One man talks about his lack of grief since the death of his sister, after which the group help him to feel his emotion, cry and ultimately grieve. Another man is in a deeply traumatic battle with his child’s mother as he fights to see his kid, and the group attempts to stop him figuratively fall over the edge.
The men are sectioned into groups, and then sit around in a circle and all are given the opportunity to talk about whatever they’re struggling with.
But the real beauty of this film is the way it grabs your attention and emotions so drastically, you feel like you’re sitting in that circle with them. When a man cries, you cry with him. When a man screams in anger, you scream with him. Very quickly, you stop noticing the differences between the prisoners and men that live on the outside. Criminals are segregated from the real world, so it’s very easy to look at them as completely different to us. But in actual fact, as this documentary proves, the majority of convicts are just as human as the rest of us.
In fact, you may find yourself hating the one man you expect to relate to the most. A teacher’s assistant from the outside world. He has a God-like complex, even claiming “I’m a prince”. He looks down on every man in the room, and he judges everyone in the most negative of ways. He in fact shows that our pre-judgment towards convicts purely because they live behind bars, is sometimes very misplaced.
The film itself is so cleverly created, that by the time day four comes along, you don’t want it to end. You’re not ready to walk away, having only seen the beginning of many of their emotional journeys. You can’t simply walk back into your normal life after entering such an intense environment. But when you do leave, the film manages to leave you thinking about what emotional turmoil you have hiding away inside yourself. It almost normalises the monster inside everyone, and proves just how important it is to let our emotion out rather than holding it in.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are in fact some humorous moments that do well to take you out of the intensity just for a moment. They work as well-needed comic relief, and add to the numerous raw elements of the film.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the pure sadness and anger being released from these men. But the film as a whole is emotionally draining in the most heart-warming way. Seeing the support the men have for each other reminds you how important human companionship is.
The Work gives you goosebumps, it makes you cry, it makes you smile, and you certainly won’t forget it in a hurry, if ever.