It might seem similar to Finding Carter, but Lifetime's newest film Stockholm, Pennsylvania makes drastically different choices than the MTV series in terms of how it portrays a victim of kidnapping after being returned to her family. In fact, the psychological conflict presented in the film is so frightening that by the end, it doesn't seem organic to the plot. What really causes this is Stockholm, Pennsylvania 's "twist," when Leia's mother imprisons her in a desperate attempt to bond. By the end, it's clear that this much captivity and feelings of being forcibly chosen may change Leia in terrible ways.
The film, which was featured at Sundance and bought by Lifetime, follows Leia as she is returned back to her parents, Marcy and Glen, after being kidnapped for most of her life. She's now in her early 20s with no recollection of her old life, and is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome towards her captor-turned-father-figure Ben. Adjusting to her old life proves to be extremely difficult for Leia as her parents, especially Marcy, try to force her back into it. Marcy even treats her like the child she was before she was kidnapped by helping her try on bras and trying to teach her how to use the toaster — though she ends up basically doing it for Leia anyway. Eventually, after Leia secretly visits Ben in jail and later expresses that she's not willing to re-bond with her parents, Marcy snaps and forces a re-bonding by imprisoning Leia in her old room, which is still decorated the way it was when she was a small child.
Marcy forces Leia to stay locked in her room and brings her food on a schedule, which she slips to Leia via a slot in the door, much like a prisoner kept in solitude. Food and water is given on a strict schedule, Leia is not allowed to come downstairs or really speak to many outsiders. In fact, Marcy chooses re-bonding with Leia over her marriage and pushes Leia's dad Glen out of the house, refusing to even let him see her. Marcy even ties Leia down during meals at the dinner table, as she is clearly afraid Leia will run away. The only person Leia gets to see is Marcy, who forces Leia into doing trust exercises with her and eating some meals together. At one point, she feeds Leia cake (though Leia really doesn't seem to want to eat it) and when it dribbles on the side of her mouth, Marcy picks up a napkin and wipes it for her now grown daughter.
Marcy says that the bond she and Leia shared was wiped away by Ben, so it looks as though she's trying to force that bond again from the beginning. She almost treats Leia like her newborn baby and the result is frightening. However, this drastic shift in Marcy's personality also feels like it comes out of nowhere. While I obviously don't know how it personally feels to be in this situation, the film's shift seems surprising, considering its beautifully poignant focus on Leia's readjustment to "normal" life during the first half.
From the start of the film, Marcy is presented as a strong-willed person. She seems to have always done things in her specific way, including how she and her husband handled their marriage and life after Leia's (then Leanne) kidnapping. When Leia comes back, her mother tries too hard to help her adjust. But everything she does just seems like a mother hoping her child will love her again — until she begins holding Leia captive. That's when things start to feel forced.
However, Marcy's actions are not the most concerning part of the film — that'd be the ending. Eventually, Leia finds a way to run away from Marcy and leaves her a note on the wall of her bedroom where she writes, "I am someone when I’m alone, but when I’m with other people, I am what they think I am... I don’t want to be something to share anymore. It’s time for me to grow up for good and have something that’s mine and mine only." The camera then shows Leia alone in a park, enjoying the outdoors, until she sees a young girl seemingly alone and smiling at her. Leia looks around and eventually looks at the young girl in a way that suggests she has chosen the girl to be hers and hers only, the way Ben and Marcy chose her.
The kind of stressful, traumatizing events that Leia had to face obviously changed her completely as a person, especially since she was held in captivity for 17 formative years. She talks about how she doesn't think she loves anyone and that the idea of fighting for something you want is new to her.
Even if Marcy hadn't snapped and instead tried to be loving, supportive, and patient, it's possible that Leia still could've ended the film in the same mindset. But at least she would've experienced another way of life first. While she's being locked in her room, Leia asks Marcy if this is how people love. It makes me sad that Stockholm, Pennsylvania didn't show her any other way.
Images: Aaron Epstein/Stockholm PA, LLC (3)