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Thirteen Movie Review

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The 2003 movie Thirteen, starring Evan Rachel Wood and Holly Hunter, details the gripping, and often harrowing journey into the cognitive development of thirteen year old Tracy Freeman, played by Wood, and the consequences she and her family endures. Residing in the slums of Los Angeles and Hollywood, Tracy comes of age in a morally ambiguous setting surrounded by and increasingly more often participating in dangerous heightened episodes of substance abuse, sexual exploration and self-harm after she befriends the manipulative and reckless Evie Zamora. Meanwhile her mother Mel, a recovering alcoholic played by Holly Hunter, struggles to cope with her daughter’s increasingly erratic behavior while juggling her relationship with her fellow recovering addict boyfriend Brady, much to Tracy’s ire. This film offers insight into the mind of a young woman developing her own personal fable, one that begins to overpower her mother’s permissive-indulgent parenting style to an often disturbing degree.

        Tracy begins the movie as a girl at the tail end of her childhood. An honor student whose room is littered with stuffed animals and Barbie dolls, Tracy enters her seventh grade year an excited and innocent child. However, she begins to become overlooked by the other kids at school when compared to the trendy and popular Evie Zamora. Evie and her friends dismiss Tracy because of her childlike demeanor and clothing in a harsh manner. It is at this point that Tracy decides to shed her identity and childhood, throwing her Barbies away and begging her mother for new clothes. Her mother Mel provides her with an ample amount of love, but in Tracy’s adolescence she begins to feel isolated as her mother leaves her to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with her friends and reenters into a relationship with her crack cocaine addicted ex-boyfriend. A few days later, Evie notices her new clothes and attitude and invites her to go shopping on Melrose, however this was a cruel ruse and Evie gave Tracy the wrong cellphone number. Tracy still decides to go catch up with Evie on Melrose after smoking a cigarette. Evie is initially unimpressed until Tracy steals a woman’s wallet, beginning a destructive relationship and downward spiral.

        Tracy begins to experiment with drugs, alcohol and sex with Evie in a new free lifestyle. She develops a sense of control over her own life through her decidedly out of control behavior. She takes LSD in a park after dark and returns home to a light confrontation with her mother which Mel becomes convinced she is just being a teenager. Evie begins to manipulate Mel into letting her stay in their household through allegations of past sexual and physical abuses, allowing Evie and Tracy to spend more time together being reckless and wild.

        Jean Piaget, a psychologist, theorized that every child goes through four stages of cognitive development: the sensorimotor stage, the preoperational stage, the concrete operational stage, and finally the formal operational stage. The formal operational is stage is essentially a child’s “coming of age,” where he or she develops the ability to understand abstract concepts and hypotheticals, which gives rise to a clearer creative intelligence, like when Tracy’s poetic abilities are showcased at the beginning of the film. However, this stage of cognitive development cultivates a very specific form of egocentrism where the youth will conclude that their thoughts, experiences, and struggles are wholly unique and no other individual would have the ability to understand. This in turn develops the formation of the personal fable, as mentioned above, in where the adolescent becomes intensely invested in their egocentric internal identity. In the film, Tracy succumbs to a dark downward spiral and viciously lashes out when her mother and brother question her actions. Tracy does not recognize her family’s ability to understand her situation, even her brother who shares her upbringing and familial ties. She also is not able to see outside of her own circumstances to see the circumstances of those who surround her or even the consequences of her actions. Tracy’s personal fable is one that works against her on two fronts: One, in which she does not see that her actions are significantly straining her familial ties she bemoaned for beginning to deteriorate, and two, her inability to see the consequences of her increasingly risky activities. The swelling of unhealthy habits, relationships and instability begin to cause Tracy to turn to self-harm and cut herself in her deepest rages.

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