When teacher Patricia Fels showed one of her English 10 classes “The Impossible,” a movie about the 2004 tsunami in Thailand, she wasn’t expecting the reaction she would get from some of the sophomores.
“There’s a scene in the beginning when a mother and son are washed away, and it’s intense,” Fels said. “I saw that some girls in the room had their heads down.
“I could tell that they weren’t sleeping, and it looked like they were almost in pain. I asked them if they were OK, and they responded ‘yes’ in a weak voice.”
Fels said that she could tell that one of the sophomores had been crying. She told her and the others who were affected in similar ways that they didn’t have to watch the movie and assigned alternate homework.
According to Fels, this is the first time she’s ever had a class react this way.
“I’ve never excused kids for this reason before,” Fels said. “I’ve had parents that wouldn’t approve R-rated movies, but this is different.”
These emotional responses aren’t happening in just English class. Bruce Baird, the sophomore history teacher, said that he had similar experiences while showing “The Kingdom of Heaven,” a movie about the Crusades.
“I didn’t really get a lot of people crying,” Baird observed, “but a lot of students were turning their heads.
“It’s really different from earlier classes. We’re exposed to so much as Americans that I was surprised by the emotional reaction of the sophomores.”
Nina Dym and Amalie Fackenthal are two of the students who were excused from watching “The Impossible.”
Dym said that she doesn’t like it when people scream or there’s a gory scene.
“In ‘The Impossible,’ the scene where the family was being swept away was really scary,” she said. “In the movie Dr. Baird showed us, there was a decapitation.”
Fackenthal had different reasons for disliking the films.
“I don’t really like non-fiction movies like the ones we saw,” Fackenthal said. “I didn’t like the blood, and I didn’t like it when people were getting hurt.”
It may be that the Fackenthals are genetically more emotional. Amalie’s older sister, junior Marigot, has had similar experiences.
“Sometimes I just cry randomly,” Marigot said.
“I’m not even upset, but my eyes just get watery, especially when I’m talking to authorities. One time I was talking to Dr. Baird, and I just burst into tears. He asked me if everything was OK, and everything was fine. I was just crying for no reason.”
According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, this overwhelming sensitivity may be due to being a Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP.
Experts say that HSPs “can easily become overwhelmed by stimuli” and are “acutely aware of sensations.” And they are “particularly sensitive to emotions.”
Baird said that he shows movies and documentaries in his class “as a break from doing other things. I want students to find the movies enjoyable.
“I show ‘Mulan’ and use it as a basis for the essay question for the China test. Students liked to watch the movie in class, but also because it sort of became a tradition.”
But now he’s having second thoughts.
“With these types of reactions, I’m starting to have to consider more what I should and shouldn’t show in the future – and whether the cons of showing these movies outweigh the pros,” Baird said.
—By Quin LaComb
Take this test to see if you’re “highly sensitive.”