Doth redemption await one at the end of yonder long corridor?
Ok, you know what? There’s no good way to lead into a post like this, so I apologize for that pretentious garbage. I just couldn’t think of a way to work into the post in one line. Suicide’s a heavy subject. So, just ignore what I had and read the damn post, ok?
Contains spoilers for the second episode of Durarara!!
The second episode of Durarara!! is concerned, primarily, with the misery of a girl named Rio and with her encounter with the darker side of life – and of how it is that she came out of her encounter on her own two feet at all, as is made explicitly clear by the narrator’s description of her as a girl who “should’ve died two days ago.” Rio, as it turns out, has tried to kill herself, but has somehow gotten beyond that. Essentially, then, the episode acts as a means to understand how she became suicidal, and how she ultimately survived her attempt, while also tying it into a larger frame of the show’s world. In a way, Rio is kind of a cipher because of this – what matters isn’t precisely her as a character, but the process she has undergone.
I have to admit, though – I’m not exactly interested in looking at the significance of Rio within the story, either as a cipher or as a fully-realized character or whatever. Its more that I’d like to examine the entire way in which her suicidal feelings and their development were portrayed, along with her actual attempt.
I was undecided upon how I felt about the way in which Durarara!! rendered the suicidal character and their attempt. I know I mentioned it in my at a glance post on the show, but I’ll re-iterate again that I had a friend who committed suicide just a few months ago, and so I tend to feel on-edge when I see things like this. I’ve got a bit of a hair-trigger for insensitive depictions of suicide, and so my radar was going full speed ahead for any hint of carelessness in the way that Rio’s story was told. And even after watching it, I was conflicted as to how I felt about it.
However, I have to say, ultimately, I think that the writers did a good job on the entire thing. This is something that I began to realize when I saw a comment on another blog that expressed confusion over Rio’s appearance – the commenter initially hadn’t connected Rio’s earlier episode appearance with the Rio that is shown in the present time and when she met “Nakura” to fulfill a suicide pact. They also said they didn’t see the point – she’s going to kill herself, so why would she bother to do a makeover? That makes no sense!
Actually, the fact is, many people are very careful about dressing themselves, doing their make-up, brushing their hair, etc. when they are preparing to commit suicide. In fact, studies show that people who wear glasses will very often remove them prior to their suicide attempt. People commonly try to look their best when they kill themselves.
This is something that admittedly probably seems strange. However, it ties into a larger mindset that tends to go along with suicide and suicidal thinking – the point of killing oneself isn’t to die, its to stop the pain. Thus, suicidal people generally aren’t thinking, “I’m going to die and then I’ll be gone forever.” but “I’m going to die and then I won’t be unhappy any more.” So it makes sense that those who are attempting to go to their deaths make an effort to look as nice as they can; there is no sense of true permanence to it. And even when there appears to be one, there are still hang-ups about how one’ll look in their coffin, etc. – even though they’ll be dead, so clearly it won’t matter to them one way or another. They’re dead. What people think of them can no longer affect them at all. It’s over.
Anyway, that aside, there is a lot of other material to consider in the episode, such as Rio’s slow descent into suicidal feelings and thinking. Her process rings true – she becomes aware that her father is cheating, and then is hurt that her mother has no apparent reaction when she decides to reveal the truth to her. She’s hurt because she feels that her family doesn’t think its necessary to tell her; she ultimately feels like this means she doesn’t matter, that her parents don’t trust her. Obviously, its much more likely that her parents feel it is better to not tell her so she won’t become upset about it, since they don’t know she knows about it at all. But an already miserable teenager isn’t going to be able to really form this perspective – with an already heavily negative mindset, the most likely result is, instead, that she’ll assume the worst, i.e. that her parents don’t really care about her.
This is one of the traps of negative thinking. Negativity generally begets more negativity. A body in motion tends to stay in motion – this applies to human emotions and thinking, not simply to physical bodies. And all the rushing hormones of adolescence exacerbate this. Think back to your own high school experiences – can you remember some of the stuff that really bothered you in high school but seems really stupid now? Well, there you go.
There is also the fact that if Rio is already feeling like she’d be better off if she didn’t exist are going to be made worse by any slight sense that she doesn’t matter to her parents or to others. It seems to validate the original feeling.
Rio’s eventual attempt is also quite believable, and actually illuminates some of the ways in which we tend to conceptualize suicide as an event after the fact. Orihara’s treatment of Rio in light of her attempt after he leaves comes across as exceedingly cruel; yes, as an audience we are somewhat shocked by his behavior while he is speaking to her, but at the same time, he does have some valid points – no, Rio isn’t special or different, and her death on the ground below really would have no meaning, ultimately. She would just become a bloodstain if she jumped. But this isn’t the way you go about dealing with a suicidal person when perched on a building’s edge, and the revelation of his implied involvement with other suicides in the area demonstrate just how much his words weren’t intended as a shock treatment of sorts.
Orihara’s parting words are to goad Rio, and, predictably enough, Rio drops off the edge. Her thoughts at the time are, essentially, that she’ll jump because he has said she won’t, and because she feels as if it could possibly hurt him if she does.
This is, quite frankly, brilliant.
Look at coverage of suicide, particularly of teenage suicide. Often, media coverage reduces it to something simplistic, such as ‘Boy, 14, Kills Himself over Curfew’, or ‘Girl Kills Self after Cellphone is taken away’. These stories imply that the only reason the person in question has killed themself is due to some small, tiny factor, something stupid and superficial like a boy/girlfriend or getting grounded or a fight with their parents or not getting asked to prom. This is all so incredibly ridiculous, its difficult to even begin to explain why it is. It basically boils down to this, though – a person doesn’t kill themselves because they can’t have the car to go out to the movies. Its more that this is the trigger event – it may not seem like that much to someone who has never experienced suicidal feelings, but to the suicidal individual, this little thing is just the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Thus, Rio’s thoughts prior to her attempt to me seem, well, perfect, as weird as that seems to be to say about a suicide attempt. Because they capture the fact that it often appears from an outside perspective that the reason for killing oneself is really dumb. Rio isn’t trying to kill herself because Orihara has told her she’s an idiot, that her death won’t matter, that she doesn’t really mean it – she tries because its just one more thing in a series of events and facts that makes her feel rotten and worthless. Even more so, Orihara is robbing her of her identity – she has become The Suicidal Girl. Its who she is. And Orihara takes that away from her as he tears her apart verbally. Of course she jumped after that.
What had left me feeling unsettled over the entire thing in the first place was Rio’s reaction after the headless motorcyclist saves her. The headless motorcyclist tells her, via cellphone, that the world isn’t as bad as she thinks it is. Rio picks up her shoe and walks away after that, seemingly dazed, and two days later seems fairly positive about things. I felt a bit bothered – was this really the best way to depict her behavior after the attempt?
The fact is, everyone has a different reaction to failed suicide attempts. There are similar reactions, but none are identical. And Rio’s is realistic. There are people who, after such an experience, ‘wake up’. They open their eyes and look at their world and think, “My god, did I really do that?” Others keep trying. Some come out of their depression, only to relapse later. Rio’s new lease on life approach is entirely valid, and… well, I liked the fact that it was positive. Its the sort of thing that I would want a suicidal person to see; the show took the care to build up the entire thing, so the ultimate result wouldn’t come off as simply a canned attempt to convince someone to not kill themselves, such as you see with something like Queen’s Don’t Try Suicide. Rio’s suicidal, but she gets over it – you’re suicidal, you can get over it… and actually be happy. And, like I said, her reaction isn’t totally unbelievable, either – people can and do get past feeling suicidal like that. To think that someone couldn’t suddenly feel completely different is foolish; near-death experiences have historically caused people to take drastically different approaches to life, so why should suicide be any different?
(Again, though I would like to emphasize that Rio’s reaction is in no way universal – there are documented cases of people who’ve attmepted 10+ times and have eventually succeeded with little change in mood after failed attempts. My friend tried to kill herself the year before she actually did.)
So, despite my earlier misgivings… I’m very pleased with how Durarara!! handled Rio’s storyline in episode two. In fact, its fairly impressive how well it was done – its one thing to be respectful, but for them to have nailed it so well is, like I said, impressive. I really don’t think there’s any other show that has ever done such a good job.
For the record, I was previously a psychology student, and I did some formal research work on the subject of suicide. Additionally, however, I also spent much of my adolescence reading academic works on the subject, and I to this day tend to follow articles published in academic journals on it in addition to reading books on the topic. Just in case you were wondering where the hell my knowledge was coming from. I also used to be fairly suicidal myself, so I can glean from personal experience as well.