Reclaiming the Night
Jan 9, 2024
Daniel Benjamin Wheeler
Daniel Benjamin Wheeler
A disarmingly genuine and knowledgeable case for humanitarianism.
In these days of global war and escalating violence and hate, the feeling that arguing for peace is a modern definition of madness rather than a simple human attitude comes often. It is usually culture, including but not limited to film, that reminds me that this is not always true. There is still humanity out there if we care to look.
‘Reclaiming the Night’ is a case in point. This documentary is a brilliant mix of academic exposition and humanitarian witness statement. Technically, it is of an understatedly high quality. Beginning by setting its academic tone with beautiful stills of the University building, from which we get views of the Artic landscape, and footage of an educational psychology class in Norway, then setting the humanitarian theme, and ending with the most powerful statement one could make: ‘I am not afraid’.
In times when we are wrongly told that people ‘have had enough of experts’ (credit a certain shameless UK government minister a few years ago), I say thank the Universe for studious people. And where they use that knowledge to help others, times that by a million.
Reclaiming the Night engages deeply with the essence of its subject matter, referencing the seminal work on childhood trauma on which the documentary’s lead, Professor Schultz, has largely based his work, ‘Too Scared to Cry’, by American psychiatrist Lenor Terr. Much like the title of the book references the physicality of trauma, the extreme cases in which the body is not even able to relieve itself through the process of weeping, the documentary’s brilliant title points to one of the essentials of psychiatric health and, ultimately, survival: sleep. And the documentary illuminates what the Professor’s work is truly about: to help the victims of extreme trauma to dream again. He means, and does this, both literally- helping victims reduce or stop their nightmares and bringing back their ability to sleep well- and figuratively, in the sense of regaining the ability to dream of the future again, to reclaim their faith in being alive. No easy task.
The Professor’s brilliant work is done with the support of the Norwegian Refugee Council. I am a historian by training, so allow me, dear reader, to point to the origins of this organisation. Founded in 1946, the Council is a staple of the post- Second World War human rights consensus. A consensus that is currently being ripped to pieces by the global far-right. This makes works of film like Reclaiming the Night all the more necessary, urgent and essential to who we are as humans and our ability to face destruction with creation.