When horror master Stephen King announces that people should watch a certain movie, then it is wise to take him seriously. He tweeted on Aug. 10: “Give yourself a gift and go see THE GIFT–a perfect little gem of a suspense movie. Added bonus: no characters wear Spandex suits.” Stephen King understands suspense better than anyone, so that is high praise coming from the famous author.
However, there is another aspect of “The Gift” that should not be overlooked: the adult bullying theme. Adults can and do bully other adults. This movie offers an extreme story where an adult bully (who has been a bully his whole life) faces off with another adult bully (who was a victim of bullying in childhood). In this movie, it appears that some people are born bullies and others become that way due to environmental factors. It makes for a gripping story, because bullying can be so much more intense when adults engage in the behavior.
Dr. Charles Sophy, a psychiatrist and medical director of the County of Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services, has an old podcast. His last episode was about bullying. Among other aspects of bullying, he covered adult bullying after receiving an e-mail asking for advice on a possible workplace bullying situation. The man who sent the e-mail, Thomas, works in a writer’s room with a group of writers. Their job is to work on creative projects. One writer is particularly aggressive in his criticism of his colleagues. He mocks their writing and pushes his own ideas at their expense. Thomas asked Dr. Sophy how he could stick up for himself and his other bullied colleagues without coming off as unprofessional. He also asked whether or not this situation was really bullying.
Dr. Sophy’s guest, psychologist Dr. Mike Friedman, opined that there needs to be a power differential for bullying to take place. If Thomas is being bullied, then why Thomas’s workplace “bully” is more powerful needs to be explored. If we work under the assumption that the “bully” is an equal, then this might not really be a case of bullying. The “bully” could just have a bad temperament and simply discussing the problem with him outside of the group might be the best decision. More than likely, the “bully” will tone it down.
There is an instance of workplace bullying in “The Gift,” and the stakes are high for the two adults involved. There is the threat of loss of position and income. Though the two adults are equals in the workplace, one is simply more aggressive and willing to do anything to belittle the other. The bully, in this instance, senses that his victim is emotionally weaker and less likely to assert himself. Rather than position, it is lack of remorse or emotions that make the bully more powerful.
Bullying in “The Gift” is suspenseful, because adults have more income and resources at their disposal than kids do. It’s easier for adults to lash out at each other on a grander scale. Stephen King is right that this movie is a gift. Watching a couple of adult bullies continue to up the ante throughout the movie is fascinating.