The Listener – A friend in need

“Please, let it all out. That’s what I’m here for.”

In The Listener, directed by Steve Buscemi, we eavesdrop on callers to an emotional support helpline. I view such services (and I have volunteered at one many years ago) as emotional first-aid. That is not meant to denigrate such work. Indeed, first-aid often saves lives.

We watch Beth (Tessa Thompson) as she gets up, goes through her evening routine, and then begins working the nightshift for a call-in peer help service. Beth is the only character we see; the rest are all voices on the phone. Some are just lonely; some require Beth to determine just what kind of help they need.  Among the issues that arise are moral injury, the conscience of a police officer who has seen misconduct, and the struggle of someone with true mental illness.

Most of the calls are fairly straightforward. One seems to be a repeat caller she is familiar with. Others may have reached her randomly. It is important for her to be present with the callers, even when they are only talking over the phone. In a way the film reminded me of the TV series In Treatment, in that we see someone who listens to others’ problems. But, here it is a non-professional helper.

It also reminded me a bit of the rite of Confession. These calls are anonymous. Some people give a name (that may or may not be their real name). Beth admits to callers who ask that Beth is not her real name. It allows people to share things they might otherwise keep hidden. Even in this setting though, some people find it hard to vocalize their thoughts and feelings. They occasionally clarify that they wouldn’t actually do things they talk about.

While many of the calls are really inconsequential, the final half hour of the film is a single call that digs a bit deeper into the darkness that can come into life. It challenges Beth to find something that the caller will find valuable enough to continue in her struggles. When the abstract idea of suicide becomes more concrete, Beth and the caller talk of many things, including morality. The call also pushes Beth to deal with some of her own feelings and history.

The story reminds us that we have opportunities to touch people’s lives in many ways. Some may just need to be heard and acknowledged. Some may need our full attention. Some may be the ones who bring healing to us. It reminds us that often, we really do need each other—even those we may not know.

The Listener is in theaters and available on VOD.

Photos courtesy of Vertical.

Leave a Reply