When people think of Dario Argento, they undoubtedly think of Suspiria, Phenomena, or Deep Red, films that are wonderful to revisit and still retain a sense of a director fully fleshing out his vision.
Trauma is not one of those movies.
It’s almost as if Argento was not interested in his first American production succeeding, and Tom Savini’s subpar effects aren’t the worst of it: fake lizards, decapitated heads holding a conversation, an (even for her) over the top Piper Laurie with a fake Romanian accent. It is a mess of a movie, and overly long even at an hour and forty-six minutes. The plot takes turns that make no sense, and I’m fairly certain the reveal for the killer’s motivation is physically impossible (spoiler: an obstetrician, Dr. Lloyd (Brad Dourif) accidentally slips with a scalpel while delivering a child, beheading it. Is that possible? I’m pretty sure kids have bones). I’m not looking for 100% reality when I’m watching a horror movie, but if there isn’t some supernatural element, I’d appreciate at least a little bit of effort. I know I’m not alone in thinking this movie is ridiculous; Laurie never even bothered to see the final cut of the movie, citing that she laughed her way through filming it.
I bought the DVD of Trauma way back in the early 2000s, when I was far more into horror than I am now; I believe I got it from a bargain bin at Newbury Comics. I’m not a die hard Argento fan, but I do enjoy some of his stuff, and I mainly bought it because the main character, Aura (Asia Argento), is anorexic. I suffered from an eating disorder for 14 years, eventually dropping to the weight of a third grader before seeking treatment, and it remains that media revolving around eating disorders intrigue me. I had never seen a horror movie with an anorexic protagonist, so I bought it.
And I have to say, as flawed as it is, Trauma handles Aura’s anorexia well. It’s far from perfect, but there’s a certain sort of tenderness that shines through in an otherwise dismal production (and really, if we’re going to get clinical, Aura seems to suffer from intermittent bulimia as well). Unlike so many films that showcase eating disorders (mostly Lifetime movies, if we’re being honest), Asia Argento does not seem to look like she was made to lose weight for the role; she’s slender, but not obviously stick- like. There are no brown circles painted under her eyes and her face isn’t countered. She’s not made to look sickly, and that is true of many eating disordered people; they look relatively healthy until they don’t. There is concern about her condition, mostly from Christopher (David Parsons), but there is no dramatic “Eat or you’ll die!” moments; we see her throw up a few times (once on the floor of a diner bathroom the moment she walks in, which is sort of funny), but that’s it. In a sub-genre that usually relies on melancholic ennui and desperate begging, her eating disorder is a subdued reflection of the chaotic environment of her home life.
Seeing an eating disorder portrayed in such a way was important to me, because for most of my eating-disordered life I did not look very sick. I was fairly open about my issues to my friends, but my family didn’t take notice of anything being wrong until I weighed 72 lbs (or, if they did, they didn’t mention it). It is a common misconception that anorexics have to look like skeletons in order to “officially” be diagnosed as such; this is simply not true. Looking back at Aura’s character, a fragile and frightened young woman always teetering on the edge of a complete breakdown, I see a lot of my past self in her. Now, as a relatively recovered adult, I am glad I am not that dramatic young woman anymore.
Perhaps it is because the character of Aura was loosely based on Asia’s half sister Anna that the film does not exploit the anorexia angle (and it’s safe to say it really is sort of a throwaway plot point—she could just as easily be depressed or have general anxiety disorder or something). Asia’s performance is a little silly, with her fluttering hands and blinking and in a near- constant sort of swooning terror, but the eating disorder is delicately handled, even if it does come with some dated and misinformed information (Dr. Judd [Frederic Forrest] states that anorexics are “deeply attached to [their] unstable mother” and “dream [their] father is leaning over to kiss [them]”). Citation needed!
There is one accurate claim made by Dr. Judd: “a lot of anorexics die.” I didn’t, and Aura doesn’t, but even if there were closure regarding her health, it would most likely be lost amidst all the gauze curtains and severed heads.