It started with the drywall in my mother’s coat room. Maybe it was the way the sun glinted off of it, or the fact that it was smoothed out too perfectly. I’d drag my index finger against the wall, the scrape of my nail and the plaster sending a thrill through me, but it was nothing like the pleasure that consuming the drywall brought me. There’s no taste to drywall surprisingly, but the texture is something indescribable. It was the summer I turned 13, and my longing for human connection began to wane as I found solace in eating things that I knew I should never eat. Drywall moved on to pencil lead, which moved on to erasers, which eventually became sand, which transformed into dirt. I knew there was something wrong but I didn’t tell anyone. I can’t describe the joy it brought me to not only consume these things, but for my consummation to be a secret only I knew.
Carlo Mirabella-Davis’s Swallow (2020) is a tense drama about Hunter (Haley Bennett) a newly pregnant wife, who’s relationship with her enigmatic husband is put to the test as her habit of consuming dangerous objects is exposed. The first time we see Hunter consume something, it’s a tiny marble. She swallows it with ease, and expels it later on, cleaning it and putting it back in a box with other small objects. But, once she begins to realize the life she’s living may not be the one she wants, Hunter’s compulsion gets more dangerous. She becomes more unhinged as the objects become bigger in scale. A thumbtack becomes a needle, which becomes a gargantuan screw. Swallowing these objects is the only way Hunter is able to gain control over her life. As the film progresses, that control gets harder and harder to grasp, and Hunter’s past seems to be the only answer to why her present life is the way it is.
While watching Swallow, I felt myself becoming sick, but still I couldn’t take my eyes away from the screen. Hunter’s compulsion and my own are quite different, but I felt myself drawn to her. Haley Bennett perfectly portrays a woman who doesn’t know what she wants in life, and uses the consumption of peculiar objects to make up for her lack of control. In the last act of the film, Swallow weaves into a story of a woman who is trying to run from the sins of her father. As far as you may venture, what your parents were once capable of is something that will plague your mind for your whole life. My father and I had a very brief and strained relationship, and I’ve spent much of my adult life asking myself if I’m a product of his anger and shame. As the film comes to a close, Hunter has a conversation with her father, whom she has never met before. She asks “Are you ashamed of me?” to which he replies “No. But what I did, I am ashamed of.”
When my compulsion was at its peak, I was living in an abusive household and my father and I began to talk again for the first time in years. At this point I would consume handfuls of sand every day. Waiting for my sister behind her elementary school, in my front yard while waiting for the bus, and sometimes I would sneak it into the house so I could eat it before I went to sleep. It felt like the only thing I could control was what I was putting into my body, and I didn’t care if it made me sick. I didn’t care that my stomach felt heavy, and I didn’t care that it could potentially kill me. When I was 15, my father went missing, which pushed me over the edge, and allowed my compulsion to spin out of control. At the end of their conversation, Hunter asks her father if she’s like him – angry and capable of committing terrible acts – and her father whispers “Are you as bad as me?” She stares at him, and with a final dismissive nod, decides that she is not. It’s a conversation I never got to have with my father, and one that while I do wish I could have, I do not feel the need for anymore.
Until Swallow, I had never seen Pica – which is described as: a psychological disorder characterized by an appetite for substances that are largely non-nutritive – represented on screen. It’s jarring to watch pieces of your life play in front of you, and even though you may do the same thing it’s unfathomable at times. Watching Hunter swallow a thumbtack was unfathomable to me, but then again I did eat sand on a regular basis from the time I was 13 to the time I was 17. Disorders come in many different forms, and although we differ in some aspect, Hunter has allowed me to shed a piece of myself in a way. I am her and she is me, and we are both women who are longing to be rid of our compulsions and our pasts. Swallow has allowed me to contemplate my own relationship with Pica, as I still struggle with it often. But more surprisingly, the film has allowed me to heal my stunted relationship with someone who I might never see again.