On February 4, 1974, Patty Hearst, granddaughter of newspaper czar, William Randolph Hearst, was kidnapped and held for ransom by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a radical group who claimed to be a huge army dedicated to fighting "fascist Amerika" but was in reality a handful of "guerillas" led by one Donald DeFreeze, an escaped felon. Two months later on April 15, Hearst was photographed wielding a fully automatic M1 Carbine while helping Defreeze and company hold up a bank in San Francisco.
If you're unfamiliar with the case, the question on the tip of your tongue has to be, "What the hell happened in between February and April?"
According to Hearst in her horribly written biography, Every Secret Thing, she was cocooned in a closet for six weeks where she was sexually assaulted and brainwashed into thinking the SLA really stood for something more than DeFreeze trying to get some more of his prison buddies out of the joint. Other folks claim she suffered from "Stockholm Syndrome" where an individual in a hostage situation begins to sympathize with their captors. (Named after a bank robbery gone wrong in Stockholm, Sweden where just that happened.)
After a shootout which killed most of the SLA (including DeFreeze) and another bank robbery, Patty Hearst was captured by police, tried and convicted of armed robbery and served three years in prison before Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence. (She was later given a full pardon by Bill Clinton.) The general consensus seems to be that Hearst was brainwashed by the SLA, and couldn't be held completely responsible for her actions. Today, when not acting in films by John Waters, Patty Hearst lives in Connecticut with her family. I suspect the truth of what happened in the two months between her kidnapping and the bank robbery in San Francisco is lost even to her.
My fascination with Patty Hearst, cults, and brainwashing pops up in Women's Studies through the character of Iris, who at the beginning of the story is an unhappy, insecure girl whose conservative, religious father treats her and her mother like pets. Though still working out Iris's visual look, it will definitely communicate that the girl is lonely, beaten down, and friendless. Her self-esteem is so low as to be almost non-existent. The root cause of her esteem issues is a fear of being forever misunderstood that borders on total despair.
I think one fear that is universal is the fear of being alone, not just physically alone, but feeling that no one else understands, relates, or cares. After all, when we lay down at night and close our eyes, the truly solitary nature of human existence becomes apparent. Even if a person is in the bed beside you, it's still just you in your head with all those dreams, wants and fears... especially the fears. In my more pessimistic moments, I've let myself believe that any sense of community, togetherness, or connectedness is just an illusion, a mental construct to keep individual humans from destroying themselves or each other.
When fear and confusion is all encompassing, it's easy to follow instead of lead, to find someone to guide us and show us what to do, even who to be. This is where we find Iris, searching for an identity, for someone to be. Anyone but who she thinks she is will do. She sees a leader in Mary, who taught her in an Intro to Women's Studies class. She's attracted to Mary's strength and beauty, but I believe that's secondary to the fact that Mary is kind to her, unlike her father or any of her peers. Iris is like a hungry caterpillar, and Mary feeds her a steady diet of confidence. However, Mary is older and consumed with her own issues. Besides, the unpopular kid in school is only friends with the teacher because the "cool kids" his own age want nothing to do with him.
Once at Ross-Prentiss, the "cool kids," in particular Melissa, come to Iris with acceptance. They begin to feed this hungry caterpillar with revolutionary ideas about self worth, and power, and a society that has created her insecurities. They offer a new world, a solution to her problems, and even vengeance on those who have slighted her. Scary maybe, but who cares? They make Iris feel pretty, important, and loved. That love above all things is key, because it blinds Iris into thinking the cocoon she's wrapped herself in is full of life, but it's not. It's putrid and rotten. Despite this, the pupa still lives, and the creature that eventually emerges from it, though beautiful, is deadly and destructive: a butterfly with razor blade wings.
A little bit Dylan Kleibold and Eric Harris with some Manson girl and of course, Patty Hearst, thrown in for good measure, finding an actor to portray Iris's transformation was something of a challenge. Still, we think Laura Bloechl (pronounced "BLAY-KEL") is up for the job. Mostly soft spoken and fun loving, she's also capable of going to Iris's darker and more extreme places, which if I can say so, kind of freaks me out a little.
I hope it does you too.