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The Toxic Relationship Dynamics in the Movie "Waves" (2019)

In the 2019 film Waves, written, co-produced and directed by Trey Edward Shults, we see the Williams family dealing with toxic dynamics. Tyler, a high school wrestler who is under enormous pressure to succeed both athletically and academically, is the protagonist of the film. Ronald, Tyler's father, is a strict disciplinarian who constantly pushes Tyler to be the best and belittles him for not meeting his expectations. This dynamic spiralled down to their whole family and ended in despair.


Tyler's obedience to his father limits him not only in academics and sports, but also in morals and traditional beliefs that most men hold. A great example of this is when Ronald is suffering from a bad knee; instead of going to the doctor, as his wife, Catherine, begs, he affirmatively states that there is nothing wrong with it and that he is fine. Later, we learn that Tyler has a Level 5 SLAP tear on his shoulder, which will have an impact on his wrestling career. Tyler learns, like a mantra, that he will only disappoint his father by showing weakness, so he ignores the doctor's request for surgery and resorts to stealing painkillers from his father. Both of these men are in pain, but because men are taught that showing pain is a sign of weakness, they would rather ignore potential dangers in order to appear strong.

Ronald would also only talk about how fortunate his son is to have everything and how he is the reason Tyler has gotten this far in life. He implies that his son should be hardworking or he will be unworthy of the life he has given him. It's fine to tell Tyler to work hard, but there's also an underlying force of pushing him to his limits and forgetting that his son is a human, not a robot.

Finally, there is no vulnerability but only toughness. Instead of going to his parents for help, we see Tyler cry behind closed doors and turn to parties, drugs, and pornography to cope with his depression. He knows that speaking would embarrass him in front of his father, so he suffers in silence.


Tyler and his girlfriend, Alexis, also have a significant power imbalance. Tyler is possessive and controlling of Alexis throughout the film, and their relationship is marked by verbal and physical abuse. He is envious of Alexis with another guy and confronted her without even listening to her explanation. He also doesn't care about her feelings or even try to get to know her friends; all he cares about is that she's beautiful and he owns her. Not only was this a problem, but Tyler was also very manipulative towards Alexis because he has no idea how to understand and have actual conversations in his family. He lashes out at Alexis if he doesn't get what he wants or if things don't go as planned. This behavior is only exacerbated by the abortion scene. I believe Tyler is overjoyed that he and Alexis will have a child, but he is afraid of disappointing his father, which is why he has shifted from accepting to despising Alexis for keeping their child.

This resulted in him accidentally killing Alexis, but instead of accepting responsibility, he fled to avoid capture. He was afraid of the consequences, guilt, and his family disowning him.


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The absence of Catherine and Ronald in the family caused the children to be closed off and afraid of them. Catherine is constantly busy, but make believe herself that she is always with the children. Ronald pushes Tyler and barely notices Emily, but instills he should be strict and he's the one providing for the family's needs, so his absence is understandable. When Ronald nitpicks Tyler and Emily's flaws, Catherine will change the subject as if she is protecting the two children, but in reality, she is not ready to confront Ronald's toxic behavior. When both of them are wrong, they blame each other. For the sake of their status, they try to put on a happy face and bury their problems without addressing them.


Emily and Luke

Emily became socially outcast as a result of the consequences of her brother's wrongdoings. She keeps it to herself because she knows her parents are more concerned with their own sufferings than with hers. This can be very dangerous because no one is checking on her, and she is also suffering, but that changed when she met Luke, who is also a member of the wrestling team. Luke quickly won Emily over with his gentle and caring demeanor. He understands the situation and expresses his desire to learn more about her. Emily is able to open up about her feelings as a result of their healthy relationship, which results in her opening up to both Catherine and Ronald.

Not only does she want to mend their family, but she also forgives his brother and insists on Luke meeting his dying father, whom he despises. Luke's positive outlook goes a long way toward assisting Emily and Emily's rawness and understanding help Luke see that forgiveness can be a powerful tool for people to form strong bonds with one another.


I'd also like to look at Alexis and Luke's parents' healthy dynamic. We see that Alexis is both adored by her parents and accepts her life decisions, demonstrating her strong yet soft personality. Her parents' treatment of her exemplifies her gratitude and healthy respect for them.

Luke, who was raised by her mother, is extremely knowledgeable, compassionate, and loving. He constantly compliments her and adores her. He shows what her mother believes and embodies,and this made him grew up not being toxic.

Unlike Tyler and Emily, Luke and Alexis have more freedom to connect with their parents and are much more capable of navigating life. It reveals how a person's relationship with the individuals in their household affects how they treat others and provides them with a broad understanding of being radical and able to navigate their emotions.

The film Waves is a powerful reminder of the importance of healthy family dynamics and the devastation that toxic relationships can cause. It emphasizes the importance of open communication, mutual respect, and addressing and seeking help for mental health issues.

If you enjoy emotionally charged films that explore the human condition, the complexities of relationships, and Top tier playlist, Waves could be a rewarding and engaging viewing experience.

© 2022 Morgan Lily

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