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I'm Totally Fine (2022): Friendship is Love

I’m Totally Fine is a charming, simple film that explores grief, anxiety, and the weight of unresolved loss. The film is funny and heartbreaking all at once. Successfully tugging at the heartstrings of the Ghouls. Gabe discusses the film's fun concept that can get too real sometimes. Kat researches how animals grieve, revealing humans to not be that special.


Media from this week's episode:

I’m Totally Fine (2022)

Vanessa, a woman in mourning, takes a solo trip to clear her head after the death of her friend, but her self-care vacation plans change when she's met with an out-of-this-world situation.


I'm Totally Fine: A Comedic Exploration of Grief & Loss by Gabe Castro

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

I’m Totally Fine is a charming, simple film that explores grief, anxiety, and the weight of unresolved loss. Vanessa travels to a remote house for what was meant to be a celebration. Her and her best friend, Jennifer, had successfully secured a distribution deal for the organic soda they made together. Only the day has taken a sour turn, Vanessa is alone and Jennifer is no longer with us. She bumbles about, struggling through the fog and lethargy of loss while trying to cancel the party. Only to be told she cannot because she missed the deadline for cancellation. She is required to have a party. So she parties alone. She pushes down her complicated emotions, a feeling of true loss paired with disappointment, resentment and a sense of unfairness. Jennifer has left her here to pick up the pieces alone. The morning after her drunken antics, after trying her best to party, she wakes and encounters Jennifer in her kitchen. Convinced she’s finally lost it, snapped at the loss of her lifelong best friend. This Jennifer is strange though, her words clipped and robotic, confused. Vanessa learns that this is not Jennifer at all but is instead an alien wearing her face. They have been sent here to study Vanessa and her grief. As a gift for participation, she gets two days to spend with her dead best friend.

What happens throughout is a funny mix of scenes where Vanessa works to reason the situation away. She creates an explanation for every interaction, the alien wants to know how well she can swim and hold her breath because Jennifer and Vanessa had been in swim club so Vanessa’s brain is inventing this situation to cope with her grief. It’s not until Alien-Jennifer reveals information that Vanessa was never supposed to know. Once the secret was confirmed, one Jennifer had sworn to take to the grave (and technically did), that Vanessa realizes this may not be a hallucination after all. Deciding to take advantage of the alien Jennifer, they share more secrets, emotions, and memories. Alien-Jennifer is quick to confirm Vanessa’s memories, letting her know that “Jennifer loved you a lot,” or “Jennifer lied to you to protect your feelings.”

Throughout this adventure, Vanessa is forced to confront her loss but more importantly, her reluctance to feel and explore her grief. She has pushed forward, working to convince her boyfriend and herself, that she is okay, she is totally fine. But Alien-Jennifer reveals the truth, she’s far from okay and hasn’t been for a long time. She feels cheated, her person stolen unexpectedly and too soon. A bizarrely kind but rude stranger later questions her about her business agreement, asking if they had a mortality clause in their contract. Of course they didn’t, never expecting mortality to rear its ugly head in such a sudden and cruel way. As Vanessa forms a connection with Alien-Jennifer, learning to not only accept the emotions she has as a human but to appreciate them. Learning that our emotions make us unique and powerful, truly human. After losing Jennifer again, this time in the form of an alien visitor, Vanessa finally admits that’s she’s not totally fine, but that’s okay.

Making of

In an interview with director Brandon Dermer, on Audacy, KRLD news radio titled, ‘I’m Totally Fine’ puts a comedic spin on grief, he explains his inspiration for the film. “It was 2020… And like everyone, the rug was pulled out from under us. For me, my anxiety is such and the pandemic obviously was like the uncertainty cranked up to 11. Like, every day, we were learning something new, it was really stressful. And I started to realize that the moment I stopped trying to control this thing that was out of my control out of everyone's control, I could be a little bit more happy and present. I wanted to sort of synthesize that feeling into a story in a way that in an alien, something that is the most foreign out of this world concept, which because that's what it felt like we were living through.”

One of the more interesting parts of the film was the stripped down parts of it. Featuring minimal locations, mostly the house and the roads near it. There’s few characters, one of which, Vanessa’s boyfriend, is only ever seen through a video call. The film was shot in just ten days. Originally, Dermer intended for actor Jillian Bell to play Jennifer the alien but when she read the script, she felt much more attached to Vanessa. Dermer explains that, “She lost her father 10 years ago, and she knew exactly beat by beat what we were viewing following the stages of grief.” Losing someone is such a specific and traumatic event that sticks with you. Vanessa’s grief felt personal and relatable, something I really appreciated. It wasn’t over-the-top or loud, shouting at us about her pain but instead was that reserved grief we face alone, in the dark of night when everyone else has gone to sleep and left us with our thoughts, worries, and regrets. Vanessa’s desperation to hold on to Alien-Jennifer feels raw and real. With her attempts to keep the alien friend, even this pale imitation of her longest and best of friends, here with her was a feeling I could sit with. I could relate. For director Derner, he has hopes for the impact of this film. Hoping it inspires us to value the time we do have, especially during these uncertain times as we’ve been told to refer to them. “We really hope that this movie inspires people to like, reach out to someone, maybe you haven't. Because life is short and precious. And like every morning, it's really hard to remember that in the midst of this crazy world that we live in.“


Humans Aren't That Special, Animals Mourn the Dead Too by Kat Kushin

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

Dealing with a sudden loss can be extremely hard to process. We’ve talked about this in previous episodes, and explored how grieving is not a linear experience, nor does it always follow the grief stages as outlined in most articles when googling grief. In I’m Totally Fine we’re given a window into the experience of Vanessa as she’s dealing with the sudden and unexpected loss of her best friend. With the quirky twist of “an alien is wearing the skin of my deceased friend to run tests on humanity”. While this film was hard to watch and fairly emotional, it did a good job sprinkling in comedic moments and heartfelt closure throughout. Leaving the watcher with the question: What would you do if your dead best friend was replaced by an alien for 48 hours?

Since we’ve talked about grief previously on our show, I wasn’t sure what area of grief to cover this time around. Also, I wasn’t sure how much I could emotionally handle speaking about it as I had to deal with a sudden and unexpected loss just over a month ago. So instead of getting big sad here today, we’re going to talk about why aliens would want to investigate humans, and how other animals experience grief.

How do Animals Experience Grief:

Do Animals Experience Grief? A growing body of evidence points to how animals are aware of death and will sometimes mourn for or ritualize their dead by Jessica Pierce.

What is interesting to me about this article is its attention drawn to the skepticism of human scientists at the possibility that animals experience grief. It seems that many feel that to admit animals experience grief would lower the status of humans, and eliminate the one thing that makes us truly “unique”. It’s stated in the article that the reason there is so little research about animal grief is because humans are not yet ready to look at the possibility that we are not so different. “Scientists haven’t yet turned serious attention to the study of what might be called “comparative thanatology” – the study of death and the practices associated with it. This is perhaps because most humans failed to even entertain the possibility that animals might care about the death of those they love. Awareness of mortality has remained, for many scientists and philosophers alike, a bastion of human-perceived uniqueness.” To accept that animals have the capacity to grief and mourn in a way that is as complex as humans would have many implications, and would impact humanity's overall feeling of superiority. It is also one of the main things that is embedded in the definition of humanity, or personhood. The capacity to feel complex emotions and grief, is what people claim as their humanity and what puts them above animals. It would make sense then, that scientists would be hesitant to even explore the possibility of such emotions existing in animals.

Some have however:

The article continues to outline a few animal species that seem to have rituals or emotional and physical responses to loss. This includes Elephants, Chimpanzees, Magpies, Peccaries (a type of wild pig), and crows. Other animals that have shown evidence of grief that are not highlighted in this article are dogs, cats, dolphins, giraffes, possibly turtles, bison, and various bird species. It seems many animals have the capacity to react to death in ways that are not yet fully understood by humans, and that they hold some form of funeral, or mourning in response. It seems that there are animals that experience both inward grief and outward mourning. The article outlines instances of this, speaking on Elephants' response to the loss.

“Elephants, for example, are known to take a great interest in the bones of their deceased and to mourn for dead relatives. One of these vivid ritual explorations of bones was caught on video in 2016 by a doctoral student studying elephants in Africa. Members of three different elephant families came to visit the body of a deceased matriarch, smelling and touching and repeatedly passing by the corpse.”

Chimpanzees are also said to have responses to grief and mourning. Some can be through presumed care, or through anger. Their healing from the loss stemmed from social relationships with other Chimpanzees, and interacting with other Chimps. In the same article they go into more detail. “Chimpanzees have also been repeatedly observed engaging in death-related behaviors. In one case, a small group of captive chimpanzees was carefully observed after one of their members, an elderly female named Pansy, died. The chimpanzees checked Pansy’s body for signs of life and cleaned bits of straw from her fur. They refused to go to the place where Pansy had died for several days afterwards.”

In a different article titled The truth about Animal Grief they speak on Jane Goodall’s witnessing of a young chimp presumably dying of a broken heart after the passing of their mother. Most dramatic, in 1972 Jane Goodall witnessed a young male chimp named Flint die just a month after the death of his mother Flo – the male was so despondent following her death that he stopped eating or socializing to the point that he simply didn’t survive.”

And in another instance: “Scientists documented a chimpanzee using a tool to clean a corpse. In 2017, a team of primate researchers in Zambia filmed a mother using a piece of dried grass to clean debris from the teeth of her deceased son. The implication, according to the scientists involved, is that chimpanzees continue to feel social bonds, even after death, and feel some sensitivity toward dead bodies.”

There are countless other examples of animals exhibiting mourning rituals that suggest that humans are not the only species to be able to experience grief or complex emotions. The question that follows is, if animals have the capacity for complex emotions, would we be the first choice for aliens to study when visiting our planet?

Magpies have been observed burying their dead under twigs of grass. Ethologist Marc Bekoff, who observed this behavior, described it as a “magpie funeral.”

In one of the most fascinating recent examples, an 8-year-old boy caught video footage of peccaries, a species of wild pig-like animal found in parts of the U.S., responding to a dead herd-mate. The peccaries visited the dead body repeatedly, nuzzling it and biting at it, as well as sleeping next to it.

Crows have been seen forming what scientists call “cacophonous aggregations” – mobbing and squawking in a big group – in response to another dead crow.


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