Rob Waters and The 'Recovery' Challenge

Rob Waters, graphic designer and
filmmaker in the state of Delaware
Rob Waters is a graphic designer who does commerical ads and various other projects. He's also a videographer. I interviewed him last year about a short film he made called The Detector. He's since made another short called Recovery, which is playing at the 16th annual Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival.

It's the first film he's done that he didn't write. Instead, Waters challenged James Keegan to write the short film in a week. Keegan is a Shakespearean actor and English professor at the University of Delaware.

Keegan had the month of June off from acting and school, and loved challenges, so Waters leveled him with this one. Waters felt that letting Keegan write the 13-page screenplay gave him freedom that he never had before.

Because he wasn't too close to the material, Waters believed it allowed him to come at this film with a fresh perspective. There's an ambiguity to the story that he found very compelling. He notes that Recovery has an ending that left things open for the viewer to interpret. This is opposed to Waters' other films, which have always been relatively straight-forward in their endings.

Just as Waters challenged Keegan to write the short film, he also somewhat challenges the viewers of Recovery to interpret that ending in writing as well. He emailed me and told me, "It might sound silly or high-minded but I wanted this film to be the kind of thing that someone could write a paper about."

If that is Rob Waters' challenge to the viewers, I am here to say that I happily accept that challenge. Waters allowed me to preview Recovery ahead of its screening at the Rehoboth Beach festival. My paper or the following interpretation will include spoilers, so be forewarned.


James Keegan as Liam
in Rob Waters' "Recovery"
Recovery is a 13-minute, black-and-white drama and possible thriller. It centers on Liam, a middle-age, former boxer and recovering alcoholic. At the opening, Liam speaks on the phone to another alcoholic, and it's obvious that Liam is the caller's sponsor. He strongly reinforces the caller go to meetings and use prayer.

Liam goes to his open garage where he has a punching bag on which he practices. Out of nowhere, a young man named Tom, probably mid-to-late twenties, appears. Tom says he's looking for Liam and that a friend recommended the old man as a trainer. Tom is a MMA fighter looking to become a better fighter, in fact "a killer."

Tom was told Liam's nickname when he was an active boxer was "The Terror Terranova" and if anyone could train Tom to be a killer, to scare his opponents, it's Liam. Liam is hesitant, but eventually says yes, and first order of business is food.

Thomas Keegan (left) as Tom
Liam makes Tom a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs. Tom is somewhat inquisitive and gets Liam to reveal that he stopped boxing when he went to prison for a drunk driving accident, which led to the death of Liam's son. Afterward, Liam takes Tom back to the punching bag but instead of the bag, Tom starts to hit Liam.

Tom knocks Liam to the ground and then starts to quote from Alcoholics Anonymous' Twelve-Step Program. He specifically cites the 3rd Step. Tom says, "I offer myself to you, to build with me, and do with me what you will." This is of course a prayer that AA members make to God. I don't think Tom sees Liam as God. Therefore, the question is why. Why does Tom do what he does at the end?

There's a gruffness to Tom that suggests he might be in AA as well, unless he just happened to hear an AA member say that exact prayer. He perhaps memorized it, using it here as a means of provoking a reaction, a more truculent one.

Tom came to find "The Terror Terranova" but all he finds is a sad, middle-age man who is understandably remorseful. Liam may be willing but ultimately not where he needs to be to train Tom to be the killer he wants to be. Tom's provocation is perhaps his best solution to change that.

There is perhaps another, crazier possibility. The title is "Recovery" and ostensibly the recovery is that from alcoholism. Yet, the real recovery might be from the grief that Liam must still harbor from killing his own child, whether it was accidental or not. Obviously, he went to prison but even that might not have been enough to help him overcome his grief.

The Twelve-Step program is one that is based in Christianity, but looking at some of the imagery early in Waters' film, we see paraphernalia associated with Buddhism like a Buddha figurine and most likely a Tibetan singing bowl, used to promote meditation. Keegan's screenplay may have included these paraphernalia because he wanted to introduce and incorporate Buddhist ideas to this story.

In Buddhism, the Noble Eightfold Path teaches ways to end human suffering, such as grief. Meditation, which the singing bowl indicates, has traditionally been a tool for helping people find those ways to ease themselves of all kinds of troubles and anxieties. Liam might not be a fully practicing Buddhist, but he might have researched ways to help with his grief and this just might be one he chose to try. Odds are that it's not fully doing the job.

In Buddhism, there's the idea of Samsara, which is the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Tom knocks Liam down and he does get back up. This simple act could be symbolic of death and rebirth, that of falling and then ascending. After Tom has knocked Liam to the ground, Tom asks, "You alive old man?" Liam responds, "Yeah, I'm alive, but it hurts." Tom concludes, "That's how you know." Tom implies that the hurt or pain that Liam feels is proof that he's in existence. This goes to the heart of one of Buddhism's chief principles, that of Dukkha.

The goal of Buddhism is obviously to overcome Dukkha, but not necessarily through avoidance of it. The reason Tom hits Liam could be a powerful representation of that. It's a way of visually showing that in order to overcome pain, one must experience it. For Liam, perhaps it was best to experience it in terms he could understand, like for example through a boxing match.

Anyway, these are my thoughts about Rob Waters' film Recovery. Hopefully, I've risen to the director's challenge. Check out his film on Sunday, November 10 at 10AM in Rehoboth Beach, and see if your thoughts are similar to mine.

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