‘Herself’: An Empathetic, Cinematic Manual for Self-Builders

After fleeing from her abusive husband Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson), a young Irish mother named Sandra (Clare Dunne) reconstructs her life by DIY-building her own house for her two children in Phyllida Lloyd’s (known for Mamma Mia! and Iron Lady) third and recent empowering film Herself

Dunne, who also wrote the film, gracefully embodied her words and gently delivered her warm and strong character on screen. Dunne’s role gently navigates the psyche of a battered wife who turns trauma into power as she plans to rebuild a life for herself and her children after experiencing spousal abuse. One would think a vengeful endnote is the most satisfying form of justice in such a film, but Lloyd opted for something sturdier and sustainable. 

Touching on domestic violence and questionable housing and legal systems, Herself does not romanticize nor overuse Sandra’s abuse. The film handles it well and uses it to awaken intentional self-making, and eventually, community-building. Healing yourself doesn’t always mean that you have to self-isolate for months. Herself shows that there are forms of self-constructions that involve asserting your boundaries and knowing how to surround yourself with genuine connections. The film reminds us that healing with the right people is essential to authentic self-recovery.  

What makes the film a silent heart-tugger is its synchronous representation of self-building and house-building. As Sandra clutches onto her genuine intent of providing a warm home for her two beautiful and sensitive daughters, viewers also witness her own reconstruction in the process. Her attempt to build her own house falls together in time with the rewriting of her personal narrative: she is a loving mother more than an abused wife. Herself, despite the egocentric-sounding title, is an egoless, cathartic, and humbling tale that teaches us that no matter how impossible it seems, everyone can start from scratch. 

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