Viewer’s Discretion: ‘After The Fire’ and ‘Doctor Foster’

dr foster

‘Doctor Foster’ (Google Play)

Anyone who was raised in a severely dysfunctional family or is a child of divorce, please raise your hands. There are plenty of you, so many that it seems to be the normal human condition rather than happy families. If you have any desire to mull over that experience, encapsulate years of disintegration, then “Doctor Foster” is the show for you.

I hesitate to give many details on what “Doctor Foster” is actually about, because I don’t wish to ruin the ride for anyone who might choose to hop on it. It is about a doctor, indeed, Doctor Gemma Foster (Suranne Jones) who seems so solid, so together and then not so together at all, married to Simon (Bertie Carvel), who also appears the same way. But there are cracks, and rather than quickly appearing in the ice and sending you to plummet downward to icy despair, these build slowly, clandestinely, unnoticed until it’s way too late. Over two seasons, you witness an unfolding nightmare of monumental proportions that, if you are lucky, will make your dysfunctional family situation look like chicken feed in comparison.

Well, there’s no way that could possibly be, because life is not some grandiose soap opera. It is, however, filled with intrigue, even the ugliest sort, and “Doctor Foster” is far less a drama than a suspense show, albeit one that involves no real crime or espionage or cops or any government agency really, just a married couple.

As you, the viewer, are continuously questioning what is happening, you experience a close approximation of living through frantic dysfunction at the very least. As a bonus, the acting is impeccable.

‘After The Fire’ (Amazon)

If you remember the Seton Hall University fire in 2000, then you remember a senseless and horrifying event. The arson of a student residence hall at the college killed three people and injured 58, creating scenes of terror as students escaped from the building. “After The Fire” follows the medical and psychological journeys of two of those students. Roommates Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llanos fight life-threatening burns and endure months of recovery in an attempt to not only regain their lives, but make something more of them.

Director Guido Verweyen has several valuable resources going for him, including the direct participation of the victims and their families, as well as the prosecutor who took the offenders to trial. Also at his disposal are journalist Robin G. Fisher — who shadowed the families during the entire process and wrote a book about their experience, who gives context to the interviews — and, most importantly, the photography of Matt Rainey.Rainey’s series of images took the Pulitzer Prize, and it’s no mystery why. These are captivating, disturbing images that capture the darkness of what the victims and families went through, but also some of the victories. They are graphic images, to be sure, and can be hard to look at, particularly when documenting the injuries and surgeries, but they are valuable.

Verweyen never spends too much time on the arsonists, preferring to focus on the stories of Simons and Llanos and examining their strength in the face of the weakness of the arsonists. In this way, it’s a story of privilege, but most specifically, of not allowing privilege to destroy you and determine your life, even in the worst possible scenario. Simons and Llanos take control of their fates, and this is the heart and soul of the film. The journey with them is arduous, but by forcing yourself to stare at the truth, you are further rewarded by these men’s victories.

Originally published at

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