Down Came a Blackbird
- Belling, Catherine
- Date of entry: Dec-31-1997
- Last revised: Aug-31-2006
Helen McNulty (Laura Dern) is a reporter. She and her photographer boyfriend, Jan, are on assignment in an unnamed Central American country when they witness militia shooting at protesters. They are both arrested/abducted.
The story picks up a year later. Helen is back in the United States, working on a story about Dr. Anna Lenke (Vanessa Redgrave), a psychiatrist who runs a clinic for survivors of torture. Dr. Lenke herself was raped and tortured at Auschwitz. Helen interviews her, and goes to stay at the clinic to work on her story. Anna recognizes at once that Helen, too, has been tortured.
Helen gradually comes to acknowledge what happened to her. The process culminates in her narrating, and our seeing in flashback, her torture and the murder of her boyfriend. Helen’s recovery is intertwined with and complicated by the story of Tomas Ramirez (Raul Julia), who also identifies himself as a survivor of torture and is at the clinic not only for therapy but because he is in hiding. Helen and Thomas become friends, then lovers, and he is instrumental in her recovery.
As a journalist, though, Helen delves into Thomas’s background and learns that he was not a victim but a perpetrator of torture. Helen turns him over to the authorities and he is arrested. Dr. Lenke’s last words about Tomas, that only once he has confessed can he again be human, rings hollowly: he has already confessed, to her and the other torture survivors at the clinic, and no court of law can present a harsher judge.