by Krisha Arbour
“Violence is an attitude that develops during childhood… and then it becomes an automatic reaction. The severe punishments that follow the violence have failed to stop it anywhere in the world because violence develops in childhood. The most widespread is psychological violence by loved ones against children. Children are humiliated, not respected, treated with contempt, and hostility from those close to them. The wounds we receive as children inform us about our future and, even if we feel a little sad, we will understand where childhood traumas lead to. But still let us say “No” to any kind of violence.”
– Voice over introduction at the beginning of every episode by Dr. Gulsersen Budayicioglu.
Kirmizi Oda (The Red Room) is likely the closest to the real-life practice of Dr. Budayicioglu as it is set in a psychiatric practice in Istanbul. Unlike Masumlar Apartmani and Dogdugun Ev Kaderindir, it is not the story of one set of characters specifically; rather it is multiple stories told piece by piece, through the therapy sessions, the various patients have with their psychiatrists.
The basic theme of the stories is that childhood trauma and abuse shape our adulthood and our ability to both love ourselves and love others. The voice over introduction at the beginning of each episode describes just how both prevalent and destructive childhood abuse is, and how it lays the foundation for all the relationships we have as adults. It is a challenging, and often heartbreaking, theme throughout every therapy session the patients have in the clinic.
The main character is likely strongly based on Dr. Budayicioglu herself and the bulk of the initial episodes is her appointments with a trio of new patients. Given that each episode is approximately 2.5 hours long, the appointments are almost what a real therapy session would be, and we therefore walk through the conversation with the doctor and the patient in real time. It is a remarkably interesting way to explore the stories of the patients and, while not completely unique, an uncommon way to frame the episodes.
Each of the stories told are horrific and the show does not gloss over any of the terrible things that have happened to each of the people who come for treatment. This should be applauded, as too often mental illness is used in dramas for effect or plot and do not do service to both how much people suffer and how hard it can be to overcome. Kirmizi Oda shows the devastation and despair people go through, and the time and commitment it takes to recover from trauma.
The main cast is superb, led by veteran actor Binnur Kaya as the most senior therapist, whom everyone refers to as Doctor Hanim. She is well respected and well loved by all her patients. It is her boundless compassion and empathy that makes her a great therapist, and she has a backbone of steel too, as we see when she stands firm against a patient who is testing her. She is also the narrator for a lot of the scenes, which is a necessary device used in the therapy sessions as it is often depicted as the patients telling their stories, while her voiceovers provide insight into what the doctor is thinking. I do not usually like it as a story telling tool, but it is necessary here to get her point of view across in an effective manner as the story unfolds.
Deniz, Ayse, Piraye
The other therapists are Piraye and Deniz, who specialize in children, and the therapist in training, Ayse. All are seen to have their own struggles in their lives. Piraye is newly divorced and not over the pain of that yet. Ayse has self-esteem issues and seems to be carrying a bit of a torch for Deniz, who in turn gives longing looks to Piraye that she is unaware of. Added to the mix is clinic manager Murat, who seems to have a thing for Ayse. This foreshadows a messy, interwoven office drama we are yet to witness.
GUEST ROLE: MELIHA
Though the dedicated cast of characters are wonderful, the best performances come from the actors playing the patients. A standout in the first episode is Meliha, played by Evrim Alasya, a woman brought to the office by her daughter after the daughter found her mother on the verge of committing suicide. At first, Meliha is so depressed she does not even want to talk. Doctor Hanim plies her with coffee and empathy until in an unbelievable poignant moment she starts to sing. This was 15 minutes into the first episode, and I was in awe at the raw emotion emanating from her. The whole office stops to listen to the plaintive song and that act seems to open the gate that allow Meliha to start telling her story. Here is where I will give a small warning for the series – it deals with profoundly serious and very horrible things that the patients go through as children and is not easy to watch or think about.
Meliha was orphaned when men came to their mountain house, killed her father and gang raped both her mother and her older sister. Her mother died shortly after and her older sister took all the rest of the kids, six altogether, to Istanbul to live where she had to work as a prostitute to support them. She is killed not long after by a patron, leaving Meliha, who has not even hit puberty yet, as the head of the family of five remaining children. She manages to raise all the kids and sees them married and starting families of their own before she herself gets married to the much older man who owns the building, they live in. He is not kind to her, but she has two daughters by him, one of whom dies in a fire, or so she believes.
This is an example of the kinds of stories told in the series, and it is only one of the heart wrenching sessions that occur daily. The series looks at how the intense trauma affects the person and how it carries into the rest of their lives. Meliha cannot love herself because she feels such guilt at surviving when her beloved older sister, who sacrificed so much for them, did not. This story and performance particularly touched me. Meliha is so traumatized but has such a beautiful demeanor, and the performance by the actress is so affecting, while she tells the story and breaks down in a wholly believable way. Her tragedy is interspersed with loving and quiet moments in the sessions as well, as she appreciates the Doctor’s attention and concern. It is an amazing performance.
GUEST ROLE: AYLA
The entire series is about the stories and resolution of childhood traumas suffered by the various patients who come to the clinic, and they provide too many to recount individually in a short essay but another that stands out in the first few episodes is that of Ayla, who never experienced love in her childhood and whose own mother tried to kill her. She is played by the amazing Melisa Sözen, who effectively portrayed both the vulnerability and strength in the character of Ayla.
Ayla has recently graduated at the top of her class in law school but is obviously a tormented person. She comes to the office for her initial appointment, dressed in multiple layers of old clothes and with muddy boots, spoiling for a fight because she has had bad experiences with therapy in the past. She makes a huge mess in the office and is extremely rude to the staff and Doctor Hanim. She is testing the doctor but goes to such an extreme that the doctor ultimately decides not to take her on as a patient. This perversely convinces Ayla that she wants to be her patient and it takes perseverance and revelations and multiple bouquets of flowers to convince the doctor to be her therapist.
GUEST ROLE: MEHMET
Another interesting case from the initial set of patients is Mehmet, whose wife is divorcing him because he is abusing her and their children. What makes it more interesting is because it is not common to hear the abuser’s backstory. It is presented here, not to excuse his behavior, but to illustrate the perpetuated cycle of violence that can occur. As a child, his father and brother beat him constantly and ignored him when they were not beating him. He went into the army and, when he came back, he discovered that being violent back to them caused them to retreat. He discovered how good it felt to not be on the receiving end for once and when he got married and his wife was pregnant, he became paranoid and started beating her, which continued until she left him several years later. Played by Salih Bademci, in a completely different role to Sinan in the romcom Kiralik Ask, Mehmet waffles between tearful understanding of the terrible pain he is inflicting on his family and the delusion that he can stop without any help. We see the complexity of the situation and the required therapy, as he is forced to face the pain his family has gone through and how afraid they are of him.
Through these many stories, we get glimpses of slices of ordinary lives making this series unique and innovative. Like its sister shows, Masumlar Apartmani and Dogdugun Ev Kaderindir, it delves deep into the effects childhood trauma has on the psyche of a person, and how difficult and ultimately rewarding and necessary going through therapy can be. There is no attempt to sanitize or romanticize any of the stories told and, truthfully, this series can be challenging to watch. Most of what is told, at least in the first few stories, is as horrible as any life story can be, but it is not necessarily a depressing show as we see week-to-week the progress the patients make towards loving themselves and recovering from their trauma.
Heading into its 18th episode, Kirmizi Oda has established itself as one of the top shows for the week, consistently posting as the #1 or #2 show for Friday nights. The retelling of ordinary lives in an extraordinary way seems to resonate with the audience, perhaps because it makes them think about suppressed themes in their own lives. Binnur Kaya, the actress playing Doctor Hanim, has already used her role in campaigns that call attention to domestic violence in addition to playing crossover roles as the therapist in Dogdugun Ev Kaderindir. This video, released by the Turkish Ministry of Social Affairs, uses characters and footage from all three of the shows inspired by Dr. Budayicioglu, and was released on International Day of Violence Against Women.
Kirmizi Oda is a tough show to watch but if you are interested in how human psychology gets shaped by the various stimuli it receives over time, and how it shapes social behavior, it is a well-done show that does justice to such a complex genre.
Article copyright (c) North America TEN & Krisha Arbour
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