“She will always be my baby girl.” – Camille
Directed by Anthony Jaswinski, the 2019 film Love You to Death recently arrived on Netflix. A profound and moving film based on the harrowing story of Gypsy Rose and Dee Dee Blanchard where a girl was forced to pretend to be sick under the Draconian regime imposed by her mother. With a disturbing and unsettling premise, the film dramatizes the true story and retells the tale of severe physical and psychological abuse.
Oscar-winning actress Marcia Gay Harden stars as Camille, the seemingly perfect mother who takes great care of her ailing daughter, the wheelchair-bound Esme, portrayed by Emily Skeggs. Esme takes copious amounts of medicines for her unknown illness, triggered by leukaemia. Her body apparently undergoes neither physical nor cognitive development. Living on government support, Esme and her mother are well known to the neighbourhood for the trip to Disneyland they won.
The first quarter of the film is told from Camille’s point of view, where she is the perfect mother, struggling to prevail in normalcy while taking care of the daughter. She even makes a dress for Esme to visit the video game convention where the girl is seemingly assaulted. However, when the film shifts to be told from Esme’s perspective, it reveals a new web of lies, deceit, manipulation and abuse. Camille forces Esme to pretend to be sick to thrive on government funds. She wraps bandages tightly around Esme’s breasts to prevent them from showing and even shaves her head to present her as an underdeveloped sick patient who is in desperate need of medication and help. Camille guards her secret fiercely and obsesses over her daughter, determined to shield her from the outside world. She even goes to the extent of purchasing a gun.
Esme forms a relationship with her boyfriend, who agrees to help her to escape this hellish abuse. Together, they murder Camille in cold blood and flee town. The police find Camille lying in a pool of blood and soon arrest Esme, who recounts a story of unfathomable psychological and mental torture. Camille’s disillusionment and obsession lead to her tragic ending. The film is extremely disturbing as it focuses on the true story of how an abusive and controlling parent taints the sanctity of a parent-child relationship.
Gypsy Rose Blanchard, who underwent this horrifying abuse in real life, even appeared on Dr Phil’s show to recount the days of horror spent in her mother’s den. Esme was forced to keep mum at doctor’s appointments, continue wearing a feeding tube and wear glasses even when she did not need them.
In a spine-chilling ending, she speaks to her father about how the guards in prison at least let her grow her hair. She is remorseless and almost ecstatic at being able to exterminate the staggering emblem of abuse in her life. The film becomes a crucial lens to understand how countless children keep silent and endure abuse just because of the fear of losing a parent. Esme stays and undergoes severe abuse till it crosses the threshold and prompts her to take drastic measures.