“Most of the time I just keep to myself. I think what it would be like to be…someone else.”
Caring for her aging father, Bessie (Diane Keaton) gets her routine rattled when she is diagnosed with leukemia. She calls on her estranged sister, Lee (Meryl Streep) for help.
Lee’s oldest son, Hank (Leonardo DiCaprio) exhibits some issues when he burns down the family home. While starting fires deliberately is certainly an alarming situation, Hank is probably not as disturbed as popular culture – or 90s mental health perception – would have one assume. An isolated incident of intentional fire-setting can mean a variety of things, especially when the culprit is Hank’s age.
Arson is the term for a criminal act of fire-setting. While Hank does purposely burn down the family home, his confinement to a psychiatric facility might be a little extreme. There are several reasons why people might set fires, and surprisingly, not all of them are criminal. Hank is still a kid and he’s struggling with his family dynamic. An article from The American Psychological Association sheds light on reasons why someone might start fires.
Hank’s fire is a cry for help; he’s coping with the loss of his father, dealing with a mother that he barely has a relationship with, and he’s still at the age where he can’t possibly imagine opening up to his dorky little brother. Rather than a symptom of a sociopath-in-the-making or a pyromaniac, Hank is just a kid overwhelmed by his emotional circumstances. His answer is to start a fire; of course, psychiatric help is definitely a good idea, but the scene showing the kid in restraints is a bit much. 1990s psychological understanding left a lot to be desired. Luckily, the attention paid to his Aunt Bessie and the shift in family dynamics is probably going to leave Hank AND his mom in a much healthier place.