Garden State (2004)

Published: Apr 20, 2012 |Updated: Sep 11, 2023


Garden State is the story of a young man’s return home to his place of childhood for his mother’s funeral after many years. Coming home offers him a chance to resolve issues from his childhood, find forgiveness, reopen to feeling again and finally discover love.

Garden State is a beautiful story of reawakening and a great analogy for the experience that we must all go through on our journey into the joy, love and peace that is our birthright.

Genre Romance
Production year 2004
Director Zach Braff
Male actors Zach Braff

Reawakening the Heart

Reawakening emotional capacity

The greatest theme explored in this movie, to me, is the journey towards reawakening what Michael Brown in his book “The Presence Process” calls the emotional body and which I also like to loosely call our heart. Reawakening emotional body awareness requires a journey out of our usual modes of sedation and control of our uncomfortable feelings and the numbness in our life these bring about, and back into the way we authentically feel.

Through this journey back inwards we must unveil our long suppressed fear, anger and grief and allow ourselves to feel them fully in order to integrate back into us these pushed away parts of ourselves.

This movie, to me, shows an abbreviated version of this process as it explores the main character Andrew’s journey back home, away from his almost lifelong sedation of feeling, and into confrontation of his childhood traumas and the healing that takes place as he allows himself to feel once again.

The movie starts with a very graphic illustration of exactly the state of numbness Andrew is living in as he dreams of being on an airplane while it is crashing. All around him everyone is in a panic and yet Andrew sits there completely emotionless and unresponsive to what is going on around him. His phone rings and we snap to a shot of him lying in bed in a completely white, undecorated room. It is obvious right from the beginning; Andrew is not much more than a living zombie. As he prepares himself in the morning we get a shot of his medicine cabinet and how full of pharmaceutical medication it is.

The movie later reveals how he has been medicated since the age of ten. We have our scene set with a completely numb individual. I see this as an expanded metaphor for how much of us in society are actually walking around our lives, in some way numbing or controlling our experiences through the use of pharmaceuticals, recreational drugs and alcohol, excessive technology and internet use (for example the horrible habit now cropping up of people sitting around together playing on their iphones or netbooks), suppressing our feelings with food and excessive hours of television use.

In some way or another pretty much all of us are numbing ourselves to what we feel and Andrew’s story is in a sense our shared story of journey all of us must take.

Andrew receives the message from his father that his mother has died and as such journeys home which he left many years ago without even returning once. The scenes that follow illustrate the extent of Andrew’s numbness as he reunites with old friends and attends a party.

The movie continues in this vein… until he meets Sam at the doctor’s office where he reveals to his doctor that he has decided to come off his medication that he had been taking for sixteen years.

Sam, to me, is the physical manifestation of Andrew’s emotional body. She walks right into his life when he needs it most, when he is crying out desperately inside to feel something again he meets his angel ready to help him awaken all that which had been buried for so long.

 What follows is a gradual (albeit highly accelerated for the sake of this being a movie) opening of Andrew into feeling again. The first cracks happen with some really awkward smiles from Sam’s random and spontaneous behavior. Although as he relates the death of his mother to Sam he also relates he has not been able to cry about it even though he tried really hard to think of all the sad things he could, no tears were forthcoming.

Andrew continues to open up sharing more details of his traumatic childhood and how he has been heavily medicated and in therapy for most of his life. The cracks of opening continue as he expresses some anger when defending and protecting Sam from his friend, to which his friend comments that it is the most worked up he has ever seen Andrew get.

The opening progresses to a point where he is on top of a crane with the rain pouring down around him screaming at the top of his voice and from this point on the momentum has been built and there is no going back. Much like in our own lives once we begin the process of opening into really feeling again it is a process that has no turning back, it will gain momentum on its own.

“Fuck it hurts so much” says Andrew of his new opening. In my own experience of working with reawakening my capacity to feel this is a very true statement. The very first thing we may encounter when opening up our ability to feel is likely to be long suppressed discomfort in the form of fear, anger and grief… and there may be a lot of it!

“It’s real, it’s life, it’s all we got” responds Sam. And it is true… if we are not feeling then we are not much better off than dead. Michael Brown is fond of saying that adults are dead children. And in a sense when we cut off our ability to feel through our endless sedation and control we simultaneously cut off our access to joy and playfulness that once in childhood filled our very beings.

To reawaken to love we must first reawaken to what it is we truly feel. This movie culminates in Andrew discovering that love, and that it was only possible through an end to numbing his experience and truly feeling again.


The second major theme, to me, that runs through this movie is one of forgiveness. Really it runs hand in hand with the opening to feeling again as along the way to reopening we must forgive ourselves for the hurt we have given to ourselves and those who, usually unintentionally, hurt us.

As I have mentioned I am fond of Michael Brown’s work and in some of his audio he discusses the progression of emotional work as following a particular pattern. The first step is to work with ourselves, to find forgiveness and acceptance of ourselves. Once that occurs the next natural step is to find the same with our parents. To forgive our parents and accept that they were doing the best with what they could. The hurt they caused us was not personal, even though we interpreted it that way since childhood, and that they are human with their own suffering and life difficulties.

As we forgive our parents we are able to become our own father and mother and as we do so we release our birth mother and father from the role of being our parents and allow them to simply be fellow brothers and sisters, fellow children of God. Through embracing our own inner father we are able to give guidance in the world to ourselves. Through embracing our own inner mother we are able to give the nurturing we crave to ourselves. Through this process we free ourselves up and then, as Michael likes to say, we are ready for the lover to enter our life and to really engage the work of untangling all that stuff that is not really love.

Once we have forgiven ourselves and our parents then we can accept another into our life and learn to allow someone to come really close to us and learn to forgive them for the inevitable hurt and discomfort that will arise through working with them. When we accept a lover in our life, to me, we are inviting someone close to us to get into the really juicy heart work. We are inviting the possibility of opening our hearts wide enough to have something to share with the world. This movie is a great, although again highly accelerated, illustration of this progression.

In the movie it is revealed that Andrew was sent away to boarding school as well as being highly medicated, because of an incident involving his mother when he was nine. As a child he remembers his mother as always depressed all the time and he hated her for that.

He is carrying around the trauma, as we all are, of not receiving the unconditional love we so desire as children. One of the harsh things in life is that we all crave unconditional love as new life in this world and yet for pretty much all of us our parents did simply not have the capacity to offer this to us. We are all wounded by our parents.

After the incident he was medicated by his father, a psychiatrist, for anger issues and was continuously medicated since the age of nine. Returning, after a long time, to his family space is Andrew’s opportunity for forgiveness. In the relating of his tale to his friends and new love interest, it is obvious that Andrew is in the process of forgiving himself. As Sam points out to him “you are in it right now aren’t you” meaning he is directly in the process of integration.

From there he rapidly moves in to the forgiveness of his parents, in one scene approaching his father and saying “I’m here to forgive you… and I want it to be ok with me to feel something again… I have been waiting 26 years for my life to start and I don’t want to wait anymore because this is all there is” as he reaches forward and touches his father on the heart.

There is so much in this one scene and Andrew’s speech. To me this represents a real step into emotional responsibility. Andrew is taking responsibility for his own life and his own feelings, right now, and taking a deeper step into present moment awareness. At the same time he is releasing his father, forgiving him and accepting him as just another imperfect person in this world as we all are. In other scenes it is obvious Andrew also finds peace and forgiveness for his now deceased mother.

The next step

The first time I watched this movie I was annoyed with the ending. I was feeling big into the integrity piece and Andrew makes to leave, and then decides to come back for Sam. Initially I felt it was a breach of integrity. On second watching I see things at a deeper level of metaphor. Sam, representing his emotional feeling body, has changed Andrew’s life.

By being there just as a source of support, he found the permission within to open up to feeling again and to forgive himself and his parents. The ending scene represents to me what I think is the next step in self-work, and entering the type of authentic relationship I deeply desire in my own life.

Before leaving Sam makes it clear to Andrew that she wishes to be there for him as he continues to open and feel and shake off the sedation that has kept him closed for so long. As Andrew returns from his almost departure he acknowledges that he is messed up and he wants to be there and go through it with her. They have both acknowledged their imperfectness to one another and are ready to embrace an emotionally mature relationship, one based on mutual support and growth.

The next step is to enter emotional work with another. The events in this movie happen quickly and in some ways deny how intense a ride it can be through such a reawakening into feeling and forgiveness. Nevertheless it is a movie and I enjoyed just how apt it is in explaining a clear process through awakening into feeling again and living with a full and open heart.

I hope you enjoyed this review, be sure to check out Michael Brown’s “The Presence Process” if this resonated with you and his website: which has a bunch of free audio to download and have a listen to for an idea of his work, as well as links to some youtube clips.

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