Sunshine Cleaning


This film has so much to teach us about living life to the fullest.
Here are some of the themes that stood out for me. What else did you notice?
True Empowerment Is Not Found On A Post It

At the start we see Rose reciting the affirmations on a post it note on her shower. Only thing is that she is completely out of alignment with these paper thin ideas. She’s a mistress not a girlfriend, lies about her career (making up training in real estate).

When she gets stood up by her lover Mac she recites “I am strong, I am powerful…I am a fucking loser”. While this seems to signal things getting worse, in truth it is helpful because she is now getting stronger and can allow herself to let the scales of denial fall from her eyes: he will never commit to her. At last she can do something about her situation. You cannot heal what you cannot see.

It is only by going through the various disasters of the film that she finally connects to her power and life gets better.
Apparent Disasters Are The Doorway To Happiness

So horrified is Rose that the educational experts want to medicate her son, she decides to step about a million miles out of her comfort zone and make some decent money cleaning up crime scenes. I believe that everyone who I encounter with food issues has a golden opportunity to work through and dismantle their compulsion. Just as you can not ignore a crime scene, chaotic and compulsive eating will persist until it is tackled properly.

Toxic Shame and Appropriate Shame
Rose begins the film steeped in toxic shame (ie inappropriate shame that does not help you course correct your actions). She takes the problems on her life hyper personally – her son getting thrown out of school, playing second fiddle to Mac’s wife and comparing her situation to more outwardly successful people she went to school with.
The turning point is when Rose explains her job to the people she meets at the baby shower: “We come into people’s lives when they have experienced something profound and sad…and we help. In some small way, we help.” She knows that her listeners do not understand, but the important thing is she is proud of her work. This is quickly followed by her leaving because she realises she no longer wants to impress people she has nothing in common with.
Equally important is the scene where Mac’s pregnant wife confronts her at the gas station. “You’re nothing” she shouts at Rose, furious. Rose has no option but to take it. This I feel is a moment where she owns her appropriate shame – she finally realises that  her standards for her own behaviour are rising and she can no longer breach those standards. The difference between appropriate and toxic shame is that appropriate shame has a positive function – it allows us to course correct and move towards being the best version of ourselves we can possibly be. And this is what Rose does – she ends the affair that is diminishing her. What a gift in disguise for Rose is that painful meeting in the gas station. When you look back at your own “appropriate shame” events you might rather forget, can you identify any gifts in those experiences? How did they help you course correct?
Interestingly Rose has three people around her who are devoid of toxic shame (where they might easily fall prey to it) – her father, who gives an excellent pep talk to Rose’s son Oscar early on in the film about how his apathy at school means he is too intelligent for his classes. He also keeps going with his business ideas, even though they keep failing. This pluckiness is ultimately what saves Rose’s career, because he finances the new business. There’s Rose’s son Oscar, who absorbs his grandfather’s pride and none of his mother’s toxic shame. And of course Winston, Rose’s love interest. His disability does not seem to be part of his identity (if you have more experience of this than I do and have a different point of view, I’d love to hear it).
Connecting To Your Power
Rose leaves her first crime scene clear up job happy with her earnings, but  what really satisfies her is knowing she made a difference. “We took all that stuff away, we made it better” she says to Mac afterwards. She has finally found something that allows her to make her own important difference in the world. It is bigger than her own ego. This is what gives her the courage to move through the huge challenges of setting up this business without knowing a single thing about it.
Blessings In Disguise
Both Mac and Rose’s sister Nora seem like big problems – real happiness saboteurs -but are true blessings in disguise.
Without Mac Rose would never know about crime scene cleaning as a viable business that she could start. Breaking up with him is also an important milestone is her aligning with her standards. She would rather be alone than be with him.
Without Nora, Rose would never be able to start Sunshine Cleaning, which in retrospect is her training programme for the new business she starts with her father at the end of the film.
Sabotage You
Nora is the real study in self sabotage in the film. While we see Rose move into her power, her sister makes a wrong turn everywhere she goes. What I got from this was the strong link between self sabotage and shame. Sabotage Nora seems to exist in order to express and deepen Nora’s toxic shame as a result of her mother killing herself.
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