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Could A Boston Marathon Movie Help Survivors Cope? We Asked A Psychologist

Dr. Joseph Cilona says a movie could help -- or hurt -- survivors.

Next week marks two years since the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombing, an act of domestic terrorism that killed three people (as well as one of the bombers and a police officer in subsequent days) and injured an estimated 264 more. As headlines chronicle the trial of surviving bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev (who worked with his brother, Tamerlan, who was killed in a shootout after the bombing), another news story surrounding the bombings has surfaced: actor and Boston native Mark Wahlberg has a movie about the events, currently titled "Patriots Day," in the works.

With the fate of the surviving Tsarnaev brother still undecided and the two-year mark not even passed, a question lingers: is it too soon for a cinematic retelling of this very recent tragedy?

MTV News chatted with Manhattan psychologist Dr. Joseph Cilona to gauge how seeing the real-life story dramatized on-screen might impact survivors.

Even now, before any further details beyond the fact that the movie is in development, Cilona predicted one thing: controversy lies ahead.

"Any cinematic portrayal of a traumatic event that has had a national or global impact will almost inevitably result in a certain degree of controversy," he said via email. "Trauma often results in highly charged emotional responses, and these kinds of responses often fuel strong emotional reactions."

Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" and Paul Greengrass' "United 93," both of which dramatized the real-life tragedy of 9/11, both came out in 2006, and were scorned by some for seeming to capitalize on a recent tragedy. Wahlberg's film, which has been fast-tracked by CBS Films, does not yet have a projected release date, nor does 20th Century Fox's announced movie, "Boston Strong," which is also about the bombing.

Terry Press, president of CBS Films, said in a statement that Wahlberg's project would be a "personal look" at the events surrounding the bombing and resulting manhunt. The script is reportedly based on the first-hand account Boston police commissioner Ed Davis shared on "60 Minutes."

“There is nothing more compelling than a real story populated by real heroes,” Press said. “The team that we have assembled for this project is determined to give audiences a very personal look at what occurred during the days when the eyes of the world were on the city of Boston and how a group of contemporary patriots faced this crisis.”

Though Cilona predicted that a film released after the two-year mark would likely quell reactions of "too soon," he predicted a wide range of responses from survivors. He stressed that "individual reactions are much like a fingerprint and can vary very widely from person to person. Subsequently, reactions to a cinematic portrayal of a traumatic event will also vary widely from person to person. Some may be impacted in positive ways, some in negative ways, some may be strongly impacted, some only mildly or not at all."

While the movie may help some survivors "connect with and process challenging emotions related to the trauma" in a positive way, he said, the opposite can also happen: "Viewing a film that dramatizes a traumatic event can serve as a trigger and precipitate a re-traumatization or repetition of sorts of the negative emotional consequences of the event itself. This could result in an increase in negative symptoms commonly experienced by trauma victims such as depression, anxiety, panic, nightmares or flashbacks. In some cases, this kind of re-traumatization might also create symptoms that were not present prior to viewing the film, not just exaggerate existing symptoms."

What reception will "Patriots Day" and "Boston Strong" meet, and can they help survivors? We'll have to wait and see.