We are the sum of our experiences, and it’s a harsh thing to bear when you have to accept yourself as a collection of your memories of failures.
That brings us to Age of Dysphoria.
Dysphoria, in case you didn’t know, means a general sense of dissatisfaction with one’s life. This latest short film from Lava Productions focuses on the interaction between the lives of two such people. Starring the greatly venerated Gordon Pinsent and Fan-Favourite actress, Smallville’s own Laura Vandervoort, the tangible emanation of guilt and self-incrimination that is associated with this dissatisfaction leaves a viewer humbled and moved.
In the beginning of the film (which was funded on Indiegogo), we meet Finn, clearly a person in recovery. Played by Vandervoort, she is determined but frail and ravaged by her experiences. Though we have no initial background about her character, she is on the road to penitence. A conversation with a fellow recoverer (played by Stargate SG-1’s Rainbow Sun Francks) reveals a hint of her profound sadness.
Vandervoort’s performance projects an immense tangibility of guilt. Her broken posture, the shadowed circles under her eyes and the expression of haunting sorrow; her compulsive clicking of her Zippo lighter in her hand – these are things that authentically reveal her state of mind.
Finn has a past to be ashamed of, but it is a cleverly subtle bit of writing on the part of Zoe Robyn to partner that sense of penitence to go with that shame. As I said, that’s authenticity and it cements the viewer’s responsibility to be a part of the story.
Finn’s experiences have obviously shaped her into a person we can immediately pity.
Then we meet Fred. A crusty bird played by Gordon Pinsent who we also pity. But while we pity Finn out of recognition of some dark secret, Fred is simply one of the forgotten aged, who rails against the world out of frustrated anger and abandonment.
So, what do these two people have in common? That’s the crux of the cleverness of this film. The viewers are instilled with a sense of curiousity about Finn, and we learn enough information that lulls the audience into believing they already have her figured out. An alcoholic, for sure, but perhaps she’s Fred’s daughter come to make amends? Fred calls her ‘Stella’, believing her to be his wife when they sit down to eat in a restaurant, revealing him to suffer some sort of senility and another level of the story to appreciate. However, more information shows itself later in the film that what we think proves to be wrong, and the audience is drawn in even more into this story.
Pinsent’s character resonates strongly with anyone who has seen the decline of an elder family member. Fred is a tortured echo of his former self and the difficulty he has in reclaiming his former self is poignant. His bad temper aside, he is still a character we can love. Of course, with Gordon Pinsent’s acting credentials, to see one of his performances is a privilege.
The passage of time can sometimes be more dysphoric than anyone can imagine. But time isn’t linear – our limited degree of perception only allows us a glimpse of the strange machinations of the way in which it proceeds. Time can be cyclical, repetitive and sometimes chaotic, and it takes the understanding of those who have been touched by chaos in their lives to reveal it to us.
However, the dysphoria in this film isn’t progressively linear, it is all-encompassing, like being swallowed by a wave. As we make our way through the story, we experience the characters’ pain and regrets in pulses that take us deep inside the characters’ histories in intensely appreciating its dramatic complexity. You don’t feel a sense of closure at the end of this film; only a deepened sense of tragedy that reminds the audience just how much we are all connected. Our actions have effects on those around us, sometimes in unpredictable but still meaningful ways.
Deftly directed by Jessica Petelle, the close dialogue between the two characters makes for a very intimate viewing experience. The personalities and stories are real, believable and relatable. These scenes are heartfelt and guardedly close as the characters reach each other on personal and unexpected levels. The result, though, is that while these people are no longer strangers to each other, by the end of the film it’s as if we know them as deeply as we could know our own loved ones, and it fosters a deep desire to continue our connection with them.
This is a film about vulnerability and the willingness to accept our sins as part of who we are. It is sad, lonely, embarrassing but it sees a strength in that acceptance that reminds us of the awkward and uncomfortable experience of being human. Connected by our frailties, we still manage to keep going. Finn and Fred are both dysphoric, but aren’t we all?
Memories can be harsh, but we have to have the strength to push past them and strive for forgiveness for ourselves and each other. It is harsh to be human, but it is more human not to be harsh to each other.
Age of Dysphoria is scheduled for release in 2020.