Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Things I Don’t Understand About Death Could Fill A Book

Questions about life and death are themes that, while a prominent staple in cinema, are really making a strong resurgence of late. While films like Tree of Life and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives have explored the spiritual aspects through more elaborate means, Things I Don’t Understand is an indie film that explores how our quest for seeking meaning in life often handicaps us from enjoying the here and now.

Written and directed by David Spaltro, Things I Don’t Understand tells the story of Violet Kubelick (Molly Ryman) a rising star in her psychology and sociology graduate studies program whose thesis is focused on the question “what happens after we die?” Unable to find the answers she seeks, and after a failed suicide attempt herself, Violet finds herself in a downward spiral. Working a minimum wage job and living with her two roommates Remy (Hugo Dillon), a drug-addled musician, and Gabby (Meissa Hampton), a performance artist, Violet floats through life getting drunk and having one-night stands. The only truly stable thing in Violet’s life is a stoic bartender, Parker (Aaron Mathias), who has unresolved issues of his own. At the advice of a therapist (Lisa Eichorn), Violet is convinced to finish her thesis while spending time at a local Hospice. There she meets Sara (Grace Folsom), a terminally ill patient whose condition provides her with a unique view of life and death. Little does Violet know that her connection with Sara will have a huge impact on her life.

The need to connect and feel appreciated is a common theme that flows throughout Things I Don’t Understand. The interesting thing is that many of the characters are blind to the bonds they currently have or once had. Compared to what characters like Sara and Parker are going through, or have been through, many of the self-absorbed issues that Violet, Gabby, and Remy have seem minuscule in comparison. This contrast allows Spaltro to provide an interesting juxtaposition between Violet’s friendship with Parker with her friendship with Sara. While both relationships force Violet to look inward at her own decisions in life, they each offer a unique perspective. One highlights the emotional damage that being consumed by thepast can cause; while the other teaches not only the importance of embracing the present, but finding your own spiritual awaking as whatever form that may be.

Needless to say Things I Don’t Understand is a film that is far from a light-hearted film. If anything Things I Don’t Understand is a little too ambitious in its scope. The film deals with topics of life and death, finding and losing love, spirituality, accepting responsibility, facing ones fears, and sexuality. Spaltro has so many areas that he wants to touch on, that it becomes a bit of a chore juggling them all. There is really enough material here to create two separate films. This is most noticeable when looking at some of the subplots involving secondary characters. The whole housing dilemma story line never fully connects the way it should. The same can be said for the relationship issues that both Remy and Gabby have to deal with on some level. Given more time, or even a separate film, these story arcs could have been fleshed out in greater detail.

The ensemble cast does an admirable job of hitting the right emotional and comedic notes. Hugo Dillon in particular steals numerous scenes as the trust fund wannabe-rocker Remy. He really helps to accentuate some of the great comedic dialogue in Spaltro’s script. The film is much funnier than you would initially expect from a drama like this, which is rather refreshing all things considered. In fact the dialogue is Things I Don’t Understand’s biggest strength as it allows Spaltro to explore rather heavy issues in a very accessible way.

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