Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Things I Don’t Understand

Grade : A- Year : 2012 Director : David Spaltro Running Time : 1hr 49min Genre :
Movie review score

Similarly to writer/director David Spaltro’s first film, “…Around,” “Things I Don’t Understand” finds truth in the lives of people trying to find their way in life in the big city. Whereas that film took a little time to connect with me, Spaltro’s new film hit the bulls-eye with me with its humor and unyielding heart.

The film centers on Violet (Molly Ryman), a grad student working on her thesis about people who have had near-death experiences. To try and understand what her subjects have gone through, she slits her own wrists, which gets her father’s attention, who sends her to a therapist (Lisa Eichhorn). The therapist sees immediately that Violet– a smart, and smart-ass, girl who lives with a gay musician (Remy, played by Hugo Dillon) and a ditzy militant (Gabby, played by Meissa Hampton) –needs a way to connect with death in a way that doesn’t mean killing herself. Violet begins going to a hospice where a young woman, Sara (Grace Folsom), is terminally ill with cancer, and they have an immediate bond. While all of this is going on, Violet, Remy and Gabby are at risk of losing their apartment (which they’ve turned into a bohemian paradise) right above the local bar run by Parker (Aaron Mathias). Violet also strikes a friendly bond with Parker, although he too has issues that make anything more between them difficult.

So that’s the basic story of Spaltro’s film, but what it’s really about is deeper. Just about every scene in the film acts like a little vignette in two people trying to figure things out, trying to find a way to cope with the difficulties life gives us. And given how funny (sometimes, morbidly so) Spaltro has made his movie (and there are moments that are very funny), this is a rather singular way of approaching issues of mortality. There are times when I couldn’t help but think of the Kurosawa film, “Ikiru,” as Violet asks around, looking for answers that will help her in her thesis, and maybe even, living her life.

The relationship with the most profound effect on Violet is the one she forges with Sara. The more the two talk, the fewer boundaries the two hold up. It’s a healing opportunity for both: for Violet, there’s a real chance to understand what being so close to death means, and for Sara, there’s a chance to have someone she can confide in, and maybe, not have to go through the end of her life alone. In a film with strong performances all around (some because of the humor they illicit like Dillon and Hampton, some because of how deep they dig in unexpected ways like Mathias), Ryman and Folsom are the strongest in how honestly they face the deepest questions of life and death, and how in the end, they have to accept that there are just things in life they don’t understand, and until they actually leave the land of the living, they won’t. I guess we all have to accept that sooner or later.

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