This strange short fluctuates in tone from soft-focus fantasy to deadpan comedy to a sombre treatment of death. This trajectory might mirror the moral progress of the hero, 18-year-old birthday boy Chris, an averagely selfish teenager, who comes to an awareness that there are other realities outside of his own. For a film set by the sea, it is very claustrophobic, as we move from the inside of someone's head to a messy teenage bedroom to a gloomy death bed; this sense of suffocation and entrapment is appropriate to lives standing stock still, allowing the detritus of life to litter up around them, swallowing them up.
The film's narrative focus shifts abruptly from the melancholy dreams of Dad to the unusual dilemma of his son. It's unusual in our youth-saturated culture to have a film which sympathises with a parental figure, but Dad is almost zombi-like as he stares into space, dreaming, crushed, disappointed, sad. The scene where he slowly, unansweringly replaces the receiver blaring with an irate ex-wife, explains everything - he is the kind of paralysingly passive person who can do nothing to change his life, and only alienates others to fury.
His son plays guitar, is casually destructive and always sponging. On 3.33 a.m., the exact time of his 18th birthday, he awaits the expected special gift, and is presented with a bill for a quarter of a million dollars for upkeep, allowances, presents etc. Dad throws him out and won't see him again until Chris has bought his dream boat.
This might seem a monstrous abrogation of parental responsibility, but we feel a great deal of amused sympathy for this pained, neglected man, and his action does have, unwittingly, the desired effect. It is clear that he is close to break down, and it is painful to watch his speedy decline as the only thing left for him, his son, disappears.
In an effort to raise funds, Chris answers a newspaper notice advertising for sons. In a rundown shack which seems to boast Gothic interiors he finds a dying woman who has somehow let down her own son, and promises boys of his age a bequest for company. When Chris arrives, his predecessor runs fleeing from the house, making us fear the worst; but Ms. Crabb's understandable grouchiness and insults soon give way to the pains of remorse, and the more physical rattles of death. As if to alert us, she reads a book on Rembrandt, and this section is shot in a brooding darkness autumnally lit as in that master's paintings, an eerie combination of death and an ungraspable spirituality.
It's rare to see a short tackle so many themes - parents and children; coming of age; mid-life crisis; death; dreams and reality etc. The character triangle of reconciled men and dying woman might seem misogynistic, but the very lack of female input seems to account for the sterility of the men's lives, if only to clean up their mess.
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