Thursday, April 26, 2018

Talking Tribeca: Jonathan

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place April 18th-29th.

Directed by Bill Oliver
Spotlight Narrative

Ansel Elgort stars in the film

Split personalities are a common plot device in film and other media. Usually, a person either isn’t aware that they possess more than one consciousness, or the audience has no idea and then discovers it at a point that completely reworks and opens up the story. In most cases, such fare is featured in thrillers and the personalities, if they are aware of each other’s existence, have no interest in working together and instead seek to achieve dominance over the one thing that they unquestionably share: a body. “Jonathan” offers a wholly different take.

Jonathan (Ansel Elgort) is a mild-mannered architect who follows the same routine each day, going to work in the morning and then returning home early in the afternoon. The first thing he does every day is to watch the video recorded for him by John, his far more active brother who inhabits his body each night for twelve hours. Regimented to prevent internal chaos by Dr. Nariman (Patricia Clarkson), the two follow rules to ensure their survival, one that John breaks by secretly dating Elena (Suki Waterhouse), a development that threatens the stability of their very unique arrangement.

This is a film which might categorize itself as science fiction because of the way in which these two brothers coexist in the same body and Dr. Nariman is able to isolate their personalities to put them on a schedule. More than that, it’s a film about two people who care deeply about each other yet never have the opportunity to be together, bonding instead by watching a video of someone who looks just like them telling them what their life is like and then recording another one to send back. It’s a marvelous experience, one that’s both thought-provoking and deeply dramatically effective.

Director Bill Oliver discusses the film

Elgort, who broke out in the lead role in “Baby Driver” last year, is exceptional in this double performance, making the two brothers completely different people and spending a good deal of the film simply watching and listening to himself talk. Waterhouse is superb in a supporting role, serving as a stand-in of sorts for the audience, trying to comprehend how these two view the world. This film is simply presented, with many cuts to black to indicate Jonathan shutting down and then waking back up after John has taken over, and framing the story from Jonathan’s perspective with John seen only in video footage creates a fitting sense of loneliness and isolation. This is a resounding, powerful film, compelling from start to finish.


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