Stars: Michael Coleman, Jessica Bishop and Amy Serafin
After last month's Travis Mills review, a cute, bouncy and infectious 48 hour film challenge piece called Itty Bitty Bang Bang, here's one that reflects the darker, more experimental side of Running Wild Films. Therapist has garnered quite a bit of attention for its edgy final scene and clearly there are some deep questions being raised, but I'm not sure if they're really asked or answered. Mills is clearly drawn to film noir ambiguity, where he sets the stage for a story and then lets us figure out exactly what he meant by it. The most enjoyable Mills movies for me are the ones where we can't help but continue the story on in our minds after the credits roll, such as The Ruffians, Night Train to Phoenix or the online version of The Memory Ride. Sometimes though, as with The French Spy or this film, he goes a little further and abstracts the story so far that we don't have enough building blocks to go on and we have trouble phrasing our questions, let alone finding answers.
When the title arrives five and a half minutes in, we realise the film doesn't end with its opening scene. Now we're outside, in what appears to be a different picture entirely. Gone is the hiss, the background noise and the handheld camera that's so up close and personal that we see nothing but two heads, a wall and the invisible cloud hanging over them. Smoothness replaces roughness in a beautifully shot scene that has our frustrated male lead track down the therapist who stopped his fun. The sound problems are gone, replaced by Schubert on the soundtrack. Instead of grainy redness, we get impressive camerawork, neat editing and lots of character. He sticks to his choice to stop smoking, though it's clearly tough work, but the draw of following this therapist wins out. She drives to FilmBar, which means I like her, but this was clearly shot some time ago as the sign isn't up. Inside, the camera emphasises him as small and weak but her as strong and dominant.
I'm not even sure which characters are therapists and which patients. The two halves of the short share only one character: our male lead. Could he really be sleeping with both a therapist and her patient? Are he and his girlfriend both seeing the same therapist? Or is he really the therapist all along, and we're merely seeing him interact with two of his patients? I really have no clue. I don't really buy the latter as a viable reading but it still seems more likely than the story as presented. Maybe not all this is real. Maybe it's real up to the moment he watches the therapist in the mirror of his car and the rest all unfolds in his mind. Maybe that moment is when she walks up to him in FilmBar. Who knows? It's fair to explore the subconscious in a movie about therapy, but what does that last scene tell us? Perhaps it's a metaphor; when his girlfriend stops having sex with him, he feels that her therapist is violating him. Maybe he's the Dude possessed by Walter. I have no idea.
Therapist is available to view for free on Vimeo and YouTube.