Stars: Max Mendoza, Trevor Robins, Ryan Horacek and Bill Wetherill
In fact, An Encounter is so universal that it must have been one of the easiest of the 52 source stories to bring into the modern day. In the web series episode, Mills mentions how it reminded him of Stand by Me, one of his favourite movies. While both are quintessential coming of age stories, they're very different in their accessibility. Stand by Me is grounded in the little rituals that American kids go through, which often appear inexplicable to foreign eyes, a sort of junior version of John Ford's films, merely replacing square dances and social obligations with wedgies and mailbox destruction. An Encounter, on the other hand, is far more universal, its rituals as accessible as peer pressure and ditching school. Mills adds another here, that of stealing money from family members, but keeps his film as easy to approach as the story. All that he had to update were some minor details: a tanner becomes five bucks; the river Liffey, the lifeblood of Dublin, becomes a Salt River Project irrigation canal, the lifeblood of Phoenix.
Joyce's story follows three boys, young ones who are just reaching the age where rebellion is a draw, who decide to ditch school and travel to the Pigeon House, a famous Dublin landmark that was at this point in time a tuberculosis sanatorium built on reclaimed land in Dublin bay. Of course, nothing goes remotely as they expect. One of the three doesn't even show up and the other two don't make it to the Pigeon House, instead wandering around the docks and failing to find a dairy to buy milk. Eventually they settle down in a field by the banks of the Dodder, one of the Liffey's tributaries, where the encounter of the title occurs. A shabbily dressed man with a stick and an ashen-grey moustache walks past them, then returns to sit and chat with the boys about books and girls, how many of the former they've read and how many of the latter they have as sweethearts. He wanders off to relieve himself but comes back again, changed in his demeanour and ranting about whipping rough boys who talk to girls, a shocking end to their adventure.
Of course, the whole point is that these kids believe themselves grown up, ready to be part of the world, but this encounter strongly disavows them of that notion. It's not a deep story, which is probably why this adaptation runs a short four and a half minutes, but it carries a resonance that remains long after it ends; the inherently memorable nature of the encounter makes An Encounter one of the most memorable of the 52 Films in 52 Weeks. The kids are believable, Max Mendoza in particular able to conjure up a strong reaction at the end, but it's Wetherill's show. He's reliable at not looking entirely there and he believably vanishes inside himself to rage at unknown targets, perhaps his own character, while the boys react as if they're in danger. His presence is aided by the fact that the film mostly plays with music and a narration by Mills himself rather than dialogue, so this last sound scene is emphasised. A shift to handheld close ups, rather than the longer shots thus far, also builds this finalé. It's a memorable encounter indeed!