Director: Michel Franco
Writer: Michel Franco
Stars: Tim Roth, Bitsie Tulloch, Sarah Sutherland
Released: 21 October 2015
(Spoiler Alert: This review is for those who have seen the movie beforehands. There are both spoilers and spoiler-splashed analyses which may diminish the viewing pleasure for those who haven’t seen the movie.)
Is it morally right to keep the terminally ill with less than a month to live entertained? The common sensical answer to this question is a resounding “Yes.” But think again: Making them feel better and in good spirits in the face of death would have them crave for a bit more of what they cannot get: life. This is a crushing feeling and a last-minute desperation before the lights go out. What the terminally ill desire is a smooth passage to the afterlife, while keeping them entertained for the last moments of their lives would make them lurch back into life, which is a horrible scenario of show-but-no-touch.
Chronic lets you ponder on these issues for more than you would normally, but less than you would expect in the course of the movie. It tells the story of an unordinary home nurse, David Wilson (Tim Roth), who “lost” his son at some point to (supposedly) osteoid osteoma and this loss broke apart his family. We get snapshots of different patients he “takes care” of. This partly provides the movie with a narration of successive short stories. Also, seeing different patients is a good reminder for the audience in the sense that we all may be going towards the same direction, but each of us is going in her own unique way. David’s supererogation makes him push the upper limits of this job: he becomes the caring husband of an AIDS patient; misogynistic pal of a paralyzed Bauhaus architect (the emphasis of John’s about “functionality of his designs” is a giveaway, really) with whom he watches porn and reviews designs and the reaper of a self-standing-till-the-very-end cancer patient, Martha.
Chronic‘s fundamental cinematic tool is the clash between deep silence, purportedly symbolizing death, and disorienting noises in the form of whirring, thumping of machines, fiercely running water as suggested pain and turbulence in the ill’s lives. Aside from this, the crescendo of the movie comes in the form of a long, tense tracking shot, just before David flies off the vision of the camera by an overspeeding, careless car. Other than these, the movie focuses on the lower-angles of shower shots which shows the state of the patients in a “naked” fashion. For a movie whose biggest purpose seems to be to reflect these turbulent times, these techniques serve the movie more than enough.
Chronic has an unfolding structure in the sense that, first, we see David stalking some random girls’ Facebook page, after stalking her in real life. The soon as we understand this is not a far-fetched story of a pervert, we can guess that she is his daughter. We question the commitment of David to the terminally ill, which seems both painstakingly professional and sincere (sincerity of such depth that even the relatives of the ill cannot escape self-confrontation in the face of some stranger bonding with their father, mother deeper than they ever could), but we cannot deduce why with the piecemeal we are served up until his patient, Martha, reveals the fact that he euthanized his son due to his insufferable levels of pain. It creates its own low-level detective story vibe, which helps carry the drama as well.
One of the most thrilling moments (as thrilling as can be for a movie at such a tempo) is David’s realization of his contradiction, when he denies Martha the right to euthanasia. It is very well implied that Martha’s monomaniacal obsession with self-reliance is largely tarnished by his diagnosis of cancer. While watching a documentary about black holes with David, Martha realizes aptly that she is becoming one slowly and in an Hemingwayesque fashion, she wants to split with dignity. This moment of confrontation with the past is a beautiful part which propels the story to unfold in an organic way.
It has been an interesting experience in terms of the idiosyncratic occupation and character selection of the movie. In the end, Chronic turns out to be stressing a message in a heinous fashion: life is absurd, because death is always around the corner. We get it. For a movie which will not change the playbook, the intriguing micro-level immersion in a rarely-found character is more than enough to offer a good time. However, Chronic feels compelled to get across this message, which taints the plain beauty of the movie in the end. All in all, it is a pleasant experience, if you do not quiver from seeing the terminally ill naked, often.