you can live forever
Film, 2022, 4 stars
Directed By: Mark Slutsky, Sarah Watts
Written By: Sarah Watts, Mark Slutsky
An absolute highlight of the queer festival season in 2022 was this gorgeously shot, powerful, sad, and often frustrating exploration of young love within the bounds of a religious upbringing. It’s a film that creeps over you slowly and without mercy, much like the love that grows between our two protagonists. Their love is hopeless, but what do kids care about that? It’s when we get to see them look back at what they had as adults and realise how life changing it was that we get to see the true tragedy of it all, but also a glimmer of hope.
Jaime (Anwen O’Driscoll) has to spend time living with her aunt and uncle in a strict Jehovah’s Witness community due to her father’s death and her mother’s subsequent nervous breakdown. When she arrives she’s not exactly rebellious, but she is a normal teenager who smokes occasionally, drinks occasionally, wears ripped jeans, and loves rock music (the atmospheric soundtrack is both well woven in for Jaime’s moods, and used as an indicator of timeframe).
Jaime is independent and strong willed, but she’s also open minded. She doesn’t immediately reject the community she’s been taken in by, but she doesn’t let it brainwash her either. We know that she has too many things she wants to achieve with her life to be naturally drawn to this church, but she’s also desperately searching for a meaningful path.
While participating in the meetings and rituals, Jaime meets Marike (June Laporte), who has been raised in the Jehovah’s since birth and lost her own mother through excommunication. We explore that children are told to think of their lost relatives as dead, which is an immense, and deeply sad way to understand the destruction of families when people leave their strict communities.
Marike misses her mother, and as she becomes involved with Jaime starts to question her sexuality, but she never questions her beliefs, not for a moment. The filmmakers’ encouragement for the audience to empathise with Marike and her struggles through Jaime’s watchful eyes is a powerful tool for exploring the unfamiliar.
Their attraction is slow burn and heated, but also wholesome in a way. Jaime and Marike have so much respect for other – for their differences, for what they each want from their lives. There’s regret from Marike about things she can’t do, but also complete faith that she’ll be rewarded for her sacrifices. Jaime experiments with the idea that her love for Marike might be worth embracing the ideas of the church, so she tries valiantly to understand, but it’s all too much.
Jaime finds relief in her friendship with a schoolmate Nathan, a guy who immediately senses Jaime is into girls but just loves to hang with her anyway. It’s an honest, refreshing look at the way kids can be so much more gracious than they’re often given credit for.
Jaime and Marike’s fumbling sexuality together is sweet. They seem to fit in a way that neither has felt before with anyone. The differences between them seem unimportant, and we hold out hope for a twist that will keep them together, but we know all along that it just can’t happen. Marike’s faith cannot be shaken, and Jaime needs to live her life. These two things can’t be reconciled, especially by teenagers so beholden to the adults in their lives who make all the rules.
It is a pleasant surprise when the film doesn’t just end, but hangs around to give us a feeling of what happens to Jaime and Marike in the ensuing years. The final coming together of the lovers after years of absence is ambiguous, sorrowful, and beautiful all at once. We aren’t given a hard and fast conclusion but are left to wonder if the power of love can really defeat everything that stands between them. It’s not an obviously happy ending, how could it possibly be? But it’s satisfying. Prepare to be shaken, disturbed, entranced, and moved.
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