SXSW 2011 Review: APART
Noah (Josh Danziger) and Emily (Olesya Rulin) are best friends who are practically inseparable. There is hardly a decision they make or moment that goes by that they do not share with the other. When Emily is asked out on a date, she immediately goes to Noah to ask, “What do we think?” Despite this, it is clear that Noah harbors feelings for Emily beyond friendship, but it is less clear whether Emily returns those feelings. She is obviously drawn to him in a way that suggests more than friendship, but by a force that seems more powerful than simple young love.
APART begins with Noah having just woken up from a two-year coma, barely able to speak or walk. As he begins to rehabilitate himself, we start to realize that this is not the first time Noah has been in a near-fatal accident. Through therapy sessions with Dr. Thomas Abner (Bruce McGill), Noah begins to piece his life back together, but any mention or reference to Emily is glaringly absent and it becomes obvious that any memory of her is being purposefully kept from Noah by Dr. Abner and Noah’s older brother, Oliver (Jason Davis).
Emily and Noah met as children on a school field trip and, as they got to know each other in the simple way only children can, their bus was suddenly broadsided and the two found themselves victims of a terrible collision. After the accident, we learn that Emily suffers from a rare disorder called folie à deux (based on real case studies and referred to in the film as ICD-10, F.24), which means she is prone to having upsetting, and seemingly foreboding, delusions. As a result of this traumatic event, Emily and Noah became permanently connected and if Emily suffered from one of her delusions when Noah was near, he would experience the delusion as well.
Emily begins seeing therapist Dr. Jane Sheppard (Joey Lauren Adams) to try and manage her delusions. But rather than seeing her diagnosis as a curse, Emily and Noah realize the terrible visions she experiences usually come to fruition and her disorder may be able to prevent those tragedies from happening. Despite their good intentions, this idea, propelled by their shared delusions, ends up causing more damage than good.
After the fateful night that lands Noah in the coma from which he is now attempting to recover, his sudden memory loss is looked at as a chance to start over and keep the pair from being together. However, the bond Noah shared with Emily is not one that can simply be forgotten and, despite his amnesia, Noah knows something is missing and will not rest until he understands what happened in his past.
The film jumps around in time from Emily and Noah as children to their relationship in high school to Noah’s recovery. Tiny clues from scars to their interactions with those around them help us determine where in the timeline we fall as we try to piece together the puzzle along with Noah. It is interesting to watch the traits that define them as children – Emily’s emotive eyes telling more than she ever does (or can) and Noah’s quiet reserve – carrying through to their adulthood, and it is hard not to wonder what would have happened to the two, individually and together, had this disorder not become a part of their lives. Despite the disjointed timeline, I never felt disconnected from the characters, instead I grew more invested in not only where they were going, but also what brought them to this point.
Beautifully shot, each frame is almost a photograph, with the careful detail paid to not only the characters acting out the scene, but everything surrounding them as well. Cinematographer J.P. Lipa did an impressive job of using simple aspects, such as light and color, to give each scene importance and remind us that there is meaning to each moment we are seeing. Be sure to stick around through the credits to see still photographs that were just as captivating as the film itself.
Emily and Noah’s world is carefully created by director Aaron Rottinghaus (who co-wrote the film with Danziger) and impeccably scored by Phillip James Gilberti as the film takes on the themes of love and loss, but more so, the idea of past, present, and future. How important is our past to our future? Can one ever really start over? But beyond these questions, the diagnosis and the disorder, APART is a classic love story about two people who want to be together, but are forced to overcome obstacles constantly thrown in their path.
In the end, unfortunately, the film seemed to come “apart” (pardon the pun) and left me feeling more than a little disappointed after the intricate journey we had just gone on. Granted, I have no idea how else the film could have ended, but I was hoping for something more after the timeline seemed to finally synch up. After all the attention paid to each moment, I was surprised when the film all but got up and walked away without us. Despite this hiccup, the film as a whole was captivating and striking, both in story and the visual effect of the film itself. APART succeeds in taking a timeless tale and putting an interesting twist on the idea. We may not walk away with all the answers, but it may be this lack of answers that lend itself to a bigger question.