October Review (No SPOILERS): The Simplicity of Hospital Life

This was a confusing film.  It felt like it was going one way and then it went the other.  Most of all though, it feels like it fully grasps accidents and recovery in a way that most melodramatic films shy away from.

There is something about a hospital.  I’ve spent a fair amount of time hanging around in hospitals due to various family emergencies (strangely, because my family is so healthy.  Things which would kill other people straight out just result in 8 weeks in the hospital for us), and I came out of it really liking them.  Everyone is kind, there is a strange sense of being at home as you get used to the route to the cafeteria, have your favorite seat in the waiting room, get to know all the nurses, and so on.  Most of all, there is the wonderful sense of clarity, everyone is focused on just one thing (getting the patient better), and the choices you are given tend to be a series of simple decisions.  Not easy decisions necessarily, but the doctor will give you the option of this treatment or that treatment and all you have to do is pick between them.  Very different from regular life, where you have to agonize over millions of possibilities.  Your whole life narrows down to just the patient, complete tunnel vision.  Everything else left outside those doors, your career worries and your friends and even the rest of your family, it all just drops away.  It’s a retreat from the world.

Image result for october film

That, to me, is the greatest triumph of this film.  Capturing that sense of clarity and intensity mixed with boredom and repetition.  And the strange bonds that appear in this situation, the friendships from propinquity with the nurses, the person in your life who ends up being the one you can rely on, the shift in your family as you adjust to having one missing part.

The problem is, the rest of the film doesn’t know exactly what it wants to do with all this.  The hospital sequences are so powerful and so unique, but I’m not sure what they were supposed to mean in the context of the film.  It’s not exactly a love story, or a coming of age story.  There’s some degree of uncertainty that was built into the film, but there is a larger degree that, to me, feels like they just didn’t know what they wanted to do with it.

And, unfortunately, part of that uncertainty damages Varun’s performance.  His character’s first scenes are brilliant, the whole first 15-20 minutes of the film establishing who he is are perfect.  And perfectly related to his off-screen persona, at least as it is sometimes perceived.  Lazy, entitled, selfish, ungenerous.  And all done with perfect subtlety, you can see how he himself never sees anything he does as wrong, never feels himself to be at fault. How he can even fool other people around him with his perfectly reasonable arguments until they have to actually work with him every day and put up with him.

I was excited to see what the director Shoojit Sircar would do with Varun after that, moving on from this brilliant beginning.  But then he seemed to not be sure where he wanted to go and what happened next.  And so Varun’s performance lost certainty as well.  We couldn’t read what was happening in his character’s head and why.  He ended up hitting a consistent tone of “uncertain”.

Image result for october varun

It is still an excellent performance partly because there are no particular notes to it.  Varun manages to strip out obvious emotions, reactions, all of that, without making his character feel bland and empty.  He is still a real natural person, just without any motivation that the audience can see driving him.

It’s hard to write this review without giving spoilers, because there are several obvious interpretations of the film and the characters that would make sense of all of my critiques.  I just don’t think they quite fit, there is always a moment or a line that makes them not exactly right.

I guess that is the greatest accomplishment of the film, a movie that takes a simple seemingly straight-forward story and aggressively makes it un-straightforward.  There are no simple choices, no clear directions, nothing of the familiarity and simplicity that drives our hero to the hospital within the film is present in the narrative surrounding him.

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2 thoughts on “October Review (No SPOILERS): The Simplicity of Hospital Life

    • I’m so glad! I want people to want to watch movies after reading my reviews.

      On Sat, Apr 14, 2018 at 1:57 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

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