Warning: very spoilery unless you’re expecting an answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything, in which case 42.
There are few things duller than listening to people give their opinions on the Big Questions, except maybe people’s holiday photos, marriage videos and birth live-tweetings.
So fair play to Amy Seimetz and her cast, whose She Dies Tomorrow remains interesting sometimes arresting, and often bleakly funny, even if it didn’t quite work for me at the end.
She Dies Tomorrow doesn’t actually stray far from the big questions. What are we here for? What happens when we die? Why are dolphins so sex-crazed? And what will happen to the ants?
First of all, in case you’re only here for the ending, none of the main characters actually die in the film – so if lack of narrative closure makes you, well, anxious, this may not be the film for you. There’s no grand explanation of what has happen to them and whether is is physically real or simply psychological.
I said in my review it’s about the contagion of ideas and about people’s reactions to those ideas. And while it’s about anxiety – with an additional relevance now because of COVID-19 – it also highlights the overwhelming despair that seems to be seeping into everything, the awfulness of 2020.
Responses to that despair have been varied. There are plenty of half-meant jokes about how God should finally give up on us and start again, and “2020: hold my beer” memes mocking older pretenders to a “world’s worst year” crown. Many people have, unsurprisingly, responded to the world situation (a perfect storm of increasingly awful occurrences and trends) with exhausted ennui. Others have taken it as permission to do nothing. But for others it’s been energising, and that’s the same in She Dies Tomorrow.
The characters’ reactions are sometimes shocking, but make perfect sense considering their “faith” in what is going to happen to them.
Amy retreats into alcohol addiction, and starts hearing voices talking about an abortion she had years before. Later she’s too dulled by what is happening to even make out with a guy. Jane seems almost angry at Amy for pulling her in with her drinking and her obsession with her own apparently impending death. Maybe she also knows she herself is more fragile and susceptible than she makes out; not everyone shares their psychological state.
Brian goes to the hospital where his elderly father is being treated, and pulls out his tubes so he dies.
Brian’s girlfriend Tilly now sees no reason to sugar the pill and is upfront about Brian’s failings as a boyfriend, admitting she would have left him earlier if his dad hadn’t been ill.
Jane goes to the hospital and tries to make out with a hot doctor who then also becomes infected.
Amy initially seems to be set up as the main character, until Jane also becomes infected and her story starts to overwhelm the others. Other characters have their moments but she is central; not so much Patient Zero (if it’s a particular character then it has to be Pizza Delivery Guy) as the one with the biggest viral load. It’s as if Amy hands over the baton. (It reminded me of something my 8 year old asked me during lockdown: when someone passes COVID-19 not somebody else, do they then no longer have it themselves?)
The characters in she dies tomorrow seem to get some kind of closure from knowing their deaths are approaching: finally they can stop pretending and start being.
Jane eventually wanders into the home of Sky and Erin, two beautiful, laid-back young women who are accepting their impending deaths with Valley Girl-like philosophising. What a lovely place to meet your end: a blissful swimming pool on a warm day, bobbing around on an inflatable flamingo.
Nothing is resolved, though that’s the point. At the very end we see Amy on the beach repeating to herself “I’m okay, I’m not okay”, like someone trying to talk themselves out of their anxiety.
The names are interesting. The first (semi-lead!) character has the same name as the writer director; Jane has the same first name as the actress playing her. This is a very personal film despite it being one where everyone can (and probably will) add their own meanings to it.
The original idea of social contagion seems to be, currently, less popular as a movie topic. I’ve recently seen more films about cancel culture (and cancel- cancel culture!) like American Pickle, or the tyranny of community / suburbia (Apartment 1BR / Vivarium respectively).
This is a film I should probably watch again, and I’d probably enjoy it more, coming to terms myself with the ending. Its also the kind of movie where more and more details pop up with each new watch.
But I won’t, as I would be pulled in, tangled in every new, deeper insight, and then become determined to pass them on – which would mean another even longer article.
My review of She Dies Tomorrow is here.