Loneliness is the subject of a poetic exploration in Rachel Lambert’s Sometimes I Think About Dying. Premiering in Sundance’s US Dramatic Competition and adapted from the Oscar-shortlisted live-action short of the same name (which was based on Kevin Armento’s play killers), Lambert’s film quietly observes the life of Fran (Daisy Ridley), a woman who feels most at home in her daydreams.
Fran is too distinctively drawn to be just an avatar, but the impressions of her solitude are aching reminders of how modern life nurtures an unsettling separateness. No time was that more evident than during the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, when quarantine measures revealed the degree to which many of us live in isolation. Sometimes I Think About Dyingthen, is a graceful treatise on how challenging — but liberating — it can be to make connections.
Sometimes I Think About Dying
The Bottom Line
A poetic, unhurried observation of loneliness.
It’s not easy for Fran, a single woman who lives in a sleepy Oregon town, to relate to others. The film opens with sketches of disconnection, scenes that underscore our protagonist’s spectral existence. At work — a midsize office that deals primarily in spreadsheets, budget reports and meetings that could have been emails — her colleagues chatter around, but rarely to, her. Fran, protected by her three-walled cubicle, sits hunched at her computer, tending to notes or imagining all the ways she could die.
Her visions are dark, macabre interludes with an eerie pattern. In one scene, Fran stands in the basement of her office as a snake circles her ankles. In another, she lies on the mossy growth of a verdant forest with bugs crawling across her opaque skin. Death is a curious thing for Fran, whose musings Lambert and cinematographer Dustin Lane approach without judgment. The duo embrace a visual language built around a poetic attention to detail. Like Stephen Karam’s The Humansanother stage-to-screen adaptation, Sometimes I Think About Dying balloons the stakes of the smallest or most mundane interactions through shots that linger.
In Lambert and Lane’s capable hands, the office (where most of the film takes place) becomes a terrain of fraught social interactions — a space where Fran, an honest but deeply introverted person, struggles to fit in. During a retirement party for a colleague, Carol (Marcia DeBonis), Fran watches nervously before sidling up to a table of treats, grabbing a slice of cake and slinking back to her desk. There are a few moments where she, because of proximity, gets roped into a conversation or two. But the small talk — about the location of office supplies, about one’s weekend — that keeps the others afloat does nothing to nourish Fran.
Robert (Ramy’s Dave Merheje), the person who replaces Carol, changes that for Fran. His hire is announced during a team meeting with a familiarly awkward introduction, off-color jokes and banal “fun” facts. In that sparsely-windowed room, Fran sneaks glances at Robert, whose warmth radiates from him. They formally meet in the break room, where Fran’s intense focus on making a Keurig coffee is actually a silent pep talk.
In the short film, directed by Stefanie Abel Horowitz (who gets a writing credit here), Fran revealed her thoughts via voiceover. The feature does away with that and, instead, has Ridley do the work through her performance. It’s Ridley’s eyes, which dart nervously or stare deeply, her body language and her carefully calibrated tone that gesture towards Fran’s interiority. They signal a person negotiating a yearning for connection and retreating into the safety of her own mind.
Robert helps Fran by initiating most of their interactions. In the break room, he asks for her name. Later, he sends her a message over Slack inquiring about how to get office supplies. These small gestures eventually lead to a bigger question: Would Fran like to see a movie? The answer: Of course. Ridley and Merheje have an unfussy chemistry, which imbues their exchanges with the appropriate levels of awkwardness and trepidation. Robert’s curiosity in Fran manifests as patient listening and probing inquiries.
It would be too easy for Sometimes I Think About Dying to offset some of its austere meditative quality by turning Robert and Fran’s relationship into one of condescension and saviorism. Lambert, along with writers Armento, Horowitz and Katy Wright-Mead, slyly avoid that fate by not sketching Fran as a vessel for sympathy. She has agency when it comes to Robert, whom she learns to care for but also occasionally finds overwhelming. Fran struggles to interact with others not because she’s not interesting — although she might insist otherwise — but because sometimes the world values a performance of personality more than the person.
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