A superb sophomore feature by director Rachel Lambert that happens to be co-produced by its leading co-star Daisy Ridley, Sometimes I Think About Dying brings a fresh perspective on loneliness. The film explores the longing for human connection, the pains of being socially awkward, not fitting in with groups, glib small talk, the mundanity of office work, and the difficulties of maintaining romance are familiar themes that are on display in this indie gem of a movie. Bolstered by Ridley’s own absorbing performance in the lead role, this Sundance-selected film from last year is an affecting and deeply moving film that also explores the isolating effects of office work.
Co-written by Kevin Armento, Stefanie Abel Horowitz, and Katy Wright-Mead and based on Armento’s own stage play titled Killers, it’s a very satisfying film that responds to the world of modern loneliness in very specific and refreshing ways. And while so many independent films offer these themes with characters with socially inept temperaments, Sometimes I Think About Dying brings a personal integrity that feels quite genuine. In many ways, this film would play well with Aki Kurasmaki’s Fallen Leaves, which is also about souls coming together, and if they were together, it would still be shorter than Killers of the Flower Moon and Oppenheimer.
Courtesy Oscilloscope Laboratories
Ridley stars as Fran in a very muted but poignant performance. She plays a timid office worker in a small coastal town in Washington State. As the title suggests, Fran often drifts in and out of daydreams where she imagines herself dying. These daydreams are never distressing but actually feel offbeat, perhaps precious, and even earthly. They include her dying near a bonfire on a beach, or a huge snake sneaking up on her in a empty banquet hall or slowly dying away calmly in a forest. In a sense, Fran feels like she is dead or just a ghost as her workers commence around themselves—leaving her out of conversations—its as if Fran is deliberately distancing herself from being in the company of others.
At first glance, we think Fran has these morbid imaginations because she is depressed with her mundane job. We even have images of her looking out a window, where she daydreams of herself hanging from a crane. After shutting herself in from fellow co-workers and focusing on her job, she ends up opening up with a new hire named Robert (Dave Merhege), who is also socially awkward but is more outgoing. He instantly shows interest in her on his first day, and this shows during a silly pep talk after the supervisor asks everyone their favorite food, which Fran uncomfortably answers with “cottage cheese.”
It’s slowly revealed that Robert is very oblivious to office work and ends up confessing to Fran in a work chat message that he is clueless because he never really had a serious job before. He isn’t aware of what a staple remover is, and when he goes to order new office supplies from Fran, he even asks her what a sku-number is. Robert is replacing the position of a recent retiree in the office, Carol (Marcia DeBonis), who Fran just observes her departure in solace while her other co-workers leave her alone. Once Robert arrives, he throws Fran’s daily routine off. He actually talks with her and eventually asks her on a date to the movies after making a reference to Dazed and Confused that goes over Fran’s head. The two go on a date and meet up at the local boutique cinema downtown, and they get dinner and coffee after the movie.
Courtesy Oscilloscope Laboratories
What’s fascinating about these moments is just how enigmatic and poignant the exchanges between Fran and Robert both feel. The film also feels woozy as we get into Fran’s perspective. Instead of going into the movie theater, Lambert cuts away to a montage of poetic insert shots of empty streets, to the skies, nature, and mountains of the Northwest Pacific town, and back to the theater where Fran and Robert are walking out. This visually shows the vapidity of how Fran grasps the world. There are some character motivations that are left unconventional as to why Fran is so disclosed. She refuses to open up, even as Robert attempts to get to know her by asking sincere questions. Fran often purges herself out of many human interactions by unintentionally being rude to others, and Robert finds himself being taken back by her frankness. She even tells Robert she dislikes the movie they saw together on theit first date, but Robert is able to dance around it with wit and humor.
During a beautiful second date, Robert cooks her a pasta dinner and they end up watching Blue Velvet together (a nice touch with the Pacific Northwest setting), which Fran ends up enjoying. We never see images from the film, but we hear Mysteries of Love in the finale by the late Julee Cruise play in the background. It’s a very warm moment that also rivals the Fallen Leaves movie theater scene as Robert naps off in the third act and Fran watches with enchantment. Just when you hope that Fran will ignite with some romance, she distances herself once they get into a deep discussion about love. We learn about Robert’s past, as Fran claims that she’s never been in love, but there is reluctance in how she pauses. Robert is eventually stunned by Daisy’s awkwardness, and he takes a few steps back on each encounter. However, it’s clear Fran enjoys his companionship, but each time she finds warmth she distances here.
Robert can sense she needs a friend. For Fran, though, each time she attempts to allow Robert from getting too close for reasons that aren’t explained, you learn she can possibly feel broken from a past relationship. She clams up from any discussion of her past, including questions about her family. You feel for both Robert and Fran in their own different ways. That’s because both actors sell their chemistry, and Ridley especially brings a lot of pathos to the performance. One of the highlights of the film is when Fran and Robert attend a party together, where Fran gets to play out her morbid imaginations during a murder mystery game, which finally gives her more hope to open up with others in group settings.
Courtesy Oscilloscope Laboratories
While the portrait of loneliness and modern isolation may sound puerile or even melancholic, but to Lambert’s advantage, she embellishes so many moments in which Fran and Robert hold great joy in their exchanges that feel refreshingly alive. We have seen many films about human connection with so many defined characters, but this one examines just how meaningful and complicated these connections can become due to how our depressions can’t easily be thwarted out. As moving as this film can be, it’s also achingly sad.
Fittingly for a film with such an explicit title about someone who indeed thinks about death, there is something wonderous about the human interactions that are on display most of the time. Sometimes I Think About Dying delivers rare vulnerabilities with optimism, with Daisy Ridley showing just how skilled of an actress she is when she’s not playing a Jedi or appearing in other big-budget studio films. Also serving as a co-producer for such a Sundance gem of a movie, it’s obvious she is drawn into characters that capture both the essence and challenges of the human experience. It’s a slice-of-life movie for the lonely and timid; let’s hope she participates and stars in more genuine films like this.
SOMETIMES I THINK ABOUT DYING opens in limited theaters on Friday, January 26th.