At 2:37, Judge Jim Thomas will be napping.
It's Only a Matter of Time.
Australian writer/director Murali K. Thalluri's freshman effort premiered to a thundering ovation at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. Motivated by a friend's suicide as well as his own failed suicide attempt, Thalluri taught himself the ins and outs of filmmaking at the age of twenty, secured financing, and collected a cast with little or no film experience. Against all odds, 2:37 is a damned good movie.
Facts of the Case
A high school student, and then a teacher, pound on a locked bathroom door as blood seeps from inside. When the door is opened, the camera holds on their horrified expressions, but the viewer does not see the body. The film then cuts to that morning, as we see six students going about their day, each one of them battling their own demons. Intercut with the narrative are snippets from interviews they have all done as part of a school project. As the day proceeds, various pressures mount on all six.
One is pregnant. One is secretly gay. One is a driven overachiever. One suffers daily humiliations. One is bulimic. One is a stoner.
At 2:37, one will be dead.
While I can't give details, 2:37 is a gripping, compelling film. Two things make 2:37 work: Strong narrative control and strong performances. The film is structured in short sequences, each focusing on a single person. The sequences overlap chronologically; in some cases, the action in adjacent scenes is related, so that one scene reveals the impetus for incidents in the prior scenes; in others you just see the tail end of the previous sequence playing out in the periphery. The approach establishes a growing sense of isolation, the characters walking around in their own little cocoons. These sequences are clearly influenced by Gus van Zant's Elephant, but that shouldn't be considered a major weakness—it's Thalluri's first movie, after all. The important thing is that Thalurri doesn't just mimic another filmmaker, but adopts another's style in a manner that lets him tell his story in a compelling manner. There's even a little tip of the hat to Elephant, as one of the characters writes a story about a school shooting (the subject of van Zant's movie). It's only when the director spends a career borrowing that you have a problem (**cough**de Palma**cough**).
The cast does an excellent job. Special mention goes to Teresa Palmer (The Sorcerer's Apprentice) and Charles Baird (his first acting role of any kind), but really, the entire cast is outstanding, particularly in the interview segments. My wife, a high school teacher, was amazed at the realism of the performances.
Technically, the disc is pretty solid. The school scenes, most of which were shot with available light, are somewhat muddy in the shadows, but that appears to be a conscious choice; the black-and-white interview segments are crisp and clean, as is the film's final sequences. The background music for the most part is very low key, bordering somewhere between music and sound effect. Overlaid on that is typical high school background chatter, filtered and processed so that it sounds much further away than it really is. Combine that with strong use of front and back channels, and you have a sound design that reinforces the sense of isolation engendered by the visuals. Extras are slight: in addition to a trailer, there's a brief making-of featurette, which consists of some interviews with Thalluri and several of the stars. Between the subject matter and this being Thalluri's first film, a commentary track would have been a strong addition.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
A number of critics dismissed the movie as exploitive, citing two brutal scenes, one of which is the suicide that ends the movie. The charges miss the point, though. Both scenes are viscerally disturbing, even difficult to watch, but they aren't there to shock the audience; they are key to the development of the narrative. Others critics wondered if the film would result in copycat suicides; this one is a bit of a puzzlement; there is nothing remotely romanticized about the suicide.
There's a bit of a cheat with the interview sequences. They are presented as being done as part of some school project—one character asks another if she's doing an interview—but in one of the segments a character reveals information in a manner that is completely implausible. Saying it to a therapist, perhaps, but not some school cameraman.
The final sequence does drag on perhaps a bit too long—not so much the suicide itself, but the events immediately preceding it. Thalluri attempts to mimic the end of The Usual Suspects by going back over some key sequences so that we can see some additional details that were in the background earlier. Unlike The Usual Suspects, those details do not provide any insight or motivation; all they really do is call attention to Thalluri's own cleverness.
Thalluri wanted to make a movie that could be shown to high school students; ironically, the graphic nature of the film resulted in the Australian film board rating it R18+ (more or less equivalent to NC-17). I can almost understand the rating. While this is a film that should be seen by high school students, I strongly recommend watching it yourself before allowing your teenager to watch it.
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