Wristcutters: A Love Story.
Hold on, it’s not what you think.
It’s not about the act of suicide. It’s about finding love.
Let me talk about indie films before we get into “Wristcutters” (2006). Indie films are these wonderful things that are made for a nickel with the potential to make millions. Indies color outside the lines – “Harold and Maude” toys with romances of the soul that exist outside the boundaries of age, “TiMER” shows us a world where someone can predict the exact moment their true love will simply walk into their life – a traumatizing thought if the love of your life won’t meet you for fifty years. These movies star actors as equally skilled as those featured in the headlines, but never get taken to the prom by Disney or Castle Rock Entertainment. Straight to TV or DVD production kills these edgy films that have so much to offer.
Now back to “Wristcutters.”
Meet Zia (Patrick Fugit), he’s a boy, and he’s dead. He finds himself at the way-station of the afterlife after a traumatic break up. A place reserved specially for suicides. Zia finds that the afterlife is not much better than the real world; colors are bland, no one can smile and there are no flowers or stars, and yeah, you still have to work. His fellow suicides, including best friend Eugene (Shea Whigham), waste their lives away working mundane jobs and drinking away the night. The tone of this place is characterized by a bored Zia, who says one night “I’m not going out tonight. It just makes me depressed.” And Eugene replies wonderfully, “so what you gonna do? Kill yourself?”
See it’s funny, because they are already dead.
After a while, Zia hears that his ex-girlfriend Desiree (Leslie Bibb) has recently committed suicide. Following his strong desire to be reunited with the girl that broke his heart, Zia persuades Eugene to help him find her. They pick up a hitchhiker, Mikal (Shannon Sossamon), a girl, also dead, who insists that her being there is a mistake and that she wants to see the People In Charge aka the P.I.C. so she can get back to real life. Mikal’s character is beautifully defined by this quote: “Who the hell likes being stuck in a place where you can't even smile? It's hot as balls, everybody's an asshole. I just wanna go home.”
The trio travels down the highway in Eugene’s beat up car. Under the seat is a black hole where anything that gets dropped on the floor just disappears. It’s that place in everyone’s car where favorite sunglasses get lost and where all lost change falls.
Zia learns from another hitchhiker, Kneller (Tom Waits), that miracles are possible – people have the ability to make objects float or change color. The key is to not care about it. While Mikal is able to make miracles happen, Zia becomes obsessed with his constant failures.
Eventually they hear about “Messiah King,” a leader of a cult who promises to make a real miracle happen – separating his soul from his body. Zia finds that his ex, Desiree, is working with King. They talk. In a public performance King attempts to kill himself again as a public miracle which happens right when the P.I.C. decides to raid the party.
Long story short, Mikal leaves with the P.I.C. and gets sent back to life while Zia sits around waiting for her in a lonely panic. In a desperate move to get back to Mikal he forces himself through the black hole under the seat of Eugene’s car. He wakes up and finds himself in the hospital next to Mikal. Returned to the world of the living.
This is a weird romantic comedy. Unlike more mainstream films “Wristcutters” actually has more than just comedic failure and weird coincidences that bring the main characters together.
This movie is really weird. Like there are objects levitating and all the characters are dead. But it doesn’t feature a klutzy protagonist tripping his or her way through the movie in a wild romantic romp. What I love about this movie is that it’s Mikal that makes it all happen. She has a goal – to get back to life. If she wasn’t there, there would be no movie. No conflict. No push to do something, to fix a mistake. Mikal and Zia are looking for different things, but find that they work well together. Zia (dead boy), follows Mikal’s (dead girl) trail trying to find his ex-girlfriend but ends up falling in love with. Go figure.
What makes these indie movies stand out is that the main characters don’t have to play dumb or rely on slapstick humor to get the girl (or guy). Characters are drawn to each other by intelligence or circumstance, and stay together because of mutual goals or attraction. They’re more realistic and relatable – when they fail it’s a real event that destroys them totally. These characters have not only contemplated killing themselves, but in some cases they have already done it. So as members of the audience we are asked: who hasn’t been depressed after a break up? Who hasn’t contemplated suicide after life changes for the worst? Who hasn’t thought of spilling blood in the bath tub at least once? But in the end, even though Zia has lost Mikal (she has left with the P.I.C. for places unknown), he breaks out of his character’s normal sit around attitude and chases her. He stops thinking and does what he needs to do.
It’s refreshing to see movies where the story is not about stupid characters. Look at that movie “Knocked Up” (2007) starring Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl. Romantic comedies like this one rely on one person either acting childish or trying to dupe someone. True, these movies show that the immature guy eventually grows up and becomes capable of being in a mature relationship, but the audience always has to suffer through the boy’s stupidity first. Meanwhile the girl is clueless to the guy’s advances (or if you look at “Fifty First Dates” the girl can’t even remember who the guy is). These movies scream that guys are immature and girls are dumb or won’t be interested until the guy proves himself.
So let’s look at “Fifty First Dates” (2004). First of all, you get a scumbag played by Adam Sandler marking this pretty girl, Drew Barrymore, to seduce and then ditch. The movie makes a point of illustrating Sandler’s womanizing ways. When she daily rejects him Sandler’s character gets drawn in and cannot resist this pretty girl who just says “no” over and over. Then we find out this girl lives the same day every day because she has a brain injury and has no long term memory. This movie follows the typical rom-com plotline; Ohhh I think I like you and oh no, my heart is broken. Then the guy grows up and changes his ways. Now let’s be together forevvver. Giving hope for every girl who wants to fall in love that the guys she sets her sights on will change himself when he realizes he’s a scumbag. This movie ends with the heart-touching realization that Barrymore’s character wakes up on a boat to find out that she has somehow produced a child and lives a completely different life from yesterday.
Enough of this white-bread message that “guys are dumb and have to be lead along to find love.” Enough of this “women are targets for seduction.” Let’s move on to films that show reality – that men and women are people, who have thoughts, who grow and change. Who fail sometimes, but pick themselves up. Even if they’re dead.