Fritz Lewis’s review published on Letterboxd:
Something hasn't been sitting right with me these past few days. Like something has been terribly missing. With this whole virus going around, the thought of self-isolation and actually having been self-isolating, myself, should be much more comfortable, and for the most part it is now that it's "socially acceptable" so to speak... but something still feels so wrong.
These past few days time has just been passing like there is no sense of contingency, and I feel completely stagnant, like I'm falling apart but I don't care. Like in spite of all this craziness, there still is nothing.
Most of these days I've just been sitting around on my phone without any worry about what to do next, or because of my programming - not doing anything because of the lack of urgency presented to me.
With the news that the shooting of my next film is going to be delayed, without any sense of meaning or being anywhere or in anything, I once again have nothing.
Some nights going out into an alley and yelling helps. Other times just driving or running does. But now, in this situation, I've had zero motivation to even leave my apartment. This should all be an introverts dream, but it isn't. I'm just decaying inside of my own comfort zone much like the character of Bruce in my film.
I don't know, but before I feel like I can return to any other activities I think I need to write one last statement about my own film. Maybe I'll be able to move on from it, maybe not. And either way, it doesn't matter; This lack of meaning doesn't stem from my film's lack of the acclaim I'd like or from any feeling of satisfaction I feel is missing from its release. It's much more deep-rooted, and I was naive to ever think this film would have been accepted any differently.
Take Me Out was never really made to be a film for the masses.
While I was writing and directing this piece, and through post production, I really thought this would hit a chord with festival programmers and play well at a lot of film festivals, connecting with further audiences. And from the one public screening this film had the privilege of receiving, a good amount of people came up to me and Brian afterwards and said they could relate to it one way or another; directly or indirectly. There were a lot of people who seemed indifferent towards the film or bored by it, because to be honest it wasn't necessarily in the correct block. A lot of films shown beside mine were targeted to a completely different demographic that ended up taking the majority of the crowd, but that's okay. It got exposure.
Unfortunately, most of the responses I've gotten from film festivals as far as feedback goes has been slim to none, but the few who have reached out or opted in have mostly told me it's too long to program. Other criticism have ranged from "the drama was poorly constructed" to, the acting was "lacking", the pacing didn't make sense, and mistaking the camera and aspect ratio changes as amateurish cinematography when in fact they were deliberate and deeply meaningful. The latter part seemed very nitpicky even to their own admittance, as the positives most gave was that some shots were very impressive.
To be fair, the cinematography and color grading in this film is fucking beautiful. I don't want to sound crass, but fuck. For some festivals to tear apart my message on mental health as if it's supposed to be more melodramatic or follow specific beats (which I'll get into in a minute) and then just gloss over the cinematography, as if it's typical for most short films to behold this kind of visual quality, was overwhelmingly shocking to me. I shouldn't even say shocking at this point, but you know what I mean. And again, I'm a pretty humble and self-deprecating person all around. I'm not trying to sound like a total egomaniac because I'm fully aware these past few sentences have come across as that, but jesus goddamn fuck. Sure, knowing what I know now, I could have used visual language to accomplish emotional distance and isolation even more strongly than I did, and I'm aware of certain shots or scenes that could have been made even more impactful, but considering we were on a low budget and relied mostly on natural lighting or fairly small setups when inside, handheld camera operating, if not sticks (tripod), and a high amount of creative improvisations with shots including having my DP hang half outside a window, while me and one of my friends held onto him for dear life, to capture the shot that made the poster of the film... I think this is all worthy of a little more recognition.
But then again, maybe that would yet again create greater dissatisfaction. Because where the film is now doesn't necessarily bother me. I am very happy with and grateful of all the feedback I've been getting from friends online, professors and colleagues in real life. Both the positive and negative assessments have been extremely helpful and it really is reassuring to know that a few people really *get* what the film is about and what it's showing. That some have related to it deeply. It would be really surprising for me to believe that a wide mass of people would praise this film, as a lot of people really do not know what mental health or mental illness really looks like. Let alone in a year when a facile film like Joker made a billion dollars. Let alone after hearing responses from a bunch of festival programmer boomers saying what I mentioned before as if depression is supposed to be an overly dramatic three-act structure or like it's been depicted in already existing pop culture. I've heard people tell me that the themes in Take Me Out aren't entirely original either, as in everyone has been depressed or angry at one point or another. Now, to that I entirely agree. In fact, I do not want to sound like a pussy emo bitch and say what I've struggled with is worse than what anyone else has or that no one understands it, because I know that's bullshit. I know there are already tons of other terrible and incompetent student films that show a very misleading representation of sadness and loneliness and grief as very surface level plot devices that usually end up a character being sad for 6 minutes while sad music plays and then ends with them either finding love or some other bullshit. Any filmmaker or Christopher Jordan Farrow in the world can make something and claim it's the next Godfather, and anyone can play a critic and tear something apart if they really wanted to. However, in spite of all this; the downplays and the ridiculousness of people's expectations and understanding of mental illness, I believe Take Me Out takes a big diversion from all of this by doing one or two things differently:
It ignores (film) cliches of loss or externalized pain in favor for something much more deeply internal that comes from a deeply personal place, and it uses authenticity and ambiguity to a huge fault. And like any good film, it's influenced by even greater ones, which I think is painfully apparent (also to a fault). And yes, a lot of people tell personal stories and are influenced by other shit too.
I just want people to know that I went 100% with this. I didn't want to hold anything back or only show a part of my vision. And the thing that separates this from the barriers of a more conventional piece is that it is supposed to be viewed as a deeply internal experience. It was shot that way, it was acted and performed that way, it was scored and edited that way (in a sense that the music I used pretty much represents what I hear when I'm gone), and the darkest moments of the story were based on things that were real or close to what actually happened.
Those holes in the bathroom door were real. I made them in the months leading up to the shoot out of my own inner-destruction lashing out. I've lashed out at people and torn things apart like in that room destruction scene countless times in my life. The cuts carved into Brian's (Bruce's) leg in the bathroom scene that reads 'FUCK YOU' are real. They've been there for years. The window scene and the bathroom scenes themselves were placed from my own two attempts from back living in NYC. Yes, of course there were some elements that were just part of the narrative's fiction like the whole guitar element and the context of Bruce's family and relationships.
If it were truly 100% real, the film would consist a lot of lying in bed and conversational fuck ups, blocked thoughts and yelling out the window. Walking around the streets at 3am or playing pool in an empty lounge.
However, the inclusion of those fictional aspects should not make the inclusion of them any less weighted. Playing the guitar and going out in public were the two things that made Bruce truly go outside his comfort zone, although he remained trapped inside his head for the majority of those spaces because his inherency is rooted in comfort and not being able to break the walls his cage has built.
The tenacious close-ups that don't allow the audience to see the city or people around him further cements this whole feeling of internalization and isolation. Truly being a prisoner of Bruce's own mind and POV without being able to freak free and focus on how to function in, interact with, or pay attention to the extent of the world around him. He feels inadequate about something and then hears voices in his own head the reinforce even more negativity, leading to further destruction. The voices we heard were mostly my own, but they were supposed to be pertinent to Bruce's in the more autobiographical standing.
When he's confronted with the faults in his own behavior and the mere mention of people or things that make him uncomfortable he shuts down and lashes out.
His words and lines of dialogue were also designed to be delivered as internalizations to further encapsulate the audience inside his headspace. What he said were mostly lines I had written at one point or another to sort of express how it felt.
Because to be honest, what I had at the time and what I was trying to portray in Bruce (as a schizoaffective form of depression inside his early phases of consciously being able to grapple with and understand it, feeling like it had no known cause and was just what it is) -- what these early phases of depression or grappling with a mental illness is that it doesn't always look and sound the way people who haven't been there would expect. Despite the fact that millions of people struggle with mental illnesses, no one case or experience ever really, truly, conforms to expectations. And from my point of view, in what I was trying to reflect in Bruce, the lines he said were literal thoughts I've had in the past and were, especially now seeing in retrospect, intended to alienate a lot of people as it came across as too self-expressive and philosophical, almost emo. It's not what people would expect the conversation like that of inside the diner to go, but it's the reality of the lines of thoughts that go through the mind.
Of course at any given time in my life or anyone's life who has suffered with this, the tendency to shut down or become complacent in any form of conversation to let yourself be at ease in the comfort zone your unconscious mind has habitually developed is usually inevitable. Much like I will be further exploring in re:attachment through the lens of a dissociative disorder as a result of childhood sexual trauma, it is a confounded reality.
Sometimes it's just plain anxiety, sometimes it's doing dumb, random shit to mask out the discomfort. Nevertheless, it is something that is common to many, and unique to affected individuals.
However, the real angle of this story, with all its subtleties, and yes - expositional lines of dialogue and background, was to show Bruce's depression at its tipping point. At a point where all of his unconscious repression and willfully conscious suppression of his internal anguish became unhideable. Lashing out at Mark and destroying his room; yelling and hyperventilating was all he could surface... all he needed to surface. Searching for answers to his state of mind only worsened it: Thinking it was grief from witnessing his best friend get hit by a car in front of his, resorting to recalling past and ongoing family issues, thinking about past relationships, visualizing images of his pyschiatrist in his mind and screaming about his brother and his own experience with taking antidepressant medications. The point is - all of this was a factor and none of it was a factor.
Admittedly, my understanding of my own depression and the world of mental health was much lesser than it is now. When I was 18/19, living in New York City during my first year of college, I really didn't know shit or understand shit about myself. This is very apparent in the film itself as it reflects Bruce's understanding of himself and the root of his pain. and how searching through a bunch of external events like deaths and breakups as the root of his problem.
In a way, the film very much exists as a time piece, and as I've been saying, my future work will reflect a much more deepened understanding of myself and the world around me as much as Take Me Out is still very entry level to that sort of extent; at least now in my eyes.
Again, back to the point - I really wanted to solidify the importance of the message of my film. It can easily be dumbed down to "we all have to move forward with our lives" , but the point is that it isn't that simple. Suicide and all the brain patterns and biochemical imbalances that lead people to depression... the trauma and detachments or alterations to our vital nervous systems in our body that lead us to perceive stimuli differently, which leads to a buildup of differing positive and negative enforcement over time; typically a scarcity of the former and an abundance of the latter in people with mental health issues. And it's not even that I'm simplifying it into a typical good vs. bad dichotomy, because emotions are not finite substances that can necessarily be categorized into such. It's just the fact that our developed neural pathways and streamlined sense of consciousness leads up to conform to the status quo of our minds.
Bruce has remained in his comfort zone for his entire life, and even worse, refused to confront the essence of fear and necessary change that would so-to-speak bring him from his own darkness into the light -- which is really just the part of our lives or awareness that we have not discovered or known to exist yet. A pretty easy analogy for this phenomena, which ironically fits right into what I'm writing about-- is an introvert slowly becoming more open and outgoing by participating in activities he would normally have no access to without people around him who literally bring him out. You do not know your boundaries and capabilities; your world, until you access them.
To a fault, people see this sort of introversion as a disability, a tip of the iceberg in a world full of fucking magic per say. I tend to see it as the opposite, because sure - too much introspection can be disabling, but back to what I was saying at the beginning, and more towards the theme of the film - so many people just don't fucking get it.
They don't understand themselves, they don't understand their deepest emotions, the meaning behind their thoughts and behavior-- they don't grasp the concept of all this shit I've been talking about and live very surface lives as a part of a system. A system that requires tons of breaks and excess that a character like Bruce would feel empty about not being able to fully partake in or be present with, but would open up an entirely new gate with. Neither is good or bad, and sure being alone and introspective can give you a much more profound and cavernous understanding of how people really wire and function, and eventually an insight into how the world really works and runs, but if it robs you of any happiness or inclusion in life, then what is the point? If you're constantly searching and recessing inward, you're just as alive as all the people on the surface; which is an illusion, which is fucking dead. Of course a lot of this material isn't fully explored or even entirely relevant to Take Me Out, more so just the subtext and philosophy behind my worldview and the introspection of people like Bruce and many others, but to be fair I wasn't really even thinking like this when I wrote it. So much of it is retrospective and yet developing, but I really wanted to offer this perspective.
The perspective of what I now believe to be a severe dissociative disorder that I have been living with for the most of my life.
This doesn't reflect Bruce, and it will much more reflect Carter, the protagonist of my next film, but much of the background is still prevalent nonetheless. And despite this, and Carter, and Bruce, and me, and what sets us apart and brings us together is the shared experience with reality and being an outsider. I've known what it's like to be looked at as weird an awkward for most of my life. I've had the privilege of hearing slip ups of that very truth throughout my life, more recently from conversations on the phone with girls telling me to never contact them again. When I was a kid by teachers and principals at this shitfuck Catholic school I went to I was told I was a demon and a psychopath. I've heard the full range of things from that to that I'm a normal person and that nothing's wrong with me. I've touched on the subtleties I notice in people's energy and vibrations when they're around me in my Oslo, August 31st entry from back in July. So, in the grand scheme of things, that is the prevalence of my reality. That is how I've always been seen and how I most likely always will be seen, because like me and them, there is no fucking off switch. Being normal would be a sedation and a lie. And at the end of the day, it all begins with acceptance. It's the bane of most or all inadequacies, and once you destroy the notion of needing to be accepted by people who don't give a shit about you, about a system that you never have and will conform to (and vice versa), that's the first step to being able to survive. This is what I will be exploring in my work for the rest of my life. And yes, I have a long way to go. Take Me Out is only the beginning, and again, it would be unfair and almost feel wrong for me to receive more widespread acclaim for this film considering it's background, the somewhat lacking (although incredulously relevant) point of view I had when I made it, its narrative faults and all the other missteps I took during pre-production. By natural law, the film should not have even been finished. I mean that kind of ironically, and I'll elaborate more on that in my IGTV video tonight, but in all seriousness, I think it's done the job it needed to for now in terms of connecting with a small crowd of people, and I can hope for its following to grow over time. I wasn't in the correct place to be an award winning filmmaker two years ago, and I was naive to think my film would have been a tier 1 contender. I have a long way to go, but I truly think re:attachment is going to be a huge step forward, and hopefully people will begin to take me more seriously. That's something I have to work on too regarding my in person delivery and articulation, but I still hope.
And back to the connecting point of Bruce, being trapped inside your own mind is something I wish for no one. It might sound like some cheesy prep talk mumbo jumbo, but it's real. Depression is real. Bipolar is real. Borderline is real. Dissociative and schizoaffective disorders are real. Mental illnesses are real outside of being depressed or sad for a day or two. And yeah, they are classified by names created under a system, but they are still real.
The full extent of not being able to escape the voices of your own thoughts and the walls of what your own mind allows you to focus on or participate in is something I don't think I'll ever fully be able to communicate, but like what Bruce came to say during the final monologue in his suicide note... moving forward isn't easy.
Escaping those pathways that have built and grounded your status quo isn't easy. Finding answers isn't easy. But the point was that he is finally taking a step *out*.
As much as he dreamed about running on the beach with some girl who isn't real, he realizes that he is alone in his battle.
Of course no one is ever alone. About 3 or 4% of the world population has *identified cases and diagnosis' of depression or having a depressive episode that crippled their lives. Sure, that's a small percentage, but it's about 300M people.
So yes, no one is ever alone. I'm not trying to send out a bad message. I'm just trying to say that sometimes only you can truly figure out who you are and what went wrong with you and how to personally cope with all that shit and move forward. No one else understands you or knows you as well as you do. And, unfortunately, like many - Bruce is actually alone in that battle. He's lost everyone and wants to leave his life behind. He doesn't trust medical doctors, and what have you. He set down his guitar for one last time. We see his room empty and whispering in the wind during the final frames as if his ghost is still floating in the presence of that space. We see him driving away in a fancy car at the end, under a tunnel, into a new light. Of course that isn't real, but it isn't meant to be. Yes, the reality is that many people do not make it out, and I did not want to sugarcoat that in the slightest because what I wrote out for that monologue and showcased throughout the story was a punch in the gut. And yes, not everything has a happy ending and not everyone just finds love that can save them. However, the point of the film was not to be that fucking hopeless. It's a reality, and it's an epidemic, but I've made sure and fight every day to make sure it doesn't become my reality. The point of my ending was to turn the camera on the audience so to speak and make them decide for themselves whether or not Bruce took his life, or took hold of his life, and in this decision I wanted each audience member who had the capacity to think this way reflect on what kind of person they are based on their answer. "Take Me Out" is meant to mean different things for different people. For Bruce, he has committed himself to finding his answers and some semblance of acceptance-- and moving forward. Never on, maybe not even necessarily 'forward' , but in a different direction that hopefully doesn't conform to where he's 'been'
Whether or not he killed himself isn't the point, and it never was.
*I hope this write up was helpful or insightful into anyone who read all the way through. I rambled quite a bit and feel like I haven't even typed everything I wanted, but again, you can only do so much before your mind runs off its rails... and for now I feel released.
I'll be talking more about the production process of it all in my IGTV video, and if any of you have any questions or comments please reach out to me. I cannot be more grateful to the few of you who show endless support, and I wish you all the best during this whole goddamn pandemic.