In Rachel Lambert’s Sometimes I Think About Dying, the protagonist — a young office worker named Fran (Daisy Ridley) — leads a scheduled life both at work and at home. She reports to her assigned cubicle every morning, sifts through spreadsheet after spreadsheet with quiet finesse, and generally avoids partaking in office chatter. After work, Fran heads home to an equally quiet neighborhood, pouring herself a glass of red wine and whipping up some cottage cheese while tackling a book of Sudokus. Her mother calls, but she does not pick up. Over dinner, Fran gazes out of her window at the mountainous terrain of the Pacific Northwest. She has visions, inexplicably, of herself dying: of her body lying in painterly repose amidst woodlands and beaches, her the subject of eternal finitude. But they’re mere visions, not realities, as Fran duly goes to bed way before midnight and rises way before most of us tend to. A new day beckons, and she’s there to receive it.
Is Fran depressed? Mentally ill? Suicidal? Passively so? Lambert does not quite give a diagnosis, although it’s probably apparent that Fran displays, on the whole, an antisocial behavior inconsistent with — but respectfully tolerated by — her co-workers. They’re a depressingly cheerful bunch, emblematic of the polite if also alienating camaraderie instituted by the middle manager, and Lambert’s film by and large depicts Fran’s unspecified McJob through a lightly satirical lens. But she’s also clear to emphasize how Fran actually likes her job, and so for anyone who’s about to whole-heartedly relate to and sympathize with the film’s seemingly blatant Marxist thesis, what gives? The answer doesn’t quite arrive, or maybe it does, albeit subtly, in the form of Robert (Dave Merheje), her balding and bespectacled new coworker whom we later learn has been twice-divorced and has never held a proper job.
Robert and Fran’s budding relationship begins early on in Dying, as the film soon moves beyond its compartmentalized, almost diaristic methodology to scope out the minuscule ebbs and flows of their interactions. He’s something of a movie buff, which she can’t quite understand; she takes delight and possibly pride in her command of Excel and Slack, which he doesn’t quite comprehend. Apart from the generically-sketched archetypes these two individuals inhabit, however, Dying neglects to explore the possible routes they might take in influencing each other, except where emotionally expedient to do so. Consequently, much of Lambert’s film evinces the thematic stiltedness of a mood-piece, its drolly Anderssonian canvas primed for minimally indie acclaim and its 4:3 aspect ratio driving home this lovely, marketable point.
But perhaps “indie” might be unfairly derogatory to what Lambert ostensibly envisions as an empathetic and compassionate portrait of the many who suffer, or at least merely subsist, in unassuming silence. Based on Stefanie Abel Horowitz’s eponymous 2019 short, Sometimes I Think About Dying liberalizes many of our preconceived notions of mental health and illness as an inherently fractious and unstable enterprise of extreme temperaments; that Lambert takes pains to not color Fran’s worldview with the stabilizing frictions of melodrama is already commendable, when one considers all the unsavory prospects expressed in her fatalistic title. Nevertheless, two objections remain, the first pertaining to Fran’s persistent lack of interiority as an individual consisting of more than her hours auditing corporate matrices. Lambert’s surrealistic flourishes grow stale after the first handful show up — there’s something inexpressibly condescending about viewing a third-person tableau vivant of a single character, moodily withdrawing from this world, as constitutive of subjective consciousness. The second, somewhat more avoidable frustration surfaces in the denouement, when we’re told – by way of Fran’s recently retired colleague – how precious life is, how the little moments add up despite being little, how reticence a worthwhile life does not make, etc. There’s a surreptitious emotional calculus behind the languid rhythms of Sometimes I Think About Dying, and it hampers an otherwise well-intentioned and skilfully crafted meditation on living and dying — the two inevitable sides of being human.
DIRECTOR: Rachel Lambert; CAST: Daisy Ridley, Dave Merheje, Parveesh Cheena; DISTRIBUTOR: Oscilloscope Laboratories; IN THEATERS: January 26; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 31 min.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 5.