Award-winning filmmaker L. Marcus Williams doesn't know me.
He doesn't know that we share certain aspects of our journeys, mostly those aspects of his own life that inspired Lifeline, an exceptional dramatic short that served as Williams's thesis film at Brooklyn College where he graduated with a BA in Film Production. The film, not surprisingly, was voted by the faculty as best thesis film of the year while Williams picked up prizes for Best Director and Best Editing at the 2018 Brooklyn College Film Festival. Additionally, Lifeline picked up a Student Grant Award from the National Board of Review.
But, let's go back to that common bond.
Williams has openly acknowledged that the film is inspired by his own experiences, both as a survivor of attempted suicide and as a hotline operator. After my own wife committed suicide in my early 20s, I very nearly followed her path, actually attempting on multiple occasions, but found my way into a career in suicide intervention having worked in an emergency room setting for nearly 10 years before jumping off that wagon and into the more governmental side of disability and mental health issues.
Again, a common bond unspoken until Lifeline brought it to the surface.
Now then, by now you've likely figured out that Lifeline centers around the issue of suicide intervention with a story that involves Iris (Katlin Leslie), a woman who has resolved to commit suicide by overdose but has called the local suicide hotline to say goodbye.
Iris reaches Ray (Dan Parilis), whose telephonic presence is simultaneously one of functional effectiveness and surprising warmth.
The two instantly "click," not because of any absurd chemistry or silly twist in storyline, but in the way one feels when you realize that you are, in fact, in the presence of someone with whom you are safe.
If you've ever called a suicide hotline, or you've ever worked a suicide hotline, you understand. Sometimes, in an almost magical way, you reach just the right person who says all the right things and listens in all the right ways and whose entire presence seems to scream out "You're safe here!"
Williams has shot much of Lifeline with a split screen, an approach that appear gimmicky but an approach that works absolutely sublimely here as both Leslie and Parilis are extraordinary at conveying oceans of swirling thoughts and emotions through their facial expressions and the ways in which they use bridge-building language. Leslie gives an absolutely stellar performance here, her Iris brimming with heartbreaking vulnerability yet subtle shards of light and glimmers of hope. It's a tremendous performance you won't easily forget.
Given the task of playing against the depth of Leslie's Iris, Parilis masterfully and with great discipline portrays the constant struggle of companioning someone through their darkest moments and practically willing them to hold on when every fiber of their being wants to let go. While one might say that some liberties are taken in the area of self-revelation, such an issue is a constant struggle for those who work, voluntarily or otherwise, within mental health in determining when and where and how and to what degree self-revelation enters the picture.
In this case? One might say, a few moments of vulnerability may very well have built a desperately needed bridge.
As a film journalist, there's no question that my job is to critically evaluate a film as effectively as possible. Yet, inevitably every human being brings into the equation thoughts and feelings and beliefs and life experiences. That's why, for me, the goal is less about total objectivity and much more about sharing critical evaluation alongside the experience of a film.
Indeed, I would be lying if I said less than I felt every moment of Lifeline from the loss of my wife and other significant losses to those whose direct intervention kept me going until I could keep myself going. Lifeline captures it all and captures it with honesty, sincerity, aching transparency and more than a little wonder.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic