Life is short, or so they say. True, except for those whom it is infinite. For whom suffering is not just a pervasive and all-encompassing reality, but also the only key to survival! Yes, we are talking about terminally ill patients – for whom life often seems impossible and death appears to be always so close, yet so far.
Watch ‘Chronic’, a 2015 English film by the young Mexican director Michel Franco, to partake in the stories of such men and women who knew the infinity of human suffering. The film stars English actor and director Tim Roth in the lead role of David – a highly committed, professional and effective male nurse who seeks to alleviate this suffering by his cool-headed and warm-hearted care. His steadfast dedication for the welfare of his patients means that he enters into very strong relationships with every person he cares for. So much so that his life revolves around his patients; he needs them, as much as they need him.
The director narrates the story powerfully, effortlessly and evocatively through a screenplay that bagged the Best Screenplay award at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. The resounding sound of silence has been used very effectively by Michel Franco in infusing a mystical depth, mysterious beauty and intense solemnity into each and every scene. This has been beautifully accomplished by employing a silence that is not only acoustic, but visual, temporal and narrative as well. The multidimensional use of silence plays a central role in instilling an extraordinary ordinariness and effervescent vitality into scenes which portray strings of micro-events that are in isolation absolutely commonplace and highly forgettable.
Acoustic silence has been used by tapping exclusively into the voice of natural sounds to communicate thematic gravity. For example, as David bids a reluctant euthanasia-based farewell to a cancer patient who insisted that enough is more than enough, the gentle sound of the plastic cover containing the ‘final’ syringes sends a chill not only to the heart of the dying patient, but also to those of the anxious audience. It brings into sharp relief, the persistent monotony of tragedy and the gruelling inevitability of suffering in the lives of these souls – to which death appears to be the only effective tonic.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, an ‘incomplete’ one is worth a million! This is what ‘Chronic’ teaches us. The lady weeps inconsolably and he seeks to comfort her, but they are not to be seen; three of them are sharing a drink and a piece of their heart, but we get to see one of them only in the crucible of our imagination. The multitude of such scenes, strung together in a wonderful fashion, have led to the delivery of an exceptionally authentic experience of stark reality.
Time stands still in the film, but only to the ever-impatient. The slowness within a scene, coupled with the fast and seamless transition between scenes, vests in the film a distinct richness and unique profundity. It is eminently capable in bringing out the timeless value and eternal meaning of the traumas of terminal illness, played out through a seemingly ceaseless succession of moments which are otherwise fleeting and apparently inconsequential.
The film employs narrative silence too, impelling the viewer to not only connect the dots, but to locate the frame as well. The confluence and interplay of the different types of quietude is reflected in the characters too. There is a mystery waiting to be discovered and explored in every character – a mystery that never ceases to amaze, that promises to be different for each one, each time it is experienced.
Yes, the film stands out for its remarkable ability in not only telling a story, but also in its awe-inspiring power in making its audience co-creators and active participants in the storytelling process. By providing a multi-layered silence to the essential fabric as well as individual elements of the movie, the filmmakers gift the audience a very rich and precious emotional, cognitive and intellectual interpretive space – a space that is full of boundless possibilities for the imaginative explorer of life. It thus enables everyone who is interested in human suffering to themselves explore, rediscover and better appreciate the infinity and beauty of this chronic redemptive and cathartic human condition.
Fittingly, the film ends on an infinite note, in an infinitesimal moment. Delve deep into this singularly beautiful portrayal of humanity, which was screened at the just-concluded International Film Festival of India 2015! To know infinity, yourself and others – better, ever better!
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”
– “Auguries of Innocence”, by William Blake.