directed by Ian Barnes
written by Tom Bidwell
starring Samuel Holland, Jim Carter, Chanel Cresswell, Jodie Whittaker, Dean Andrews
The agonizing reality of cancer is treated with smart humor and tenderness in this Oscar-nominated short out of the U.K. directed by Ian Barnes.
David (Holland) is a sixteen year-old who is granted a final wish which normally involves meeting footballers or other typical adolescent projected fantasies. He, however, only wants to get laid and particularly with a young woman named Amy (Cresswell) who he’s fancied for years as they are childhood friends. When she visits he quickly realizes that his wish with this young woman will not be satisfied leaving him a bit jarred and somewhat disappointed. We later learn that David’s actual wish is something much deeper than mere random sex and far more touching and vital.
The story focuses on the relationship between David and the hospital chaplain (Carter) whose whimsical Priestly behavior is far from conventional. He takes David’s wish to heart and provides him an opportunity to satisfy it with a prostitute named Maggie (Whittaker). Here we are afforded an opportunity to see two pained, lonely human beings come together in a brief exchange that transcends the bitter, cold emptiness of the simple physicality of a sexual experience. He wants something much less complicated and yet much more profoundly moving. What Maggie offers him is soothing and nonjudgmental. In her quiet way she gives him solace and comfort which the cancer eating away at him denies him. These scenes are delicately handled in a very simple and direct cinematic style that manages to convey both David’s growing awareness of his own mortality and the simple way a person can momentarily free another of a pressing, toxic burden.
Fruit plays a key role throughout the film as David’s only reading material is a book that provides knowledge of the characteristics of a variety of fruits. He knows the sizes of fruits and how their sizes correspond to those of tumors. As the film progresses so does the size of David’s tumor and we are reminded that this boy is facing the end as nothing can be done to return his life to him. Still, he’s upbeat, not whiny or defeatist. He just wants to be with a woman who for that moment wants to be with him. But, by the traditionalist channels of the Make-a-Wish group who grants wishes to terminal cancer patients it is a no-go. Fortunately David has a friend who despite his collar and Catholic affiliations is willing to bend the rules of propriety for the sake of the cause.
The film features a stunning and devastating line that manages to sum up the film perfectly. The Priest explains how sex must be accompanied by Love and David says softly “What if you don’t have time to fall in Love?” In an instant we are inside David’s head and surveying a future that is doomed to be all-too brief. The one thing that most humans take for granted as a birthright will not be afforded him and he comprehends its cruel logic. But he is given a chance to approximate it in a instant of relief that shivers the soul with its immediacy and necessity.
Overall, the film manages to be uplifting despite its somber subject matter mostly because David and the Priest are such vivid characters who are fully fleshed-out. Samuel Holland’s eyes are alive yet certainly tinged with just a bit of sadness that is never over-played. This is far from a hand-wringing exercise about the sad plight of a terminal patient who succumbs to the easy route of victim status. He’s vibrant in a way that provides one with something approximating hope regarding the human capacity for joy amidst the most harrowing circumstances. He’s a kid with a simple wish but he’s also a delightfully snarky young man who hasn’t lost the ability to play silly games for his and his chaplain’s amusement. The film works because it is very funny and there is a bit of devilry from the most unexpected sources which challenges our views on what is proper conduct for a man of the cloth with his own cheeky bent.