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Till Human Voices Wake Us is a film so preoccupied with its own ethereality that it offers nothing more than plaintive music and longing stares to sputter the narrative along. Guy Pearce is Dr. Sam Franks, a psychiatrist who returns to his bucolic Australian hometown to bury his father. Sam’s lack of emotion as his father’s eyes are closed for the final time at first seems indicative of a troubled relationship, but not much thought is given to Dad thereafter. Sam’s long, hard look at a photo of a girl that he finds in his childhood home suggests instead that lost love is what’s eating him. Astute
viewersOK, anybody who didn’t miss the first few minuteswho noted Sam’s earlier lecture on active and passive memory loss will realize that this guy is repression personified, reacting to no one and no thing. Much of the movie is told in flashback, playing out Sam’s relationship with the leg-braced girl in the picture, Silvy (Brooke Harman), one syrupy summer. As ick as their interactions areshe reads T.S. Eliot and says things like “You can smell things better when it’s quiet!”; he holds buzzing beetles to her ear and plays her stupid smell game!Harman and Lindley Joyner, Sam’s young incarnation, are the film’s only breath of life. The ponderous present, unfortunately, keeps coming back to sink the mood. One stormy night, Sam perfunctorily rescues a woman he sees fall off a bridge and brings her home. Ruby (Helena Bonham Carter) wakes up the next day with no memorynot even of their brief encounter on a train days before. Ruby’s soaked, lightning-framed image on the bridge is the official start of Voices’ eeriness, but as well as Bonham Carter’s pallid complexion and wild hair lend themselves to ghostliness, her amnesiac is too dull to suggest she’s anything other than a local nut. (Especially ridiculous is when she quotes her own turn as Ophelia by running barefoot through the woods, Sam chasing behind with, at last, a bit of a grin on his face.) There’s little dialogue in Voices, with the actors more often posing prettily against green backdrops while the audience surmises their thoughts, feelings…hell, the movie’s entire objective. What exactly does Sam get out of Ruby’s acquaintance? And who is Rubya figment of his imagination? An honest-to-god ghost? Till Human Voices Wake Us gives these questions a delicately spooky and a rather lovely framework, but one that ultimately hangs empty. Tricia Olszewski