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Sundance 2023 Review: Sometimes I Think About Dying – “A quiet yet thoughtful depiction of someone experiencing social awkwardness”

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | Photo By Dustin Lane

Sometimes I Think About Dying opens with some elegant shots of a small town in Oregon and its surrounding nature.  It’s mostly grey, rainy, damp (I feel it even watching from my couch) and yet director Rachel Lambert finds beauty here in the stunning visual of a sunrise, or a deer walking down a set of stairs.  These moments are just like how Fran (Daisy Ridley) lives her life.  They are quiet and still with no need for exuberance.

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Fran lives a life of routine.  Each morning she goes to work at the port authority, working on spreadsheets, something she takes pride in being very good at.  In her cubicle at the office it’s almost as if she isn’t there.  Her colleagues all chat to one another, but Fran largely tunes it out.  Things happen around Fran, not to her.  And then she returns home, pours a glass of wine and eats some microwavable dish topped with her favourite food, cottage cheese.  She does her sudoku, ignores calls from her mom, then she goes to bed only to start all over again.

But there is one thing Fran does to inject some form of feeling in her life.  Sometimes she thinks about dying – watching out the window she imagines herself hanging from the crane outside, or being a feast for bugs laying dead on the forest floor.  These macabre fantasies of death get her through the mundane nature of her days.  That is until Robert (Dave Merheje) starts working at the office and instills some change to Fran’s routine.  He shows interest in her, and despite her best efforts to stay closed off and isolated, Robert may just be able to break Fran out of her shell or, at least, crack it just a little.

Sometimes I Think About Dying is based on the 2019 short film by Stefanie Abel Horowitz (you can watch it here).  In the short film, we are privy to Fran’s inner thoughts, but with enough space to expand in the feature version, we feel Fran’s thoughts and visions through a wonderful performance from Daisy Ridley.  This film, and role of Fran, is different than anything she’s really done to date and her best work.  It’s truly a showcase for her talents, and nice to see her shine (or not really, as the role truly demands).  Fran is a complex character, one who requires a certain vulnerability and Ridley makes this person, who has difficulty connecting, interesting and empathetic to the audience without even speaking for the first thirteen minutes of the film.  While Ridley was great in Star Wars, I’m certainly game to now see her career move in this direction.

Director Rachel Lambert crafts a restrained and unassuming feature that revels in its awkward silences and yet has the privilege of utilizing a beautiful and expressive score from composer Dabney Morris.  It can be so difficult for a film where the central character is so quiet, so isolated from their surroundings, to create a greater sense of emotion and engagement, but the music certainly helps here.

Sometimes I Think About Dying isn’t for everyone, some will still find it too slow-paced for their liking.  It does lack action, but not momentum.   It is deliberate and purposeful and benefits from its 90-minute run time that makes sure it doesn’t overstay its welcome.  I found it to be a quiet yet thoughtful depiction of someone experiencing social awkwardness.  For those that can identify with the exhaustion that can come from social gatherings and expectations on an introvert, you will find this film only too relevant and relatable.

Sometimes I Think About Dying premiered January 19th at the Sundance Film Festival, with in person screenings scheduled until the 27th.  For those in the United States, an online screening is available January 24th.  For more information visit the festival website.

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