February 24th 2010 Wristcutters: A Love Story

Movie scenes with long partings in train stations always make me more tense than any other scenes. The protagonist is about to board a train, his carry-on sitting on the platform, exchanging a heartfelt goodbye with a close friend or lover; meanwhile, the conductor is crying “All aboard!” and trying to rustle up the passengers. I’m always afraid that the train is going to leave without the one character who absolutely has to get on that train. Wristcutters: A Love Story contains a scene with one such goodbye. Although it occurs near the end of the film, it’s not a pivotal scene, but it made me feel more anxious than most of the other scenes in the movie. Maybe I’m just bad at goodbyes, or maybe in the past couple years I’ve had too many farewells take place on train platforms, but this scene, like others, awakens a primal fear inside of me.

Wristcutters is a low-budget indie film written and directed by Croatian filmmaker Goran Dukic. The film stars Patrick Fugit of Almost Famous as Zia, a young man who, after killing himself, finds himself in a purgatorial alternate reality for people who have committed suicide. Along the way he meets up with Eugene, a Russian musician who killed himself after being booed off the stage at a performance. When Zia learns that his ex-girlfriend and suicidal catalyst Desiree also killed herself and is now living in this world as well, he strikes out in search of her with Eugene. Along the way, they meet Mikal, a young woman who insists she didn’t commit suicide and is there by mistake, and is searching for the mythical “People in Charge” who have the power to bring her back to life.

Despite the cheesy title and seemingly silly plot line, Wristcutters features quirky, witty black comedy that contrasts sharply with the serious topic of the film. The middle of the film is a standard road movie, with awkward humor occurring as relationships build between characters who have no business hanging out together. Eugene’s car has a black hole under the front passenger seat that consumes numerous items—sunglasses, cassette tapes, and the like—to comic effect. The road trip portion of Wristcutters also features long, sweeping shots of a bleak desert that emphasizes the characters’ isolation and desperation. The cast of quirky characters our travelers meet along the way, and the weird locations in which they find themselves, propel the movie forward at a relaxed yet directed clip.

In contrast to the wittiness of the first two-thirds of the film, I found the ending to be woefully anticlimactic. Wristcutters suffers from Third-Act Syndrome: the tension of the film builds, but the release at the end is lackluster. I never felt that Zia really loved Desiree, at least not enough to pursue her for several days across the bleak landscape of the suicidal purgatory. Mikal, of course, provides a counterpoint to Zia’s relationship with Desiree, but Zia didn’t have any chemistry with Mikal, either. This may be due to the performances of the main characters, which I found to be mostly flat and emotionless.

More importantly, Wristcutters had the potential to make a good point, but the moral questions surrounding suicide were never resolved or even brought up in any significant way. In fact, I found the film’s attitude towards suicide to be superficial. Almost all the main characters killed themselves for immature reasons (Zia because of a breakup, Eugene because no one took him seriously as a musician, and so forth). Minor characters’ suicides are often shown in short clips interspersed within the main action of the film. The suicides are treated lightly, even comically, although that’s somewhat understandable because everyone in this limbo is there for that reason, and the treatment of it as a joke provides an ironic twist on the usual seriousness of the subject. Even so, one of the messages at the end of the film seems to be that, if someone hurts you, killing yourself is a surefire way to make her regret her “transgression”. And while the point of the film seems to be that everyone’s life is worth living, the depiction of suicide borders on mockery, and the movie at times seems to suggest that life isn’t that valuable at all.

Despite my criticism of Wristcutters, I actually enjoyed it. The film is witty, fresh, and rife with dark comedy, and despite its flaws, I would watch it again. In fact, I think the film may warrant subsequent viewings; I feel there may have been subtle cues I missed in my initial viewing. If I were the sort of reviewer that gave out stars, I think I’d only give Wristcutters 3 out of 5, but I still encourage interested film fanatics to take a look it. I wouldn’t exactly call it a “diamond in the rough”, but it’s a surprisingly decent film given its humble origins.