PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Film

In Amy Seimetz's 'She Dies Tomorrow', Death Is Neither Delusion Nor Denial

Kate Lyn Sheil as Amy in She Dies Tomorrow (2020) (Courtesy of Neon Films)

Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow makes one wonder, is it possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?

She Die’s Tomorrow
Amy Seimetz

Neon (US)

31 July 2020 (Drive In Theatres - US) 7 August 2020 (On Demand - US)

Other

Amy Seimetz's sophomore feature, She Dies Tomorrow (2019) leaves little to the imagination. Its premise is as simple as its title – a woman, Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) wakes up from a dream and thinks she's going to die tomorrow. She's a recovering alcoholic, and when her friend Jane (Jane Adams) arrives at her new house and finds empty wine bottles in the kitchen, she immediately dismisses Amy's paranoia because she's "loaded". Soon the paranoia spreads, and Jane, her brother Jason (Chris Messina) and his wife Susan (Katie Aselton), all begin to think they're going to die tomorrow.

Death has been a recurring preoccupation for filmmakers, who have presented it in a physical, spiritual and paranormal form. From death as a hitchhiker in Fritz Lang's silent film Destiny (Der müde Tod, 1921), to the grim reaper playing a game of chess with a knight in Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957). In more recent years, it was spirits, including one's struggle with earthly separation in M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense (1999), and as fate in The Final Destination (2000-2011) series.

Seimetz is playful with her contribution, presenting death as a dream or flashing lights that transmit from person to person. She doesn't present the cause as a traditional pathogen, but as a contagious paranormal sensory awareness of death. Regardless of the form it takes, the commonality that links these films is that they show death as being arbitrary.

One of the ideas that interests Seimetz is the sense we have of our mortality. In the middle of a conversation at Susan's birthday party, a grown woman obsessed with dolphins fucking, Jane quotes the French philosopher Albert Camus: "Humans are the only animal or creature that pretends to be what it's not." She incorrectly quotes him, but no one is aware. The actual quote reads, "Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is." Jane is referring to the certainty of death and our complacency towards this inescapable truth.

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

A more apt but less subtle quote would have been from the French-Romanian philosopher Emile M. Cioran, who wrote in his 1934 work, On the Height's of Despair (Pe culmile disperării), "One of the greatest delusions of the average man is to forget that life is death's prisoner."

It's not about delusion or denial, it's the practice of compartmentalization. We are programmed to compartmentalize our experiences and what we know. This mechanism allows us to work and to live life, without which we would be slaves to fear. So many of us live expecting to wake up the next morning, gauging our aspirations according to our age, betting on life expectancy as some sort of assurance of the time we have remaining.

In She Dies Tomorrow, this defence mechanism is penetrated and the characters are forced to face their mortality. The film is an awakening of anxiety for the characters, who respond differently. The audience also share in their anxiety. It makes us face our mortality. Would we want to live a life motivated by knowing the day of our death, or is continuing through the practice of compartmentalization preferable? The choice is the anxiety of knowing versus not knowing, but again, our lives move along to the beat of death's drum, and the true anxiety is in neither, it's in a humbling lack of control.

Seimetz combines comedy and drama with a haunting and disquieting effect. She steers away from horror while still telling a story in the form of a nightmare. Where the film becomes interesting is in the question, who's nightmare is it? It's possible that the film is a dream inside of a dream -- Amy's inside of the filmmaker's.

The first 15-minutes is repetitive as Amy wallows in a depressive state. She drinks wine and repeatedly listens to Mozart's Requiem. The abstract visual transitions that transport us through the timeline of her depressive stupor are similar to the framed pictures of Jane's art work that we see hanging on the walls in her brother's house. This is deliberately pointed out when Jane first arrives at the birthday party.

Jane Adams as Jane (Courtesy of Neon Films)

The opening and ending of the film also supports reading the story as a nightmare, and the abstract images are important because they suggest we are experiencing Amy's nightmare. But is it her mind threading together its narrative, or is the filmmaker using a visual cue to insinuate it as such?

If the film is Amy's nightmare, it conveys the limitations of film to express our dream state. As a dream it's merely seen from a conscious and narrative perspective, influenced by our ability to place ourselves as players in a drama upon the stage of life. It's a heightened sense of one's reality that can feel real, however it's not, nor is it the same as dreaming.

We're influenced by narrative and we can consciously dream of ourselves as victims of despair, hopelessness and sadness. The opening scenes are more of a self-conscious and anxious stupor as Amy sinks into her own narrative of despair. This doesn't make it any less of a nightmare -- it's cinema doing its best to mimic the dream experience. It lacks honesty in the same way as how we compartmentalise and shield ourselves from our mortality does.

The conflict between character and filmmaker is interesting because of the way the filmmaker presents a character dreaming, such as we these abstract images, feels contrived and unnatural. It asks the question whether it's possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?

She Dies Tomorrow lacks the narrative focus of Destiny, The Seventh Seal and The Sixth Sense. It has more in common with the end of the first Final Destination film. It's an ending of convenience, but not the end -- complete and incomplete. The cinematography and visuals lend it a vibe that asks for us to see it as a piece of art, as much as a narrative.

Chris Messina as Jason (Courtesy of Neon Films)

The first 15-minutes, coupled with the Requiem gives the film a transcendental quality. It's cinema as music, where one feels like they're seeing it as a film, but it's also like music that can only be felt. Amy's silence, the camera observing her despair, and the beauty of the Requiem is like watching a live orchestra, but the real experience is in how the music makes us feel. This feeling recurs in later scenes scored by the Mondo Boys, and is less noticeable in the scenes with the other characters.

I recall hearing producer Lawrence Bender talk about how Samuel L. Jackson had a knack like no other actor for Quentin Tarantino's dialogue. The perfect harmony of Seimetz's writing and Sheil's performance strikes me as being similar. There's that indescribable presence that Sheil has – an aura. There's something about her that she cannot express through words or silent gestures, which makes her the tantalizing soul of the film.

It's a hypnotic work that is difficult to forget. Many will see She Dies Tomorrow as an imaginative genre picture, which it is, but scratch its surface and beneath the visual flare and playfulness with a contagious thought or idea, it's a deeply human film. In psychology the events would be rooted in anxiety theory and the "stress contagion", as well as journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell's concept of "social contagion". At its most human point it conveys the angst that sensitive and empathetic personas are riddled with, because they're more susceptible to the energies of others. It may not be a conversation starter to confront our Darwinian society of the survival of the strongest, but at its heart She Dies Tomorrow is not only about the anxiety of dying, but also the anxiety of living.

Work cited:

Cioran, Emile M. (1934) On the Height's of Despair. (Pe culmile disperării). Chicago University Press. 1992.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.