R | 1h 59min | Drama | 9 August 2019 (USA)
We live in an ADD-afflicted society, where people seem to be in constant need of stimuli. The audience reaction to the opening moments of a new post-apocalyptic, indie drama, “Light of My Life,” illustrates this issue perfectly.
The film begins with Caleb (Casey Affleck) and his young daughter, whom he calls Rag (relative newcomer Anna Pniowsky of TV’s “The Hot Zone”). Every night before going to sleep in their little tent, dad tells daughter a bedtime story, which he seems to make up on the spot.
This particular story is a wordy tale about a human boy named Art and a female fox named Goldie, and their encounter with Noah’s Ark. Rag interrupts a few times and tries to retell it to suit herself, a testament to the rebelliousness that comes from prepubescence. This 10-plus-minute story contains a few slyly placed metaphors, but was evidently too boring for a few friends of mine. Several yawns and deep sighs ensued.
What’s at Stake
A little later, after encountering a stranger in the forest, Caleb gets upset at Rag for revealing herself instead of hiding, as she is always told to do.
“He’s a doddering old man,” she quips.
“Him, and everybody he knows,” Caleb wisely replies, ending the argument before it even begins.
Dad’s overly cautious nature is due to a global pandemic that broke out almost a decade before, later revealed as the “QTB Virus.” For reasons never explained, the virus singled out females and almost wiped out all of them.
Understandably, Caleb cuts off most of Rag’s hair, dresses her as a boy, and calls her “Alex” in front of others. Girls are quite in demand now because of their scarcity.
As the two make their way through the hauntingly beautiful forests of the Pacific Northwest, survival-minded Caleb reminds his daughter to keep her survival instincts sharp: Check her compass so that she knows where she’s heading, stash her survival bag, and so on.
Meanwhile, Rag remains precocious, gently rebelling against her father’s wishes when she can, but eventually acquiescing because of the bond they share, and well, he’s also her parent.
Unfortunately, these insubordinate incidents all too clearly foreshadow the role reversal later in the film as a cinematic twist. Playing this thematic shift a little closer to the chest would have made it that much more surprising.
At a certain point, Caleb and Rag happen upon a seemingly abandoned house. After clearing it, Caleb is fine with moving on after a little rest, but his daughter has grown weary from the constant roaming and wants to settle in. After a bit of nagging, Caleb caves in, and the two set up a home in the dusty farmhouse.
When a pack of drifters begins to break into the dwelling, Caleb and Rag are forced back on the run. No matter where the two go, they are always in danger of Rag’s secret being discovered.
Composer Daniel Hart’s minimalistic score plays well with Adam Arkapaw‘s understated, naturally lit cinematography, and both suit the poignantly nomadic existence of father and daughter and their desperate circumstances.
Occasional flashbacks detail heartrending moments of Caleb and his long-gone, disease-stricken wife (Elisabeth Moss, “The Handmaid’s Tale”), which lend credence to the sincerely somber and contemplative nature of the film—written and directed by Affleck.
One thing that struck me about Affleck’s direction is that he likes to take time with his scenes. Some might say that many of the film’s shots are lengthy to the point of self-indulgence. Personally, I consider these drawn-out scenes as a nice way to shift gears and slow down. They give me time to contemplate—maybe even wonder what I’d do in similar situations, especially considering that a global pandemic isn’t outside the realm of possibility.
Unfortunately, this style also tends to draw from moviegoers sighs and the impatient tapping of fingers, including from my friends.
Perhaps folks were expecting some mashup like “28 Days After World War Z,” with zombies launching themselves through the air at fleeing citizens.
Gratefully, “Light of My Life” is bereft of flash and pomp and instead relies on its almost reckless intimacy.
For the more patient among us, this film is a fascinating and heartfelt story about a father and his daughter in an all-too-possible, dark future.
‘Light of My Life’
Director: Casey Affleck
Starring: Casey Affleck, Anna Pniowsky, Tom Bower
Running Time: 1 hour, 59 minutes
Release Date: Aug. 9
Rated: 3.5 stars out of 5