LIGHT OF MY LIFE

★★★★

AN INTENSE TEST OF THE FATHER/DAUGHTER BOND

ONLINE ENTERTAINMENT
By Jake Watt
31st May 2020

Let's address the elephant in the room.

Casey Affleck was #MeToo'd into obscurity following his Best Actor Oscar for 'Manchester By The Sea' a few years ago when he was accused of sexual harassment while directing 'I'm Still Here'. He settled two lawsuits about that harassment out of court, and then later admitted to a generally "unprofessional" atmosphere on that film.

For his next directing job, he decided to do a story where there are no grown women at all - except in flashbacks, where his wife is played by Elisabeth Moss.

Now, this isn't to say that he's not allowed to make a movie like 'Light of My Life' or that it somehow makes the movie bad by default. He can attempt to try to rehabilitate his public image. But this was a strange film for him to make. If you were wondering why it never hit Australian theatres... there it is.

A decade after a plague has wiped out nearly all of the world's female population, a father (Casey Affleck, 'Interstellar') and 11-year-old daughter, Rag (an excellent Anna Pniowsky) live in a tent in a wooded area on the outskirts of what's left of civilisation as they once knew it. Disguising his daughter as a boy, the father struggles to protect her from the constant threat of other male survivors as they are forced from their home and have to travel across the bitterly cold landscape of British Columbia. The father isn't a violent man, but he's prepared to defend his child at all costs.

Affleck's film is a constant slow burn for much of its two-hour runtime. The movie also opens with a 10-minute long scene of dialogue as the dad tells his daughter a funny story about a pair of foxes joining Noah's Ark, complete with an Aussie-accented Noah. Does this mean that this film is set in the same universe as Darren Aronofsky's bonkers sci-fi epic? I like to believe so.

It's reductive to say that 'Light of My Life' is a lot like John Hillcoat's 'The Road' just because they're both post-cataclysm films where a parent and child wander a dangerous wasteland. There are more similarities to James Tiptree Jr's 1977 short story 'The Screwfly Solution' (about a virus that causes men to hunt women in a murderous rage) as Affleck tackles the commodification of women head-on and to an extreme degree - the few surviving women mentioned in the film have been ripped to pieces by predators or are being "kept" in armed, makeshift communities of desperate men. There are also strong parallels to Debra Granik's 'Leave No Trace', as the film focuses almost exclusively on the bond between its two main characters, downplaying the Cormac McCarthy-ish scenario's bleakness (except when it suddenly, violently erupts) in order to fashion a portrait of someone who's struggling to raise his child normally in radically abnormal circumstances. Dad is constantly preparing for the worst-case scenario: going over escape routes, plans and setting up his various camping sites in case of a "red alert".

This is a post-pandemic story, a human versus nature story, a home invasion story, and a fairytale. Underneath it all, this is a film about a father grappling with his daughter's maturation.

The hauntingly, frosty landscapes of this bleak future are beautifully captured by Australian cinematographer Adam Arkapaw ('Animal Kingdom', 'Snowtown', 'Macbeth'). Not only can Arkapaw frame a shot like a portrait, he's also a master of picking out cool-looking trees to spice up his backdrops. Affleck has cited Chantal Akerman ('Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles') and Pawel Pawlikowski ('Ida') as inspiration for the way they create great tension with a static camera and sustained shots. The look of the film is complemented by a stripped-back and muted score by Daniel Hart, who previously worked with Affleck on 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints', 'A Ghost Story' and 'The Old Man & the Gun'.

This is a post-pandemic story, a human versus nature story, a home invasion story, and a fairytale. Underneath it all, this is a film about a father grappling with his daughter's maturation. Affleck's character needs to learn how to let go of his child and recognise that she is a lot more capable of surviving than he thinks she is.

It's a shame that Affleck's actions off-screen meant that 'Light of My Life' was destined to be lost in the movie release wilderness. Newcomer Anna Pniowsky matches Affleck's typically delicate, mumbling performance perfectly and they share a genuine, easy rapport onscreen, anchoring a touching (if intense) relationship drama.

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