“It’s easier to leave than to be left behind” – R.E.M.
If everybody remembered how rotten it feels to get dumped, nobody would allow themselves to fall in love.
When we meet the wonderful boys and girls that we meet, there are possibilities, butterflies, chemistry, and electricity. They open us up to become our best selves, and we do the same for them. Together we become better as a whole than either half feels individually. But underneath it all there runs a risk – the idea that it could all unceremoniously end, and one person can be left to pick up the pieces. It’s a frightening idea; one filled with second-guessing, loneliness, and pain. It’s the idea at the core of SLEEPLESS IN NEW YORK – a hauntingly beautiful film from Christian Frei.
The movie chronicles the feeling and the neuroscience that goes along with being dumped. It introduces us to anthropologist Helen Fisher who is researching what actually happens in our brains when someone stops loving us. Why can’t we stop thinking about them? What is actually happening in that mess of wires we call our brain that makes just getting out of bed so difficult?
The film then goes on to introduce us to three heartbroken souls from New York City. There’s Rosey, who had a chance encounter that was far too fleeting. There’s Michael, who was dumped two weeks ago and is trying to rebuild his daily routine from the ground-up. And there’s Alley, who arrives in this film a mere four days after her three-year relationship ends. Her soul is crushed and we will watch and listen as she tries to “un-crush it”…if that’s even possible.
On the surface, the very idea of hanging around the newly-jilted might seem like “misery-porn”. As elegant and moving as it all might seem, we are still fascinated by the deep isolation and depression of people like us. However, through a deft hand and a great deal of empathy, Frei is able to turn this film into something more. He’s painted a beautiful portrait of people at their most vulnerable. The parts of ourselves that we loathe – the parts that are weak, dependent, mixed-up, and wanting – are all up on the screen. We often forget that these are feelings that other people feel too. That we are not the first person to be rejected, nor will we be the last. We listen to the confessions of Rosey, Michael, and Alley and we remember confessing them ourselves – and that’s the key to the whole film.
Heartbreak brings upon feelings of withdrawal and isolation. We don’t want to be around other people, or even out of our own beds. We want to stay huddled in comfortable clothes with nothing but ice cream and our own sadness to keep us company. We feel like nobody else in the world has ever felt as bad as we do right that moment. But they have, they do, and they will again.
We have all felt as raw and wounded as every subject in this film, and because of that we are able to get deeply inside of it. We are able to understand why Rosey wants just one more kiss. We know why Michael drives by his ex’s house every so often. We have cried as hard as Alley does into her webcam. We want to wrap our arms around these people and tell them that it will be okay, and we want to do that because this film does such an elegant job of bringing us back to that most fragile of feelings.
SLEEPLESS IN NEW YORK is not about a feeling – it’s about a moment. That moment can sometimes last for months and even years, but it is only a moment. It’s a moment of pure, uncut pain, and deep confusion, but it’s only one moment…and every moment eventually ends.
SLEEPLESS IN NEW YORK premieres at Hot Docs on Wednesday April 30 – 9:30pm at The Lightbox. It plays again on Thursday May 1st – 9:30pm at Hart House, and once more on Sun May 4th – 1:30pm at Lightbox (official website)