Fixing Movies: 2:37 (2006)
2:37 follows six high school students as they deal with their own dramas during one particular school day that ends with someone committing suicide. The movie opens with a periphery student noticing someone locking themselves in the handicapped bathroom, which is then brought to the attention of a teacher and janitor who get the door open to see the outcome. At this point we don’t know who committed suicide or how they did it; we’re only privy to the blood leaking under the door. Cut to earlier that day where we’re introduced to a rushing Marcus yelling at his sister, Melody, to hurry up so they’re not late for school. Melody is in her room in the midst of what seems like a significant emotional breakdown. On their way to school we see a running Luke (the school’s heartthrob), the stoner Sean, and eventually the elitist Sarah (who is also Luke’s girlfriend). At school we’re introduced to Steven, the sixth main character in the cast.
The style of the movie is that of a documentary, talking heads and all. Through the initial talking heads, we see how each student views themselves and as the movie progresses, this deteriorates into them discussing the underlying issues that complicate their social lives. Melody learns that she’s pregnant. Marcus deals with his relentless demand of perfectionism. Luke is a closeted homosexual. Sean is openly gay. Sarah suspects Luke of impregnating Melody and grapples with her undying love for him. And Steven reveals his health issues that result in him being an outcast: a noticeable limp and two urethras, one of which has a mind of its own causing him to wet his pants in public without any forewarning.
The drama escalates quickly for each character throughout the day. Melody reveals that she was raped by her brother, Marcus, which explains her pregnancy. Marcus falls short of his own perfectionistic expectations and when it’s brought to his attention that Melody is pregnant, he erupts at her and essentially blames her. Luke is confronted by Sean revealing how they’ve had previous relations. Sean calls him out for being in the closet and both are incapable of handling the emotions that come with the confrontation. Sarah finds out that Melody is pregnant and suspects Luke but doesn’t confront him about it. Instead, she remains loyal to him, which results in him yelling at her after his confrontation with Sean. Steven meanwhile is in the midst of being bullied relentlessly for wetting his pants twice in a day, forcing him to lock himself in the bathroom until he’s once again dry, making him a witness to the Luke/Sean debacle. Luke then punches Steven in the nose, presumably breaking it, and threatens him against telling anybody.
Throughout all of this, a periphery character, Kelly, bounces in and out of some of the story arcs, affecting them slightly before being dismissed by the main characters. Her intentions are pure but essentially ignored by the main characters. The significance of her is that she’s the one who commits suicide. She slits her wrist as each arc comes to its climax. This reveals the overall thrust of the movie, summed up by Luke in his talking head immediately following her death: “Sometimes you just get so wrapped up in your own problems that you just don’t notice anybody else.” In the following talking heads we learn of each character’s relationship with Kelly and how they’re handling her death. The film ends with a talking head from Kelly herself, a happy aunt reveling in the memory of her nephew dressing up like a tiger.
There are only two things I would maybe fix. The first being Melody’s talking head immediately following her flashback of Marcus having raped her. She says that Marcus had been touching her in sexual ways since she turned thirteen. It’s unclear if Marcus is a year older than her or if they’re twins, but the sexual abuse has been going on for some time. Here, she says that though this is the case, this is the first time he’d raped her. Melody says something along the lines of (I don’t know the exact quote, but you get the point), “…but that was the first time he fucked me.” Dramatic, emotional, and poignant, yes. But necessary? Nope. Me, I’m cutting her whole monologue after the rape flashback. The scene was graphic and incredibly disturbing on its own and doesn’t need her to sum it up in a talking head. What her talking head should have been was simply the camera being on her as she tried to find the words to relay the horror that was beset upon her, something that should have been an ultimately fruitless task. Her monologue doesn’t take away from the movie as a whole, it just didn’t enhance the emotional punch of the rape.
The second possible fix I would suggest is the final talking head from Kelly, one showed after she killed herself. This brings up a series of fourth wall problems and ends up placing a lot of pressure on the audience. Watching the film, we’re aware that this is supposed to be like a documentary. We work under the assumption that a camera crew was in the school for some reason, filming students as they go about their everyday lives dealing with high school social issues, hence the talking heads and hence cameras following them around, making the characters seem real. But the insertion of a talking head by Kelly makes it appear that either the documentarians knew she was going to commit suicide (a completely unrealistic assumption, otherwise they would presumably do something to prevent it), or that the documentarians found this narrative while filming, a result of Kelly killing herself. If you go down this road (one that’s starting to veer into nitpicking, I’m realizing now), then we have to ask ourselves why is there even a camera in the bathroom with her as she slits her wrists. It’s a slippery fourth wall slope that we’re venturing on but when considering the format, it’s one that needs to be questioned. The result is placing either a lot of faith in the viewer in being able to maneuver themselves into this level of acceptance or assume that the viewer is unconcerned/oblivious to the underlying narrative structure of the story. Successful documentarian style films or TV shows find a way to justify the existence of the cameras in these people’s lives. Doing that immediately sells the believability of the narrative structure.
Having said that, it’s important to realize how essential Kelly’s talking head ends up being regardless of the questions it unleashes on the film’s narrative structure. Giving her a talking head, one with so little relevance in subject matter (she’s talking about the ridiculous tiger noises her nephew makes…that’s it!) solidifies her existence as an actual character, and as we learn through the “In memory of…” post-film dedication, as an actual person. If we aren’t privy to her dimensionalization, we’re instantly working under the assumption that her death is completely symbolic instead of being grounded in reality. She turns from being a symbol to being a person in one monologue about a kid making tiger noises. So with that point made, is it worth fixing? Nah. I’m willing to sacrifice the fourth wall questions for something that swings with that much of an emotional punch.
I was immediately skeptical going into this film knowing that it was done in the documentary format. The danger zone for telling a story in this manner is that the writer quickly sees how easy it is to end up trying to advance a plot by having the characters simply tell the audience how they feel through a talking head. We’re spoon fed the story instead having to do work to draw the conclusions about the characters by way of viewing their actions like a fly on the wall. 2:37 is certainly guilty of this but for good reason. Having the characters divulge their secrets in a talking head allowed for a perfectly fluid and cohesive linear story, that being following them through their day without the wedged in interruption of a scene where we learn of their background. Instead we get that in the form of a much more direct talking head that acts simply as a confession. The emotional impact is amplified because of this and we’re thankful for it.
It’s also worth noting the impressive transitions between arcs. These were done through tediously choreographed scenes in which we follow a character walking through the hall and they pass another character and now we’re following the second character on their arc. Or, as is so often done, after a talking head the movie backtracks a couple minutes to another character’s arc that’s happening simultaneously during a scene we just saw pre-talking head. In these instances the talking head acts as the transition. All this adds up to one result: throughout the movie the audience is intimately identifying with each of the main characters, empathizing with them in such a way that we can see how any one of them can potentially be the suicide at the end of the movie. But when we see that Kelly is the one who kills herself, and the talking heads that ensue show how oblivious each character was to her and her problems, we end up hating the main characters for not paying attention to her. In a matter of minutes we flip sides and despise those who we’ve come to feel for.
For these reasons, the movie as a whole is an incredibly slick production. Its plot and character development are identifiable, accessible, and effective. It’s an intimidating accomplishment especially considering it was written and directed by a twenty year old. So there’s that, too.