At 94 minutes, Muldowney’s Love Eternal is an efficient mess of a film. Ostensibly concerned with protagonist Ian’s obsession with death, the audience is denied any genuine characterisation and instead forced to embrace a series of disjointed vignettes—macabre moments in the life of—that only superficially engage with the film’s core interest in our mortality.
My ill feeling towards the film is primarily a result of Love Eternal’s considerable promise. The film opens by introducing Ian, whose experience of death—both familial and otherwise—has him refusing to leave his bedroom for ten years. There is considerable subject matter in Ian’s seclusion, but Muldowney traverses the period superficially, zooming into birthday cakes and charting Ian’s time in tally marks on the wall. We’re gifted something in Ian’s narration, as he explains his decision to isolate himself as a result of feeling irresolvably other, “human-shaped but not human”. His inner monologue is incredibly compelling, but Muldowney does away with it once the setting is established. Its absence in the film’s later stages only reminds us what could have been—the first of many such reminders that only serve to leave us wanting the film that could have been. He leaves his bedroom, now 26, to find his mother dead. She bequeaths him a diary filled with recipes, among other guidelines for life, in the hope that he might grow. He goes outside and drives a car. I can’t imagine who taught him.
Subsequently, we are treated to a number of possible narratives, each thematically provocative enough to pique our interest, before being rendered inert at the hands of Muldowney’s amateurish theatrics. Ian decides to kill himself in the forest, but a panel van full of would-be suicidals pulls up behind him. He finds a girl asphyxiated, and takes her home. This would, or appears to, constitute the substantive matter of the film, a bleak inversion of Weekend at Bernies, or Ian’s attempts to cohabit with the steadily decaying. But Muldowney cops out, staging the scenes with the corpse through the lens of Ian’s delusions. The corpse opens her eyes, talks a little, and in doing so we are refused the opportunity to see Ian’s actions from a perspective that isn’t his. They’ve already done away with the narration, to go a step further would have introduced a legitimate feeling of conflict about our protagonist: inwardly so well-meaning, but also a necrophiliac.
This decision to sanitise his behaviour through visual hyperbole—presumably in deference to a focus-grouped audience unwilling to actually engage with Ian’s perversity—is only compounded by Muldowney’s lack of narrative focus. Ian is shown traversing web forums about suicide. The close-ups of white text against black backgrounds evoke a very real conception of the internet’s other side. Undoubtedly, there’s a feature film in this moment, some content in the way Ian methodically researches a means to kill himself. But no, the focus again diverts. The camera moves on, and once more we’re left feeling cheated by the thematic promise that intermittently appears and recedes. Next, Ian meets someone online who wants to die. The focus shifts along with our interest—maybe it will be different this time—only for it to shift again. It arouses both frustration and apathy. I want these strands to be expanded on but also find myself incapable of caring for their ambivalence.
When Muldowney’s focus finally settles, over an hour into the film, it prioritises the banal relationship of Ian and the mourning Naomi. Her child has died, and in her grief Ian sees the potential for intimacy. If you didn’t feel cheated before now, you almost certainly will, as the faux-emotional schlock that follows only further undermines the film’s earlier provocations. They drink whisky and go to the beach, cook and hug. She describes him as weird, and the audience would agree. It’s been an hour since we’ve had even the mildest vantage to develop anything deeper on the character.
Spatially, too, the film is maddening. Ian’s house has a backyard that stretches into a rural paradise, but the telescope in his front room looks down onto a pier. We’re never shown the house’s front façade, nor is there any attempt to bridge the two distinct—and significant—locations of forest and beach. The result is a film that takes place Nowhere, Everywhere, the location changing for the sake of an aimless, careening plot. It is my understanding Love Eternal is adapted from a novel, but it seems their treatment of the source material is perfunctory at best.
I have no doubt there’s great promise within Love Eternal, but at 94 minutes it treats its many narrative threads superficially. Directors who watch this should latch upon the film’s most compelling ideas and develop them into something whole. I wanted to enjoy Love Eternal, but found myself pining for the masterpieces that loom before the first frame, after the credits, and between every jarring cut.
Love Eternal screens Sunday 8 and Friday 13 (hah) June. Tickets can be purchased here.
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