Who knew the happy-go-lucky Irish had a soft spot for morbidity?
In Love Eternal, Irish writer-director Brendan Muldowney (Savage) brings the subject of natural and unnatural deaths to the forefront with raw, uncensored authenticity.
The film’s uncompromising uncomfortableness is almost too uncomfortable to be real. Yet, despite that, we are tangled in eternal life-and-death turmoil that is unvarnished, exposed and dark.
Notwithstanding, we feel more caught in reverie rather than reality during the duration of the film. The reverie is in part due to the incredible visuals Irish cinematographer Tom Comerford was able to bring to life from Loving the Dead, the Japanese novel which Muldowney adapted to big screen as Love Eternal. Comerford is successful in creating an immersive world of his own, which helps build an uncanny tension throughout.
The dark humour that we are promised, however, is barely present. The occasional awkward chuckles were made, but as the film progresses, humour is placed on the back burner while the strange and the serious are in full combustion.
We are exposed to curious scenes of corpses being bathed, dressed, fed, pampered and, occasionally, cuddled by Ian (Robert de Hoog), the withdrawn protagonist who calls himself a defective human being. And that he is. The poor lad finds his father dead at age six. Ten years later, he finds a popular girl at school hanging from a tree; ten years after that, his own mother passes. As a result, Ian is completely in lack of touch with reality. He barely leaves his room and, in his 26 years alive, he has become more comfortable with the dead than the living. He starts frequenting online suicide forums and finds companionship in others who would like to die, just like him. What happens next is as bizarre as it gets: Ian’s interaction with others like him becomes the push into humanity Ian needed for him to develop the slightest desire for life.
Ian watches two women go through with suicide. He brings them home and becomes attached to their corpses – a case somewhat resembling necrophilia, a morbid, erotic attraction to corpses.
Ian’s relationship with these women’s dead bodies is similar to what could have been real relationships between him and these women had they stayed alive. Despite the morbid interaction, Ian is seen making progress towards a world of humanity.
We are exposed several times to the visual of body decomposition and while Ian could keep loving these corpses eternally, he eventually buries them in his backyard.
His encounter with Naomi, a woman he overhears stating her desire to die, becomes the life-changing moment in Ian’s life. Although short-lived, he experiences the simple joys of life with her and blooms into a character with a changed perspective of life and a fairer chance of living in normalcy.
Love Eternal is a complex film of love, life and death and, although it may first leave you dismayed, the concept slowly grows on you. We all live and die, but how do we teach ourselves to let it all go? But most importantly, how do we love eternally – and can we?
By Claire Miglionico