Jonathan, A Complex Question

Cast: Ansel Elgort, Suki Waterhouse, Patricia Clarkson
Director: Bill Oliver
Screenwriters: Peter Nickowitz, Bill Oliver, Gregory Davis
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight Narrative)
100 minutes, Science-Fiction

Jonathon was introduced as a movie that should have no introductions. The only insight to this Tribeca Film Festival feature before watching it, was that it belonged to a science-fiction genre. “Great”, I thought, “I hate sci-fi.” If you’re anything like me, sit tight; it isn’t what you think.  I warmed up to the film when the facilitator announced that like me, he jumped into the movie with two feet blindly, not knowing at all what it was about. “Keep going,” I thought. Though it was technically a science fiction movie, it lived in a common and familiar setting that makes it feel all too real. He was right. It was defyingly relatable and as one who struggles with the duality of mind and passion, it hit unforvingly close to home.

Jonathon and John are brothers living in the same body. From 7am to 7pm Jonathon is awake and from then to 7am John is awake. They communicate via video logs, recorded at bed time and watched at waking. Jonathon feels unusually tired and asks John why that is but he lies, trying to keep his new girlfriend, Elena, a secret (which is against their “rules”). Jonathan finds out anyway by hiring an investigator to monitor himself. He forces John to break up with her, which causes John to disappear and for the first time, Jonathon is alone. He begs Elena to record a message for John, to get him back. But he, too, falls in love with her. One can’t help but to understand ask: What greater love is one who loves another with both sides of himself?

He admits to Elena that his mother-doctor (the woman who has cared for them since birth and also implanted the device that allows them to switch consciousness) had previously snuffed their other brother (yes, they used to be triplets). In a vulnerable moment, he admitted to Elena that he was afraid: he was afraid that if John loved her, he would not have any need for him, and would remove him from their body.

Everything was seeming to go well for Jonathon: he had a promotion upcoming at a great job, a great home, and a girl he loved. All was smooth sailing until the doctor-mother tells John that Jonathan is seeing Elena. John becomes suicidal. John breaks into Jonathon’s work and writes LIAR on his desk in red marker, leaving everything on his desk disheveled. Jonathon tries to explain but the staff is in shock: “We watched the security cameras.” After getting fired, after losing Elena, (with whom he lost his virginity) Jonathan breaks down. Doctor-Mother insists they stay at her place, back home.

Late one night, Doctor-Mother begins to cry gently. Jonathan wonders why she always sides with John and she tells him that John is the night. “Every night I stayed up one hour later and later but I just couldn’t,” she exclaims. Perhaps she felt guilty for never being able to stay awake for John. She left him all alone. What could she have done? She is only human. John joked he’d like to live in Alaska, where he could finally see the sunlight. Understand the consequence of such a slight sentence: how miserable and lonely John’s existence to live in the dark, alone with no mother, no father, and only see what the night has to offer. John is sensitive; John is emotion. John is logic; John is order. This movie touches the underlying fabric of civilization’s oldest question: is it possible to live with both?

Finally, things fall apart. The screen goes black. Jonathon is on one side of the street. The screen goes black again. Jonathon has crossed it. The screen goes black. He’s running. The screen goes black. He’s on the rooftop of a building. Jonathon is losing consciousness; he is fading; John is taking over. He takes a cab to nowhere, stops at the beach, and speaks through the cab driver to John. He’ll never wake again. The movie ends.

During the screening, we had the fortune to have a Q&A with the director Bill Oliver in which I engaged him with the question: Why Jonathon? and further clarifying questions: Why did he have to die and subsequently, why was he then the title of the feature?

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