By Laura Glick
It was meant to be. It was part of God’s plan. Why would such a bad thing happen to such a good person? Why did I deserve to live? I wish it was me instead of him.
Random violence can ignite a flurry of questions and thoughts like these and it is these issues The Life Before This explores. Set in modern-day Toronto, Life slowly allows audiences to seep into the lives of various citizens, who for a multitude of reasons have ended up a new downtown coffee shop one evening.
Within moments of meeting the first group of characters, a sensory bombardment takes place as a botched robbery spills into the cafe and gunshots fill the air. In those initial moments Life manages to intrigue viewers, far removed from the fictional chaos, and leaves them asking "why?"
With an expansive ensemble cast, including Sarah Polley, Catherine O’Hara, Stephen Rae, and Callum Keith Rennie, Life intertwines very distinct lives into a web of tangled decisions which ultimately lead to death. After the graphic and well-depicted opening scene, Life chronicles the day preceeding the confrontation.
Audiences are privy to both the mundane and extraordinary events which shaped the character’s whereabouts. We do not know which decisions, as they’re being made, will be the fateful ones. Instead, we merely watch the day unfold, helpless to intervene.
It is the notion of helplessness and lack of control that grips you as you watch ordinary people going through ordinary motions. No one has absolute control, despite their belief otherwise. The tragedy of the evening could not be predicted, or prevented by conscious actions. It is this theme which is most compelling. It is all too easy to transpose one’s self with one of the characters. They have relatable experiences, feelings, thoughts, and jobs. Paranoia sets in when you begin to think, "It could have been me."
It is these contemplative reactions that Calgarian writer Semi Chellas was striving for. Focusing on the realness of the people and their locations was key to executing Life with strong emotions.
"[I want people to think about] whether or not we’re control," begins Chellas, "whether or not our decisions matter."
Chellas believes we play a role in our destinies, but not necessarily as grand a role as some people believe. Life conveys this thought with a soft hand. It is after you’ve left the movie that you become paralyzed by the overwhelming thought that control is not yours alone. That each stranger on the street could play a crucial role in a life-altering event.
With strong acting and believable situations, Life carries 44 characters with ease. Rea is especially powerful as a depressed exterminator who is wrestling with a haunting past. From a romantically challenged O’Hara to a commitment weary Polley, Life weaves the storylines together with minimal jarring moments.
From the solid performances to the provocative subject matter, Life affects you beyond 90 minutes.