Continuing our series focusing on LGBT and superhero themes comes short film Dying, And Other Superpowers from Director Elias Ribeiro and based on the short story by Kristian Johns. This fantastic short follows Josh on his 18th birthday as he is confronted not only with finding out that he has HIV but also that he has superpowers.
Josh is a typical 18 year old, he hangs out with his best friend Ellie, plays computer games, and reaps the benefits of the tenacious, and confused, sexual proclivities of his Mum’s boyfriend Stuart. But following a spontaneous, and unprotected, bathroom stall sexual encounter Josh is told he is HIV positive and his world is irrevocably changed. The confusion, panic, and fear surging through his body manifest, causing a mug on the nearby desk to explode all over the unwelcoming hospital room.
Josh’s narration guides us in breaking the news of his status to Ellie and Lorraine, coming to terms with the magnitude of his risky sexcapade, and in beginning to gain control over his health and his newly empowered abilities. Excitedly he embarks on an exploration of his new reality complete with superpowers. Following Stuart’s less than stellar reaction Josh’s unstable equilibrium is threatened by confrontation that results in a frenzied outburst of telekinetic powers, bringing with it the realisation that these powers come with startling consequences. Realising the extent of his new abilities, Josh faces the question: if you had superpowers, what would you do?
Kristian Johns’s original short story is split into two chapters, one from Josh’s point of view and one from Ellie’s, and is darker in tone with a more final ending where Josh used his powers to save a tube train full of people at the cost of his own life. Ribeiro’s short focuses more on the emotional and familial relationship between the characters and plots a more positive outlook for Josh’s future, ending on an optimistic high note. As the movies log line states Dying, And Other Superpowers is about “accepting things you wouldn’t wish on anyone and most importantly: moving on!”
Tom Stanley provides a great performance as Josh and is backed up by an equally great supporting cast in Rebecca Pitkin (Ellie), Lorraine Hodgson (his Mum, Lorraine), and Adrian Bouchet (Stuart). Pitkin’s performance is especially poignant in her reaction to Josh’s status, and Bouchet is a mixture of hilarious, hot, and sexually rapacious as he lures Josh into the shower in one of the shorts stand out scenes. Equal parts humour and drama this short is well photographed, engagingly edited, with a fast pace that makes good use of special effects to enhance the narrative. The focus really is on the characters; their humanity is what makes this story really stand out, it’s believable given the fantastical element because of this grounding – as with any decent superpower story the reality of the situation allows you to suspend disbelief in the supernatural abilities.
Dying, And Other Superpowers doesn’t shy away from, or desexualise, homosexual relationships as is often the case with mainstream films and is frank and honest in discussing the reality of HIV. As with anything discussed in this series of articles – graphic novels, TV shows, and movies – the most successful narratives hold a mirror up to reality and explore real world issues, even if they do so in an escapist or fantastically divergent manner. Josh’s superpowers become an analogy for his HIV status, an exaggerated metaphor for being different, he must accept this and learn how it effects his life and act responsibly. His powers, just like his status, make him vulnerable but by taking ownership of them, facing reality, and refusing to be defined by one thing he can find that the real power lies in the choices he makes.
Johns is turning the universe into a full length novel, a prequel titled The Beginners Guide to Saving the World, that will be released in 2013. Also Ribeiro and Johns are hard at work on a feature length movie that is to expand upon the short and deliver a bigger and even better story.
Dying, And Other Superpowers is currently showing on the festival circuit and is screening in competition as part of the Soho Rushes International Film Festival at 18:30 on July 14, you can find out more information about that and book tickets HERE. You can also check out the trailer for the movie HERE.
Look out for the final post in this series, a chat with writer Kristian Johns and director Elias Ribeiro coming soon.