The nature of existence is almost impossible to comprehend or appreciate fully, we can never know what it’s like to not exist, so how can we realise what it truly means? Despite this, we can still analyse certain indisputable truths about existence, and we can philosophise on the topic to expand on these truths. Films, particularly Sci-Fi, embrace narratives that do just that. Andrew de Burgh debut feature “The Bestowal” is one such film.
The Bestowal is a philosophical exploration and critique of the world. It sees Businessman Steven (Sam Brittan) on the brink of taking his own life when he is visited by an inter-dimensional being that is an incarnation of and known as, Death (Sharmita Bhattacharya) who appears to him as a young woman. However, Death is not there to take Steven’s soul. She is there to persuade him to keep on living by directing him to a higher purpose and reaffirming the role of good in the world, something he had lost sight of along the way.
The film plays out throughout time and depicts Steven and Death meeting during four distinct phases of his life. Each is labelled as such, The Emancipation, The Enlightenment, Transcendence and Another Paradise. Each act only depicts the two characters talking and no one else. Electing to do this was surely a decision primarily effected by cost, but I do have to note that it severely limits the scope of what The Bestowal is trying to say.
Above all else, The Bestowal is a societal critique that primarily targets technology and capitalism as the cause of humanities downfall. Unfortunately, de Burgh is somewhat on the nose and brazen with his approach to these topics. The characters speak with odd mannerisms as if they must mention every sci-fi buzzword over and over and it very quickly dissolves into something entirely unrelatable to what it is trying to talk about. With an agnostic take on religion that falls short of the wonder it seems to think it is generating, and an oddly stern anti-technology stance, this script reeks of being written entirely within an echo chamber. The biggest failing of the script is that it drags and in a 90-minute film that shouldn’t be happening. The entire middle section ‘The Enlightenment’ is the most criminal of this with the majority of it being more and more babble about the spirituality that exists in this world, none of which spoke to me in any fashion. There is nothing else to say other than that as a science fiction film The Bestowal doesn’t work on any level.
With that said, as a love story about two people connecting against the odds and changing each other’s lives, The Bestowal is surprisingly poignant. The concept of someone, or in this case, something, being sent to save you in your darkest hour, is a heartfelt one. The script fails to hit all the right notes to realise the otherworldly proportions of this convincingly, but it is still a potent depiction of one being connecting with another. The final two acts are the strongest in the entire film because of this relationship that blossoms.
The ‘Another Paradise’ act is quite brilliant. It generates a rawness to the impossible absurdity the rest of the movie is centred around. That being its religious mythos that brought Death to meet Steven as he attempted to take his life. In this section, the film finally manages to express something to the audience; bonds between people are transcendent. In this respect, it is reminiscent of Interstellar though de Burgh doesn’t capitalise on the point so much as Christopher Nolan does. Regardless it is a cinematic theme worth investigating, and de Burgh manages to shine a glimmer of new light upon it which is worth commending.
The two performers are admirable with their turns with Bhattacharya stealing the show. She certainly had the better character of the two, but there is something about her eyes that scream of the emotional absence that her character is forced to exist with, she was perfect for the role. Brittan had a harder character to bring to life. Despite Steven being human, he has more of the unrealised science fiction to deal with, and at times he can’t grasp it. In saying that he holds his humanity close to his chest, and that is precisely what Steven is supposed to be, this films representative for humanity and the power that we possess to change the world. Neither manages to pull off the anti-technology agnostic deity angle, but with this deluded script I don’t think anyone could have.
The Bestowal thinks it’s a whole lot smarter than it really is. de Burgh’s characters preach his message to little effect, but still manage to form a genuine emotional bond as a duo which is something to be proud of. All in all, with a more refined script this really could have spoken to people, it just can’t help but get lost within itself along the way.
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