“Chained For Life,” written and directed by Aaron Schimberg, challenges notions we have surrounding people, beauty, filmmaking, the way audiences visually consume films, and the blurred lines between fantasy and reality.
In the film Mabel (played by Jess Weixler,) is a movie star in a low-budget horror film directed by a German man nicknamed “Herr Director,” (Charlie Korsmo,) the fun and playful use of heavy German accents reminded of “Inglorious Basterds” (2009.) Mabel’s on screen love interest, Rosenthal (Adam Pearson) is severely disfigured due to a condition called neurofibromatosis that causes tumors to form along the body’s nerve tissue, yet despite their obvious physical differences they connect emotionally and form a relationship with one another.
We can see this from the beginning of the film when Mabel offers to help Rosenthal run his lines, and Rosenthal asks her to show him how she expresses herself emotionally for scenes. He gives her an instruction, such as “show me empathy” and, Mabel, practically breaking the fourth wall, shows with facial expression the emotion, something Rosenthal, due to his disfigurement, obviously can’t do.
This was really where the movie began to raise some important questions. We choose to watch beautiful people portrayed on screen because they’re nice to look at and we, as audiences, are almost transfixed by their faces. As a filmmaker myself I have always called this unexplainable phenomenon “some kind of gravitas.” You either have it or you don’t.
It’s not something that can be manufactured or borrowed; an interesting and expressive face that tells a story. This film shows us that sadly not everyone can express and emote facially, but does that make their story any less important to be shown on screen? Can we chalk this up to just being a part of human nature that we cannot fight, the desire to watch beauty as an expression, or can we blame society and culture for conditioning us this way?
Although this film raised some very important topics, it continued on its journey as a self-reflexive movie within a movie. Independently, this is an interesting risk to take; though I, personally, struggle with these types of films. It can be hard to separate the reality of what is happening to the characters from the movie version of what is happening to them.
In general these types of films tend to be very hard for audiences to consume, and, as a result, they typically seem more offbeat and funky to the filmmakers than to the audience who just end up confused, which is basically what happened to me while watching the film.
The choice did distract from the true meaning of the film, and separated this piece from being truly unique to something that was just kind of flimsy story wise, but I digress. It sent an important message overall, but could have done with better formatting.
Chained for Life is out now on VOD and Blu-ray with loads of extras.
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