A woman in despair calls a suicide hotline and the operator who takes her call must do everything in his power to keep her on the line. Will he lose her forever or will she find the will to live? Here is our review of L. Marcus Williams thought-provoking drama ‘Lifeline’.
In 2017 there were 6,213 suicides in the UK and Republic of Ireland. In fact, it is UK men who are most at risk to this as they are three times more likely to take their own lives than women and the highest suicide rate is actually men between the ages of 45 and 49. Suicide is a very complex situation as it usually occurs gradually over time progressing from suicidal thoughts, to planning the suicide, to attempting the suicide and to finally dying by suicide. Therefore despite what some people may think about it being the easy option and taking the simple way out, it is, by all accounts a hugely difficult and very complicated decision to make.
Writer-Director and editor of ‘Lifeline’ L. Marcus Williams gives us a 15-minute master class on one of these cases and after the film had finished, we too feel like we have been put through the wringer and experienced the same thoughts, feelings, and issues as our two main characters.
Opening on the tired and lonely Iris (Katlin Leslie) we watch as she opens her bathroom cabinet and takes out a bottle of her pills. The title kicks in and we are straight into a phone call to a suicide helpline.
‘I’m going to kill myself’ Iris states categorically,
‘OK’ comes the reply from phone operator Ray (Dan Parilis) and we are immediately thrown into a very subtle yet majorly dramatic high stakes game of cat-and-mouse.
Filmed as a real-time phone conversation between two people, director Williams decides on a split-screen style, using two distinct colour pallets to differentiate each side. Ray is in black and white while Iris is more saturated. Both the split-screen format and colours are a brilliantly effective gimmick that keeps you glued to each word and it’s useful in a practical sense too because, in order to keep the pace of the film moving, Williams’ quick cuts ensure Ray and Iris don’t stay in the same place. They occasionally swap sides and, because the colouring remains the same throughout the film, these changes are never confusing or difficult to follow.
I was also delighted to see a number of (suspected) nods to the Powell and Pressburger classic ‘ A Matter of Life And Death, The scene of David Niven exchanging his last words with Air Traffic Controller Kim Hunter is likely an influence on Williams’ film here. Not only is the phone conversation filmed very similarly, but the headset Ray is wearing is a direct acknowledgment to Nivens’ headgear in the plane. This works so beautifully because there is nothing false or out of the ordinary about it. Ray and Iris would exchange words exactly like this and Ray would be wearing a headset exactly like the one he has on. It’s a lovely touch.
With it being a two-hander ‘Lifeline’ rises or falls on the form of its two lead actors and Katlin Leslie and Dan Parilis give two absolutely powerhouse performances. Ray’s understated kindness and empathy is an excellent foil to Iris’s desperation and loneliness. Their brief relationship feels so real that you actually forget you are watching a film; neither character is static, they both change role, status and control throughout the phone call becoming each others confidant, counselor and saviour. It is a truly breathtaking partnership.
According to Williams, ‘Lifeline’ was his thesis film at university, where it won numerous praise and prizes from his peers and tutors alike. It also won him a student grant award from the National Board Of Review. It is not difficult to see why; ‘Lifeline’ is a tremendous piece of filmmaking. A film in which nothing seems to happen yet everything happens. If this is the calibre of film that Williams came up with in college, then I for one am immensely excited about what the future holds for him.
Make a note of the name ladies and gents L. Marcus Williams is someone I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more of in the future and, if he fulfills his potential, a name we’ll remember as we ascend our own stairway to heaven.