What They Say:
In this Oscar-nominated short film, a man trying to go home to his dog gets stuck in a time loop that forces him to relive a deadly run-in with a cop.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Remember that movie “Groundhog Day?” Most of you probably do. It starred Bill Murray as a news anchor who was stuck in a time loop, being forced to relive the same day over, and over, and over, and over…well, you get it. The fact that he was reliving his least favorite day of the year added to the absurdity of the comedy. It was a brilliant stroke of genius that Travon Free (and his co-director Martin Desmond Roe) took the concept and decided to make it about what many people consider a daily Hell themselves: interactions with police officers that end badly. Filming after the murder of George Floyd, the short film follows a graphic novel artist whose day begins pleasantly enough, as he wakes up next to a beautiful woman after a one-night stand. Sadly, he has a dog he must get home to, and takes his leave.
Just as he leaves the building an aggressive police officer stops him after a wad of cash falls out of his pocket, tackles him (George Floyd style), and kills him. Where the story would ultimately end for most is just beginning, as the illustrator wakes up back in the same bed, on the same morning. Multiple attempts to go home just result in his death. Like Bill Murray having to relive the same day repeatedly, so too must this poor man relive the same day. Except where Bill Murray at one point chooses to try and kill himself every day, this man has no choice but to be killed by this sadistic copy. At one point he decides he won’t even leave the building, which results in the S.W.A.T. Team busting into the building and shooting him (by none other than the sadistic officer). Standing back, you could almost laugh at how the world seems to be against him.
Where it isn’t funny is that this isn’t a comedy. This film is not being played for laughs. What they are presenting is a visual representation of what many black people in America feel as they try to live their day-to-day lives, constantly afraid if a confrontation with a police officer will end their lives. I know this isn’t the experience of all black people in America (and I obviously don’t claim to speak for anyone) but based on what some of my friends have told me…yes, the scenario in “Two Distant Strangers” visually represented a lot of the (very real) fears they live with every day. In fact, with many of the deaths representing the real-life deaths of black Americans in the past year, the film becomes more and more frustrating as you can’t help but wonder if this is what it’s like for a black American to watch the news every night?
All that being said, while the intent is great and the filmmaking is top-notch, it is (sadly) not perfect. At one point the man decides to have a heart-to-heart with the police officer who’s killing him. He expresses his mistrust in the police while the officer admits he never actually took the time to talk to people who look like him. There is a sense that the message is going to ultimately be that if we all took time to speak to one another maybe – just MAYBE – we can come to an understanding! This scene ends in such a bizarre way, that leads to an ending that is almost confrontational in nature, that I would honestly like to ask the filmmakers if they think there is hope? And if there is no way of coming together peacefully, what is the next step? I don’t have the answers (and they probably don’t either). Either way, “Two Distant Strangers” is a great conversation starter, and I’m not surprised it was the most discussed short in this year’s Oscar race.
Streamed By: Netflix
This short has been nominated for Best Live Action Short at the 93rd Annual Academy Awards!