“I’m not a spasmo, for fuck’s sake. I’ve got epilepsy, that’s all.”
How you interpret “Unconditional Love” and “Electricity,” Bryn Higgins’ first two feature films, depends upon your point of view. The screenplays, both written by Joe Fisher, favor the protagonist’s viewpoint, often to the neglect of the narrative. “Electricity,” which rarely strays outside Lily’s head, is the less coherent of the two. We have no way of knowing if the new meds that have been prescribed for the epileptic Lily are improving or worsening her condition because we never see her case from the doctor’s point of view. He insists her condition is improving, but we experience it, through Lily’s point of view, as getting worse. “Unconditional Love,” on the other hand, while favoring the younger Owen’s point of view, is somewhat sympathetic to the older man Liam’s, emotions. How you feel about the movie may depend on your own feelings about the transgression of gender lines in sexual role-playing. Some may feel more comfortable skirting that issue altogether and enjoying the movie as if it were merely another variation on Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.”
If you are not gay, and don’t want to be a girl, then why did you take Liam away from me?”
Owen’s twin sister Kristen has a good point, but she is so far out on the periphery of Liam and Owen’s relationship that her point of view is of little worth. The truth of the matter, from Liam’s point of view, is that he wants Kristen, but finds Owen, when he is in drag, more attractive than his twin sister. And Owen has always had a problem with people who don’t believe he and Kristen look alike. Owen wants to be Kristen as much as Liam wants him to be Kristen. The big loser in this triangle is Kristen, who provides a model for the love object while she herself goes unloved.
Higgins is a long-time British television director who uses the opportunity of his two feature films to go wild with the visuals. The opening of “Electricity,” in which we experience Lily’s epileptic seizure through her eyes, is spectacular. The edges of reality blur, then melt, and finally crack. She is lashed by electrical currents, then thrown to the ground. For most of the movie, we look out at the world through Lily’s eyes, as she tumbles through the rabbit hole in search of her younger brother Mikey, to whom she wants to give one third of an inheritance from their recently deceased mother. But she also has an older brother, who seems to be the executor of the estate and is not so keen on giving Mikey his share.
But that is not important, as this is not a movie about siblings splitting an inheritance, but about one woman’s attempts to hold herself together in an unsympathetic world. Those who would help her are no more than peripheral shadows that appear and reappear without cause. And if the protagonist can make little sense of the world around her, how can the poor audience, in another world altogether from the film they are viewing, be expected to get the full picture?
Higgins is some kind of miraculous with his actors. Agyness Deyn, a model with a couple of movies to her credit, is not the sort you expect great things from, but Higgins puts her bedraggled beauty to riveting effect in “Electricity.” He also gets an honest and unique performance from Madeleine Clark in her feature debut as Kristen in “Unconditional Love.” But his real find is Christian Cooke, who has been working regularly in television since he was twelve years old, but hasn’t had a breakthrough film role until ‘Unconditional Love.” He also plays Mikey in “Electricity.” and proved he could play normal men as well as mixed-up ones in Christian Ditter’s recent romantic drama, “Love, Rosie.” If he gets the right kind of roles, Cooke just may emerge as the next full-on heart throb from England. If that fails, there is always the alternative of making his mark as a Bond villain.
Bryn Higgins is a director to watch. I hope he continues to make the movies he wants to make in the way he wants to make them. He has an original eye and an original mind.