Wednesday, September 17, 2008
THE REPLACEMENT CHILD
THE REPLACEMENT CHILD
Directed by Justin Lerner, United States, 2007, 25 minutes.
Source: DC Shorts Film Festival Showcase 2
The Replacement Child is a film defined in large part by ambiguity. The audience is introduced to a young man named Todd Turnbull who has been in reform school for violently attacking his stepfather, but the circumstances surrounding the fight are never revealed. We learn that Todd’s father has died, but the cause is unknown. And perhaps most importantly, we know that Todd and his family live in a devoutly religious rural community somewhere in America, but the exact state and denomination is unknown.
As these details fall away, the audience is left with an intensely impressionistic coming-of-age story. Todd (Travis Quentin Young) returns home to discover that the life he knew prior to incarceration no longer exists. His former girlfriend has married and is expecting her first child, and his stepfather has convinced his mother to throw him out of their house. But perhaps most devastating of all, Todd's best friend Michael (Matthew Fahey) is dying, but receives no medical care on the orders of his family and their pastor and chooses to instead rely on God for a cure.
Knowing that he will be sent to prison, Todd ultimately assaults two men, steals his stepfather’s squad car, and kidnaps Michael, all to ensure that his friend receives medical treatment and survives. If the movie wasn’t already rife with religious imagery, Todd comes to epitomize Christian self-sacrifice. Thus, the essential question of the story is established: who is godly, the family whose strict interpretation of the Bible has left their son on his deathbed, or Todd, who chose crime to ensure that Michael lives?
I saw Showcase 2 with the intention of blogging about Zombie Jesus. Unfortunately, that film was a disappointment to say the least. The Replacement Child, meanwhile, actually brought me to tears. The short accomplished more in terms of emotional impact than many films do in a full two hours. The acting was superb, especially on the part of Travis Quentin Young, whose success thus far appears to be limited to additional dialogue recording work for films including No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. Hopefully he’ll get more screen time in the future, because his performance was one of the most impactful I’ve seen from a young actor in quite a long time. I was also impressed to learn that The Replacement Child was not the work of a seasoned director, but rather the MFA thesis of Justin Lerner, a recent UCLA grad. Though I certainly don’t want to reduce his directorial debut to a calling card, I would love to see a feature by Lerner based on the strength of this short.
The only question that lingers in my mind is meaning of the film’s title. Though Todd has certainly been replaced by his family and friends (though he proves to be essential in every way), who has Todd replaced?