In the deeply melancholic film Still Life Eddie Marsen who plays its protagonist John May has a perpetually forlorn face with doleful eyes, and a wet flaccid mouth that barely smiles. In his thankless role as a civil servant, his job is to locate the relations of the recently deceased who were unloved in life. Rather than reducing these people to mere numbers as his superiors suggest, John takes an overt interest in both their lives and deaths. He dignifies these individuals with a funeral service where it is usually only himself and the priest in attendance, and the eulogies are centred on the personal effects of the deceased. Afterwards he reverently pastes their photos into his makeshift Book of the Dead.
Aside from that, John’s llives a carefully measured Prufrock-ian half life One cannot help but liken this deeply empathetic, solitary man to T.S Eliot’s character Prufrock. John is a man who is comfortable living a carefully measured half -life. When he is faced with redundancy, his final case is incidentally his neighbour, the fiery recluse Billy Stoke. As John journeys through the land of the living he pieces together the people that Billy left behind, and even strikes up the initial sparks of a connection with Billy’s daughter, played by Joanna Froggat of Downton Abbey fame.
For a while, the film is heading towards a dangerously fluffy, predictable resolution, and the final moments have been a source of contention amongst critics, who have either vilified it as sentimental trash or exalted it as transcendent. Either way it’s unexpected, and after watching it twice, this reviewer suggests that your interpretation of it depends on your mood.
Still Life is a film that lives up to its name. Lingering shots of apple peels, office utensils and unseeing eyes are rife throughout as it focuses on the mundanities of day to day living. Muted in every way, it is a film that quietly captures the poignancy of solitude with aplomb.
This article was first published in Rip It Up magazine on the 12th of August 2015.