After She’s Gone

By Richard Jamze | Sci-Fi
When their only daughter dies, a grieving mother and father are forced to confront their competitive relationship over her.

Max and June love their small daughter Cynthia, but the family dynamic can’t quite disguise the tensions between the couple, who only seem to have their child in common.

But when that child passes away from a tragic accident, a pill offers one last chance to see their loved one again. As they battle over whether or not to take the pill, the grieving mother and father confront the fissures in their relationship in order, bringing their conflict to a head.

Writer-director Richard Jamze’s short has sci-fi elements to it, but at its heart it is a family drama about grief, marriage and parental competition. The compact family unit is clearly organized around the daughter, who seems to be the only thing keeping the tense, alienated couple together.

When she dies, they face every parent’s worst nightmare. They both have very different reactions to their loss: June stays cold and rational, while Max seemingly implodes. But because they are falling apart as a partnership, the anger and hurt they experience as part of their grief is aimed toward one another. And they both therefore find themselves facing the morass of genuinely difficult emotions alone, rather than helping one another through.

The film delineates each emotional beat with care and craft, fusing together emotive performances and a storytelling style attuned more to the undertow of character’s feelings, which drive their behavior and therefore the engine of the story. When their final confrontation — and taking the pill — forces all the buried ugliness between them, the characters reach a turning point not just in their grief, but in their relationship with one another.

“After She’s Gone” packs a lot of story in its short runtime, but what’s most fascinating is its ambition in touching upon parental competition over the child, a subject not often brought to life on screen. In doing so, it is not afraid to be brutal, emotionally ugly or frighteningly honest about the ways broken and psychologically wounded people perpetuate their pain — and potentially pass it onto the next generation.

But in the guise of its sci-fi elements, the story offers a conduit for Max to go deep into his internal turmoil, which ultimately allows the couple to find some small grace and common ground at the end. Only by confronting ourselves head-on — instead of blaming or shaming others — can we crack through to our vulnerability, give others the courage to be honest and ultimately come together when we need it the most.

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