Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Ansel Elgort as Jonathan in Jonathan
"It is carefully crafted, the work of a film-maker who is very in charge of what he is doing." | Photo: Zach Kuperstein

Jonathan is a film that delivers both interesting premise and profoundly alienating execution. The simple proposition is one body, two people. For some reason, Jonathan's body hosts two entirely distinct people and personalities: his own and that of his brother John.

After a chaotic childhood spent mostly in institutions, John/Jonathan (Ansel Elgort) were taken in hand by Dr Nariman (Patricia Clarkson), who was the first to understood what was going on. With her help, including the implanting of some clever gizmo to allow the two boys to separate out into distinct time zones – Jonathan inhabits the day, while John comes out at night - they have managed to achieve some sort of order in their life.

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But it comes at a cost. Each must adhere to a set of draconian rules about what they may or may not do during their time. Obviously. Since the existence of two distinct persons makes it unthinkable that one should make any commitment to which the other is not party.

Neither has a proper career – since neither is able to devote 24 hours of their day to any single goal. Relationships are out of the question. Although sex – sans commitment – is permitted.

And of course, it is a relationship that brings matters to a head. Elena (Suki Waterhouse) begins her relationship with the duo as John's partner. But it is the subsequent unfolding of her relationship with both that drives the action in this film.

The issue? There is so little engagement in this film. It does not help that almost all of the action is seen from the perspective of Jonathan, who worships routine and who represents the common sense half of this cursed Yin-Yang pairing. Also, the almost complete absence of emotion, the cold half, the detached half.

John seems far and away the more interesting of the two. But John only appears on screen within a smaller screen as, at the end of each day, the two boys communicate by leaving video diaries and messages for one another.

The lack of warmth, the alienation is deepened yet further by the muted colour palette with which Jonathan chooses to decorate his lifescape. It feels very much as though the director is attempting to say something through the use of different tones and colours to accompany the onscreen time of different characters. An edgy soundtrack adds to the stress of the whole.

It is carefully crafted, the work of a film-maker who is very in charge of what he is doing.

There are big issues at stake within this film. How fair the boundaries are; how feasible it is to maintain them; and what will become of the two boys as they try and negotiate the intense bond between the two of them that flips from love to hate and back again.

But the overall result is something without heart. The film did not grab my attention, did not capture my emotions. Some will enjoy the working out of the dilemma in much the way as some will enjoy working on a crossword puzzle.

In the end, though, I found myself not caring for either brother. For some, the intellectual focus will be sufficient. For me it was not.

Reviewed on: 12 Nov 2018
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Jonathan packshot
Jonathan is a young man with a strange condition that only his brother understands. But when he begins to yearn for a different life, their unique bond becomes increasingly tested.

Director: Bill Oliver

Writer: Gregory Davis, Peter Nickowitz

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Suki Waterhouse, Patricia Clarkson, Matt Bomer, Douglas Hodge

Year: 2018

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: US

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