Reviewed by: Jane Fae

"Perhaps there are certain questions that we don't need asked; or if they are to be asked, a certain care in the way they are asked would be helpful."

Nice premise. Shame about the working out.

Pulse, appearing at SQIFF 2018, is a film focused on an interesting idea: that a gay disabled boy might decide that the best thing for him to do is to undergo a 'body swap'.

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A what? Don't ask. The mechanics – let alone the ethical issues prompted by that idea - are never examined, And that is odd given that elsewhere the film is played very much for real. At times, all too real.

But no. Body swap is a thing. In this case, with a young woman of similar age. Think Fred and Daphne trading places in Scooby Doo (2002) but without the oh-so-scientific explanation behind it.

Olly (Daniel Monks), who we have previously seen floundering around the film as a gawky teen with a disability, limited social skills, and a (shy) desire to have the body of a woman goes into hospital and ten minutes later wakes as hot babe Olivia (Jaimee Peasley).

And that's it. There's the set up, with the rest of the film devoted to Olly/Olivia cutting a path of destruction through friends and family, mostly by virtue of remaining a gawky inadequate teen, now living the life of a hot etc. Did I mention that Olly has the social skills of a hyena? Or a propensity to get ridiculously drunk and to have sex with all and sundry at the drop of a hat?

It's relevant. Sort of. For the overall impression given is of a modern morality tale. There's No Place Like Home.

Or: don't go trying to be something you're not, because you'll fall flat on your face if you do.

No spoilers as to how the film ends. Or, indeed, as to where this review is going. But, clue: I will not be watching this film again. Both for the character of Olly, which appears to have zero redeeming features, and for the wider positioning of the narrative. Asked about whether this film was intended to explore transgender narratives, Director Stevie Cruz-Martin explained “It wasn't intentional. Though it is definitely something that comes up with us in terms of being careful not to offend; we are huge supporters of the trans community.”

I think I believe that. Elsewhere, Cruz-Martin hints at how the film “raises questions about the extent to which our bodies shape us, about drawing the line between compromising for love, and changing who you are.”

Perhaps it does. But perhaps there are certain questions that we don't need asked; or if they are to be asked, a certain care in the way they are asked would be helpful. Because when dealing with minority issues, careless talk...well, let's just say framing issues in ways that play to mainstream prejudice can do real harm.

As it is, this film offers disability as reason why the protagonist is a complete asshole, as well as being volunteered, later on, as just a thing to learn to get on with. Being gay is all about irresponsible promiscuity.

As for trans: to be honest, I doubt that most trans folk would view this film as containing, in any sense, an authentic trans narrative. But the selfish motivation for transitioning – which is how a body swap will likely be viewed - the idea that a gay person will swap genders just so they can get to sleep with their boy crush, combined with Ollie's gender dishonesty: these are all commonplace as tropes already, explored ad nauseam by mainstream press and transphobes on a daily basis. And however much the film's director protests this is not a trans film, that is how it will be read by wider audiences. As such it is damaging: a masterclass on why trans women are not to be trusted.

Even the interesting trick of alternating between Ollie and Olivia on screen after the body swap has taken place – presumably as a means to highlight the continuity of some inner personal essence - is questionable. Perhaps the director sees this as a means underscore the divergence between inner person (Ollie) and body (Olivia).An alternative, far less positive view, is that this takes us back to some essentialist view of gender and personhood. Once more, a narrative that in raw form is weaponised daily against trans people.

In the end, I was not fond of the film because there was nothing in it to make me happy and when it came to provoking thought, the only thoughts provoked were indistinguishable from the generic attacks that I, as a trans person, endure on a daily basis. Clumsy, clumsy, clumsy.

Reviewed on: 07 Dec 2018
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Pulse packshot
After a series of humiliations, a young disabled man looking for love decides to transition – but not in the manner you’d expect. Set in an alternative present in which medical procedures are drastically different, the question of what it means to change gender is complicated by the question of what it means to find love when you have a disabled body in an ableist world.

Director: Stevie Cruz-Martin

Writer: Daniel Monks

Starring: Daniel Monks, Caroline Brazier, Scott Lee

Year: 2017

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: Australia


Flare 2018
SQIFF 2018

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