Don’t confuse movies that are dialogue-free with those that are silent. In silent films, characters talk and have conversations with each other. It is just that what is being said is conveyed by interstitial title cards and pantomime versus synchronized, recorded sound. Dialogue-free films are exactly what they sound like. They are movies in which no dialogue, be it spoken or written on a title card, is uttered. This distinction is made as several people online are calling the short film His Hands a silent movie. That is patently false, as it sports a musical score and ambient noises throughout. What it does lack is any dialogue between its two characters.
An elderly gentleman (Philip Brisebois) puts up plastic sheeting all over one room in his minimally furnished house. After that task, the man sits down and reads, until someone knocks on the door. A twenty-something man (Arron Blake) enters, and the two get intimate. Soon after, the older man gifts the younger one with a pair of earrings. The rest of their night together goes in a very unexpected direction; in order to not spoil anything, this is where the plot synopsis shall end.
“A man enters…the two get intimate…the older man gifts the younger one with a pair of earrings…their night goes in a very unexpected direction…”
Co-writers and directors Arron Blake and Darius Shu have grand ambitions for the intentionally ambiguous His Hands. They offer no concrete explanations for how these two came to meet, or what exactly they are doing. This approach allows the audience to extrapolate their own views on the matters at hand. Does the younger man kill the older one? Does the older one inexplicably take over the other’s body? Is Blake’s character an escort?
Those questions, as well as several other possibilities, all can be reasonably argued with equal validity and weight behind them. However, this same hands-off approach that makes for such an enticing watch also leads to an issue of representation; albeit one I believe is entirely unintentional. A violent act occurs between the two characters and that’s all I can say without giving away much. As a bisexual person, I know all too well the intense, extreme fervor of people who believe that being a member of the LGBTQ community is a mortal sin. These bigots often say things like “homosexuals are violent deviants” or other such nonsense. If a person who views the world in that discriminatory way sees His Hands, they may see it as reinforcing their twisted beliefs.
“…allows the audience to extrapolate their own views on the matters at hand.”
I am not trying to state nor imply that the filmmakers feel that way about the characters in the film, nor that they want to paint non-heteronormative lifestyles in an unflattering light. It is just since the film is intentionally open for interpretation, it is not unreasonable to imagine someone viewing it through such a lens. Now, given the glorious cinematography, the precise editing, moody atmosphere, and impressive acting it is clear that a lot of effort went into the film. It is an intriguing near impeccable watch, that is flawless on a technical level; which is why the lack of clarity on the representation front is all the more heartbreaking.
His Hands is beautifully well shot, exuding a mysterious atmosphere in each frame. The acting and editing are both excellent, and the story’s refusal to hold the audience’s hand is commendable. However, because it doesn’t explain anything at all, it also inadvertently reinforces negative stereotypes.
His Hands (2019) Directed by Arron Blake, Darius Shu. Written by Arron Blake, Darius Shu. Starring Arron Blake, Philip Brisebois.
7 out of 10 Earrings