Imagine if George Orwell wrote a lesson for lesbians about individuality and finding one’s self. That’s what first popped into my mind as I watched Jenn Kao’s utterly captivating “Outside.” Then I thought I may be reading too much into the short film because that’s the kind of guy I am … but I don’t think so. I think this film is all about how many people with feelings for the same sex keep themselves closeted because they are scared for one reason or another. They do what they are told, they look for means of escape, and when they finally accept and embrace who they are, they want people to share their joy — only that may not turn out exactly as planned. Until they reach that level of self-awarness, though, they keep themselves isolated from their true selves, and society is more than willing to help them do it.
That’s what I got from this film that centers on Devi (played by the fantastic Courtney Ford), a woman who lives alone in some cell. She eats when she is told to and occasionally looks out a dirty window into the desert. Her contact with the outside world is through a radio, where she talks to other women as they “drop” (slang for taking some sort of drug) and begin to describe their visions of what they’re “experiencing” in the outside world. Devi’s main contact is Ari (Juliet), who constantly describes being on the beach at sunset. Things start to go wrong when intruders, including one outsider woman named M (Keaton Talmadge), encroach upon Devi’s cell. Ari keeps reminding Devi not to look because it only encourages them, but the slightly boyish M has caught Devi’s attention, and soon our heroine is feeding M through a hole in the wall. As the film reaches its subtle conclusion, longings are awakened and secrets revealed.
Again, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this film is just a fun little sci-fi tale, but I doubt it. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this should be shown to kids in high school. The kids who are struggling with their sexual identity are going to get it, while the others will most likely remain quite oblivious (thus saving teachers the calls from irrational parents). Even if I’m wrong, maybe someone will see the same thing I did, and it will save them a lot of grief in the future. And, heck, even if I am wrong, it’s still a great film, and that’s all that really matters.