Olly (Daniel Monks) is a teenager sometime in the future. He is gay, he is disabled, and is smitten with his best friend who happens to be straight. These are the least of his troubles as he is soon faced with further health problems in the new sci-fi character study, Pulse. A solution appears in an experimental procedure that would allow him to be transplanted into a donor body. What develops is an often poignant but problematic sci-fi film that explores youth, sexuality, and gender identity.
Olly chooses to go through with the procedure and, in an attempt to be closer to his male best friend, decides to go with a female body to be transplanted into. At first, things are interesting. Olly’s female friends embrace the chance to teach him how to put on lipstick and flirt with guys. His arrival back at school is met with curious indifference and the mild support of his bestie. Of course, the grass is always greener on the other side, and being in a brand new body in a brand new gender isn’t as simple as Olly anticipates. Things never really are, and we see Olly, in his new body, struggling with identity, physicality, and being comfortable in his own skin.
“…an experimental procedure that would allow him to be transplanted into a donor body…”
Monks, the disabled lead of the film, also penned the screenplay. There is a particularly nuanced approach to even the most subtle moments that simply could not have been written by anyone without a disability. This is where the film takes flight. There are also some very interesting choices made by director Stevie Cruz-Martin who opts to use male actor Monks, intercut with his female persona throughout the movie. The effect tethers us to the character’s struggle with identity and self, adding to the layers in the conflicts.
There are major moments that do require that suspension of disbelief. They mainly concern the idea that a body transplant is as simple a procedure as, say, a vasectomy. That is the easiest thing to swallow because we want to see where the story takes us with these notions. The problem comes in the overly simple resolution of the complex problems that the film presents. In fact, some of the choices in what conflicts arise make our loyalty to our protagonist more than a little shakey.
Misgivings set aside; there is plenty to enjoy in Pulse. The deft direction from Cruz-Martin cuts nimbly back and forth between personal image and perception, allowing us to stay with our main character. Monks’ performance as Olly is beautifully sincere and hits moments of honesty that truly resonate. I honestly just wish that the plot points would have been, perhaps discussed a tad bit further as we come out of the journey, not settled, but just as unsure about our lead.
"…poignant but problematic sci-fi film that explores youth, sexuality, and gender identity."