Disillusioned by years spent as an EMT, saving far fewer lives than she ever imagined, Lorraine (Belinda Watson) meets with her brother Casper (Miles Snow) to talk and ask him about his own feelings, since he was a lifeguard before he burned out for similar reasons. Casper sees through the conversation, and the two discuss, to re-ignite Lorraine’s drive to save lives again, that they re-create the first scenario where she ever saved someone’s life, the day a young Casper almost drowned. The idea grows even larger in Casper’s head after their conversation ends, and he decides that maybe he should try the same thing, with the first person he ever saved, Julianne (Lilly Nelson).
Ken Cohen’s Liquid Lungs is a tragic tale of disillusionment, survivor’s guilt and misplaced obsession. Almost like a drug addiction, Casper and Lorraine have been chasing the feelings they got the first time they ever saved someone’s life, and the years since have done nothing but diminish that spirit until they are left with the choice of either acceptance or a drastic measure.
There’s also the thread of survivor’s guilt and obligation. When Lorraine saved Casper that day, I doubt she ever thought, “And now your life belongs to me, and if I want to endanger it in the future, you owe it to me to let me try,” but years down the line and frazzled by life, that’s the somewhat unspoken thought she’s clinging to. Casper too, with Julianne, thus there’s a perversion of the idea of saving a life going on. It’s not saving, it’s acquiring life debts owed, and Casper and Lorraine are looking to collect. Thus, for this crew, the act of salvation is ultimately one of damnation.
Which is pretty depressing, when you think about it. And this isn’t a film where you’re likely going to end up smiling afterward. It is very much a tragedy, one brought to life by the quality performances of Belinda Watson and Miles Snow. Extra credit is due Snow, however, for the emotional journey he takes Casper through over the course of the film. Lorraine may be the impetus, but this very well could be Casper’s story. He’s the one who so easily puts into words what Lorraine is initially struggling to explain, and he’s the one who is most committed to seeing it all through.
Liquid Lungs is a complex, emotional film that travels down a narrative line that could work for any scenario where one life is saved by another. In this case it’s an EMT and a lifeguard, but imagine if this was a tale of a disillusioned superhero. The sentiments in the core of this one would still work, and that’d be a pretty incredible scenario too. It would always be somewhat removed, however (when was the last time you saw a superhero), and that’s why this tale would ultimately hit with more power. The potential consequences of saving, and being saved, as played out by those we can most relate to, each other.
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