Aaron (Michael Walton) wakes up in the middle of the forest, completely naked and alone. As he stumbles back to civilization, he eventually finds himself in police custody. Policeman David (Louis Mandylor) recognizes Aaron as his brother-in-law, but is confused; Aaron went missing in action during Operation Desert Storm, and hasn’t been seen for twenty years. What’s stranger, Aaron appears to have not aged a bit, and he seems incapable of speaking.
David and Andrea (Kinga Philipps), Aaron’s sister, open their home to Aaron while everyone tries to figure out what’s going on. At the same time, word reaches Aaron’s ex-girlfriend, Lucey (Sally McDonald), that Aaron has reappeared. At this point, Lucey has married and has a child of her own, but she can’t help but experience old feelings at the thought of Aaron’s return. On top of all this, a conspiracy theorist (Dominique Swain) unexpectedly shows up one day professing to have answers, but they’re far-fetched and involve alien abduction.
Marc Clebanoff’s The Mourning is tonally interesting, using sci-fi elements to underscore and elevate the stakes of a personal drama. At the core is a story of a man who has been away for a very long time, returning to what he has once known, though everyone and everything is different. He’s different too, obviously, but for the sake of his relationship with those he left, he appears the same.
The most obvious questions that pop into your mind are “where has he been?” and “what happened?” but the more important question is why he has returned. What is it that he is seeking? Is it to reclaim a past he lost, or perhaps to smooth over conflicts and make reconciliations for a proper goodbye? When you look in that direction, instead of the more fantastical questions regarding his disappearance, a stronger dramatic narrative reveals itself.
While I enjoyed the sci-fi elements, sometimes they intrude a bit too much. The conspiracy theorist and her well-armed entourage takes the film down a road that unnaturally forces conflict in what is otherwise a quiet film, so it’s hard to accept it at times. Likewise, I understand the challenges in creating a narrative where one character is to look exactly like they did twenty years prior, while everyone else has aged, but to me everyone looks the same at all times, even in flashbacks, to the point where the supposed separation in age doesn’t make much of a dent.
To that end, it’s hard to tell if Aaron just always looked older than he was supposed to be, or everyone else just doesn’t look as old as they’re supposed to be. Considering the realities of the execution, perhaps it didn’t need to be such a plot point; had he just aged, it certainly would’ve added to the ambiguity of what’s going on.
On the technical side of things, the audio tended to be very soft; I found myself adjusting the volume a number of times. Much of the film’s dialogue, at least early on, is spoken in whispers or quiet asides, so it makes sense that it would be soft, but it can be hard to follow along with.
In the end, you can certainly find value in the sci-fi aspects of The Mourning, but for me the real meat is in the core of a man returning after a life-altering experience. You could tell this story as is with a potential alien connection, but it would be just as valid and strong if it was simply Aaron returning after being at war. The impact and power of the piece is in the interpersonal relationships, and how those must adapt, evolve and heal.
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