You Can Live Forever
by Cat McAlpine
When Jaime’s (Anwen O’Driscoll, delivering a memorable performance of youth in crisis) father dies, her unstable mother sends her to stay with family in Quebec. Jaime is left in a strange new place to navigate her grief, sexuality, and attempted indoctrination by Jehova’s Witnesses.
Writer/Director team Sarah Watts and Mark Slutsky construct a taut canvas for their characters’ longing, repression, and resentment to build upon. You Can Live Forever is shot with lingering, even dreamlike takes, in direct opposition to the ever-mounting tension. With a relatively unknown cast and a focus on the interconnected lives of a small community, Watts and Slutsky deliver a sweet and painful coming-of-age tale. The resulting film immediately feels claustrophobic and grounded.
Everything about Jaime’s world shrinks and isolates throughout the film. Several new friends worry that she doesn’t speak French, and will struggle to get along in Quebec. She drops her walkman in a river, losing one of her favorite forms of escapism. Her aunt and uncle, while seemingly understanding that she is not “in the truth,” continually urge her to attend meetings with them at church.
Though the Jehovah’s Witness community is welcoming and warm, there’s a cold truth to their world. Birthdays are not to be celebrated. Appropriate behavior must be supervised. Defectors are not to be acknowledged.
Jaime becomes entranced by another young member of the church, Marike (June Laporte, in a sweet, wide-eyed performance). When Jamie asks what happened to her mom, Marike responds, “She’s not in the truth anymore…we’re supposed to imagine that she’s dead.”
The girls grow close at a lightning pace. Sleepovers with a misplaced hand or arm rapidly blossom into stolen kisses in dark alleyways. Jaime teeters between two selves. She smokes cigarettes and plays video games with Nathan (Hasani Freeman, charming) and she pretends to proselytize so she can spend more time with Marike.
Marike knows that Jamie doesn’t believe, but she doesn’t lose her faith as she discovers her own sexuality. “I can believe enough for the both of us,” pleads Marike. Jamie is challenged to choose between a delayed love that may never come (in an uncertain afterlife) and happiness in her life now.
When all the growing tension comes to a head, the religious community does what they do best: deny, divert, and convert. None of the tension is truly relieved, and everyone is left to continue grinding their teeth until they die.
That lingering tension and guilt stays with you, just like societal shame, religious trauma, and all the other oppressive forces in our lives. And the lack of resolution, the lingering touches and sidelong glances, are what keep You Can Live Forever on the mind once the screen fades to black.