Will wakes up from a restless night with a strange tune in his head. As he goes about starting his day, he thinks about it while in the shower. It floats through his head at work. He hums it in line for coffee. He just can’t get it out of his head.
He finally learns the name of the song — “Jupiter” by 19th century English composer Gustav Holst — which finally allows him to do a deep dive into Holst’s background and catalog. But instead of exorcising the song from his head, it only escalates the intensity of this particular earworm, making life very uncomfortable for Will indeed.
Directors Ken Williams and Denis Fitzpatrick — working off a script by Williams — ingenuously explore the everyday scenario of getting a song stuck in your head in this witty comedy short. It’s a situation that nearly everyone can relate to, but this story explores it to its whimsical yet logical extreme.
Taking a muted, naturalistic approach in both the visuals and tone, the film begins with the relatable scene of Will starting his day with the song in his head. But even as his everyday life continues, the song continues to flutter at the edges of his consciousness, slowly intruding into his life. At first he gets a few puzzled looks for his constant humming from people around him. But soon it starts to interfere with his functioning, affecting even his relationship with long-suffering girlfriend Dee, who is bothered by his constant humming, even as they sleep.
The scenario could easily be played with a sense of frantic farce, but the film goes for a softer, more understated approach, tracking the gradual creep of slight madness within Will’s head. Actor Sean T. O’Meallaigh plays Will with a nuance and precision that allows him to stand in for the ordinary everyman. Even his reactions to the constant music — and eventually the voice of the composer talking to him — are played for believability, grounding an increasingly outlandish scenario and keeping it relatable even as it escalates.
Solid sound design and mixing is key to making the film work, both as a way to track Will’s subjective state of mind but also for the entrance of the film’s unseen character, the composer Gustav Holst himself. As Holst’s composition weaves in and out of the film — and playing off Will’s reactions quite well — it deftly transitions from a pleasant bit of orchestral score into an uncomfortably intrusive presence, forming a key obstacle in the storytelling and driving Will bonkers.
The humor of “Gustav” isn’t in setting up a joke and paying it off with a punchline, but instead taking a tiny but relatable piece of the everyday human experience and making it super-sized in presence. Well-observed, slyly witty and down-to-earth, the short is an amusing, enjoyable excursion into one man’s head — and viewers may never quite hear music, much less Holst, in the same way again.