Skip is a retired teacher who once taught history at a local high school. Now he runs his own shop, and has gained a reputation for being the best laminator in town.
But his quiet life is interrupted when a former student, Monte, shows up on the doorstep of his business, clearly in need of help. But when that help clearly never comes for Monte, his tragic fate causes Skip to question everything.
Writer-director Gus Gavino’s meditative short drama is a seemingly modest, humble film about a seemingly modest, humble man who lives a quiet, circumscribed life centered on work. Skip is a quiet type, both in his shop, where he works alongside the more loquacious Saul, and at home, where he lives alone. He is self-contained and self-sufficient, almost monk-like within the confines of his austere existence.
The camerawork and editing takes its cue from Skip, remaining at an equally calm, unhurried yet meticulous pace and tempo. The film’s minimalist first half takes great care to put viewers in the hushed, seemingly peaceable mindset of Skip, noting how carefully he’s constructed his life in a match with his temperament.
Yet there’s also a sense of loneliness and unease — we don’t know much about Skip, but certain clues in the mise-en-scene indicate his earlier life was much different. Actor Arlen Daleske brings the central character of the film to life with a quietly contained performance, embodying Skip with all his concentration and self-effacement.
Skip’s life is ruptured by a horrific discovery, one that pulls him into the past toward one brief and vivid post-retirement encounter with his former student, Monte. Monte is clearly in dire straits, but Skip seems unable to respond to Monte, who runs off, leaving Skip bewildered. The next time Skip encounters Monte, it’s under tragic circumstances. Skip then seems to burrow into an examination of his life and his path, and he makes a decision to change his life in an unexpected direction.
The ending of “Golden Slumber” is both economical and enigmatic, as sparing about Skip’s future as it is about his past. But for this narrative, it’s less about the specific journey than about that single event or moment that pierces through the everyday weight of life, shedding light on how one arrives at a place and where they are going. A few key images and motifs suggest this moment is a crucial fulcrum in the human spiritual journey, but these are so lightly woven into that it opens up the film’s potential meaning like a Zen koan. The open-endedness and indeterminacy is more about sparking a similar journey of reflection in the viewer — one that leads to unexpected, poetic, mysterious places.