Fran lives alone and works in an office where she makes spreadsheets and goes about her day with a kind of meek invisibility. Pensive and melancholy, she also thinks about death. She isn’t necessarily at the edge of crisis, but she questions her very existence and the seeming meaninglessness of life.
But then a co-worker, Robert, takes a romantic interest in Fran. As their gentle flirtation develops, it opens spaces within Fran that may draw her out of her isolation — but it also could let in a pain that she’s long held at bay.
This Oscars shortlisted, Sundance-selected drama short — directed by Stefanie Abel Horowitz, who also co-wrote the script with lead actor Katy Wright-Mead and playwright Kevin Armento — achieves a gentle yet masterful command of tone and craft, offering a deeply affecting character portrait of a woman mired in social isolation and depression.
Depression, with its atavistic malaise and sense of being “stuck,” can be difficult to dramatize, but the film wraps its slender yet finely wrought narrative with a portrayal of Fran’s larger psychological landscape that shows the interplay between Fran’s thoughts and the ripples they make on the surface of her life.
The visual approach of the short reflects Fran herself, with beautifully composed shots rendered in muted, dusty cinematography that often move with a sense of tentative drift. The sound is also remarkably quiet, emphasizing silence and pauses and adding to the isolation and aridity of Fran’s world.
A beautifully written voiceover woven throughout the narrative is key to the film, offering intimate access to the texture of Fran’s thoughts as she goes through the motions of work and life. Her thoughts can be richly whimsical and idiosyncratic, revealing a dry, quick wit — but they also question the very purpose of life itself and disparages Fran’s very existence, with a weighty sense of futility that is debilitating and paralyzing.
When Robert enters the story, it gives both the story and Fran a sense of forward momentum, as well as a sweetly tentative charm. Yet the opportunity for intimacy and connection also threatens to unravel the edifice that Fran has erected around herself, and actor and co-writer Wright-Mead’s performance delineates the slow destabilization in such a self-contained character with great empathy and precision. The painstaking care in building Fran’s character and world pays off, however, in a quietly cathartic conclusion that is both heartbreaking in its sadness yet hopeful in its vulnerability.
“Sometimes, I Think About Dying” is unique in films about mental illness in that it doesn’t pathologize the condition. It’s not presented as a crisis to get through or a condition to overcome, but something deeply ingrained within Fran’s very being. There is no tidy conclusion, and the arc of the narrative isn’t one of triumphing over the odds. Resolutely unsentimental, it is clear-eyed about how insidious depression is.
Many sufferers of this incredibly common condition will appreciate this, knowing that the hard work of dealing with depression is never such a linear process, but an ebb and flow between isolating numbness and deeply held release. This is a film that honors the reality of how complex and intricately embedded depression can be — but also honors the tiny yet momentous steps it takes to reach out.