Eileen is a lonely, socially awkward middle-aged bus driver who lives alone in a cramped, bare apartment, except for a cat. She has no friends. She talks to no one. Almost completely disconnected from the world and with only a strange set of habits and obsessions to anchor her, she is profoundly isolated, except for her job, which is the only link she has to the larger world.
But when Eileen loses her job after a tragic accident, she goes on a strange downward spiral, one that sends her into a confrontation into just why her life has become stunted in the first place.
Writer-director Michael Kratochvil’s uncanny and transfixing short drama begins with a strange, riveting close-up of a woman’s face as it vibrates oddly. As if transfixed by some inner vision or sensation, the image is bizarre, arresting, perhaps even slightly prurient. It’s not until the next shot that we see its our main character sitting in a massage chair in a mall.
Those first shots perfectly encapsulate the way the storytelling in the film juxtaposes the ordinary and the bizarre together, putting viewers into the surreal headspace of a strange, stilted, ultimately tragic outsider. Using artful yet off-kilter images, a muted yet atmospheric approach to cinematography and the elongation of shots and pacing in the editing, the film simply feels like Eileen: hypnotic, eccentric and mesmerizing, with an eye for mordant detail and a disassociative sense of time and event.
Lead actor Suzanne Chapman doesn’t speak at all in the film, but she delivers a brave, raw performance as the lead character, deftly portraying both Eileen’s profoundly awkward mannerisms and demeanor and the heartbreaking emotional hole at the heart of the character. She oscillates between the extreme self-recessiveness that comes from being so invisible in the world and the flickers of emotions and longings that float through her mental landscape when she puts her attention into the outside world. Putting together the pieces together of just why she is so alienated takes time, but when a distant memory of Eileen’s mother appears in the haze of Eileen’s deepest descent into isolation, we see perhaps just why she is the way she is.
“Eileen Pratt” is a transfixing, sometimes repulsive yet ultimately tragic portrait of a human being without any real bond or tether to the world, an outsider who exists on the margins of society and whose ability to disappear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of social annihilation.
Loneliness is part of the human condition, but many know that it has a profound impact on mental health and quality of life. The gift of “Eileen Pratt” is how its formidable craftsmanship evokes a visceral experience of isolation and alienation. We may think we’re simply observing a lonely character as viewers, but the form of the film captures the texture of what it feels like to be trapped in your own head, with only your own strange set of rituals and obsessions to ground you to life in even the most tenuous way. When this tether snaps, it’s all too easy to slip between the cracks and disappear altogether — as if you never existed in the world in the first place.