Alex is a college student who struggles with auditory hallucinations related to schizophrenia. This makes it hard for him to connect with people, much less get through many tasks of university life.
But after a disastrous exam, he retreats to the library, where he meets Carly, a hard-of-hearing classmate who makes a connection with him that goes beyond sound.
Written and directed by Sy Huq, this short isn't quite your typical "meet cute" scenario. Though on paper the story is definitely a simple yet effective case of "boy meets girl," its attention to character and its scrupulous construction of what it feels like to experience what it is like to "hear voices" add a unique dimension, as does its commitment to representing deaf and hard-of-hearing characters in a fuller, richer way.
Sound is a key element in the film, and here it takes center stage, starting with the beginning sequence -- recorded in a 360-degree binaural audio soundscape -- that layers a dense, distracting collage of voices, noises and everyday sounds against images of Alex taking his midterms.
He finds relief only by listening to music on his headphones, which are quickly taken away by his professor, who doesn't understand how Alex is plagued by auditory hallucinations. The segment puts us in Alex's subjective headscape -- its intricacy and sculpted quality sounds remarkable, especially when wearing headphones -- and helps us understand what it is like to be in his world, and what assault he can be under when he experiences his auditory hallucinations.
The craftmanship and camera initially have a muted realism that seems suited towards drama, especially as it immerses us in Alex's experience. The storytelling that develops, though, is one of a slowly developing connection between two people, as they notice and take interest in one another.
The film never quite allows itself to get carried away with this narrative thread -- it's constantly interrupted either by Jack's auditory assaults, or moments of comic relief by an overly irritable librarian -- but it also keeps the film from getting too sentimental, cutting out just as Jack meets the one girl who has a radically different relationship with sound and hearing -- and who connects with him on a level that is both very relatable and very special.
"Things That Fall" feels like the first chapter in a bigger love story, and many viewers will likely want to see these characters develop and grow in their relationship with one another. Other viewers may long to see more of such a sensitively rendered representation of a much-maligned and misunderstood mental condition and perhaps see the love story as superfluous.
But that would be going against the film's overall mission, especially since it balances the delicate line between accurately portraying what it might be like to have to live with schizophrenia without "othering" the mental illness too much or defining a character entirely by it. Alex and Carly are both dealing with conditions that impede their daily lives in some way or another. But they're still people, who yearn and struggle to be seen and understood. They're still worthy of being included in love stories because all human beings strive towards connection with one another -- no matter what our struggles or condition. Alex and Carly have much to learn from one another -- just like how viewers have much to learn about these characters' experiences and lives. We get a short glimpse of it here, and thanks to this thoughtfully crafted story, will likely be curious for more.