Eli and Paige are a couple on a camping trip in the remote desert. It's supposed to be a romantic getaway to celebrate their anniversary. But instead, the pair are in the midst of a serious conflict, and the atmosphere is far from loving or affectionate.
They argue over everything from how to start a fire to how to put up a tent. But eventually, as the tension rises, their disagreement comes out into the open, as do their uglier truths and feelings, pointing to the consequences of their inability to communicate with one another.
Written and directed by Jesse Einstein, this short romantic drama is a portrait of conflict within a long-term partnership, as a couple that is supposed to celebrate their togetherness seems to be falling apart. They begin in a place of daylight, captured in starkly sculpted black-and-white cinematography that paints a landscape of rich texture and vast space. Despite the raw and beautiful setting, they're barely speaking to one another, and when they do, their tone is impatient and irritated. And as the day progresses into the evening -- and their dysfunction comes to the fore -- they become shrouded in shadows visually, mirroring their inability to see the other's point of view.
A film about communication rests on the acuity of its dialogue and performances, and actors Jesse Einstein and Stephanie Einstein ably portray how couples can argue about one thing but are actually in conflict about something else entirely. The surface of their dialogue is Paige's father and his treatment of Eli, but the real argument -- and the focus of the film -- is the long-simmering feelings of resentment and emotional abandonment that both parties feel. Their mutual frustration culminates in what becomes an emotional bloodletting, full of raw unvarnished honesty that seems to create an unbridgeable rift between them -- one that neither seems interested in bridging.
But the desert night setting of "Apart Together" actually gives both Eli and Paige what they need: plenty of space for the largeness of their feelings to express themselves, as well as the chance to come back together in mutual care and aid. As it turns out, the underlying current of anger between them is the shadow side of their love and affection. Part of the film's emotional wisdom is its insight into how dysfunction is perhaps love curdled with too much disappointment, neglect and unspoken resentment. Though they're intensely upset with one another, Eli and Paige still do care about one another. Once they can be truthful and vulnerable without blaming the other, it opens up space as wide as the desert itself for them -- one filled with acceptance, humor and tenderness.