Directed by Dennis Cooper, Zac Farley
A boy wants to blow himself up in Permanent Green Light. He’ll explain to several people, reassuring them, that he doesn’t wish to blow others up, just himself. He doesn’t even want to die, he just wants to ‘end,’ citing as an example the story of a man who fell from a great height and was reduced to a shadow on the ground.
He’s measured and apparently thoughtful as he considers all of this. Actually there’s less consideration and more quiet eagerness for it to happen. When the film opens he has likely already decided what he wants to do, and the rest of the film allows us to catch up and reacquaint ourselves with characters we thought we understood but didn’t.
There’s an unsettling mood over all of this, as I suppose you might expect given the subject in the middle. He is detached from life and the people around him, several who demonstrate towards him a great affection but nevertheless remain distant. They will speak with a certain candor, but as the movie saunters along those words start to feel more hollow. They may care through their words, but action speaks louder, and they do nothing to try and stop their explosion-minded friend.
There will be three suicides throughout the film, and our relationship to each character is different. One we hear speak maybe once, though the film opens with him, staring blankly through a window. Later his neighbor will see through that window that he has hung himself. Rather than calling the police he calls over his friend, the boy who wants to blow himself up, to take a look. They then have one of many long conversations between two characters about life or something else, all with a chilling detachment as if they are speaking about life from the outside.
The boy is Roman, and we learn later that he suffered a brain injury a year before when he fell off a bike. His sister, perhaps his legal guardian, tells him how his personality changed. Though calm and careful with his words, he reminds her that should she enter his room he will freak out. He alludes to a type of outburst we never see throughout the film, but because of his constant restraint it seems all the more plausible.
The first part of the story quietly orbits Roman’s relationship with several other young men. Their friendships are blurred, possibly platonic, possibly otherwise. Sincere and innocent as they seem at first, they become less so as the movie pushes towards its ending. One boy who seems crestfallen when Roman fails to show up at a carnival with him later speaks calmly to another (who has lost his sister to suicide) about not trying to talk Roman out of his own planned death. He then admits to even being curious about it, what it might look like.
Another character introduces Roman to a friend of his who collects bomb vests. He meets with her and asks if she thinks about suicide. She says she does. He then asks about the vests, and she quietly reveals she’s wearing one at that moment. He then asks her to consider not dying because it seems they might have a connection.
When Roman learns of her death, only minutes later in the movie’s runtime, all he can say is, “that was fast.” He then attends a small memorial in which it seems like most in attendance are incapable of mourning, as if it’s a foreign language they never learned to speak.
So to call them disaffected is an understatement, though we do pick up on a sense of yearning earlier in the film. They are teenagers, insecure, defiant, stubborn and curious as most are. Then they settle into an uncomfortable rhythm, falling in line behind Roman’s own quiet conviction. He wants to explode, to simply cease to exist, and they admit they want to see what that looks like too.
It’s quiet, often framed in static, unassuming shots. It’s varying shades of tragedy and dark comedy, mostly because it’s as if we witness the tragedy through a thick prism that distorts it. It’s not even clear if the people involved feel the weight of the tragedy. Their strong emotions are dampened for us, through both their mannerisms and the style of the movie itself. It’s a similar effect as you’d find in a Robert Bresson movie, his films and their characters stripped clean of overt emotion, his characters speaking with the rigidity of a mannequin that learned to speak by listening to Siri over and over again. And then those characters witness, endure and commit horrible things, all while barely even blinking.
So Permanent Green Light is unsettling, challenging but graceful in a strange way, like how anything might be graceful if viewed from far enough away.
Up Next: Vanishing Point (1971), Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), Non-Fiction (2018)