Midlands Review - The Duology of Man
Directed by Theo Gee and Ian Bousher
It’s not every day a film like this pops up and remains in your consciousness long after it’s finished. Whether this particular topic is popular or not, it’s certainly never been more relevant. Exploring the nature of human choice.
The opening scene features a businessman waiting for a train. It’s a relatable experience with nothing out of the ordinary at first glance. The businessman appears to be locked in a situation that he can’t control when we realise he’s being hit periodically in the kneecap with a hammer by a kid. Whether he’s too polite to ask for help or he’s genuinely struggling to cope, my interpretation is that this is a representation of mental stability.
The second half shows a heavily pregnant woman frantically running through the woods alone, looking like she’s about to give birth. An elderly lady just passing by after returning from the shops passes by and reluctantly helps this woman, who is convinced she’s not pregnant.
This was one of the reasons why I kept re-watching Duology of Man; it made me empathetic to the main characters regarding their state of mind and their complacency in society. Both parables show some form of decision to hold back during difficult and unruly situations, to which I am sure most of us have encountered before.
These little experiences test our stamina for putting up with many things, such as late trains, troublesome children, motherhood and ultimately society’s pressure on particular age groups and gender.
The beauty of this short film is that the interpretation is down to the viewer, and I saw a high relevance to the mental stresses of our modern day. At what point do you ask someone to stop hitting you with a hammer? Is it just easier for everyone around you if you weren’t pregnant? These are extreme questions for severe circumstances but I feel that nearly all of us never really show our true feelings during challenging times, and at face value, we just get on with it through convenience, whilst our mental health suffers.
Ian Bousher and Theo Gelenter; the co-directors of Duology of Man and their amazing team across the Midlands helped bring this passion project to life. “We wanted to make something that teeters on the edge – odd and usual, but at the same time just accessible enough that you can explore things and pose questions for people that you can’t in the usual way.”
To help illustrate the complexities of human choice, natural light was used to film the scenes to add a sense of realism. It encouraged a more engaging narrative due to the familiarity of it all, preparing itself for an effortless shift in direction to the more bizarre nature of the situations in question.
Originally this film solely focused on the first half of the story, with more characters and longer scenes. It was then stripped down and a complimentary chapter was added, making Duology of Man a superb pairing of analogies.
The cinematography is simplistic yet captivating, nothing is made too complicated or overly expressive and practical effects were used where it was needed. The tones were kept pragmatic, and yet, something remained surrealistic throughout. It could be that it’s set in an unspecified time and the surroundings are undefined – but not without a sense of familiarity. With that respect, I was never left feeling abandoned; you are in fact, swept in by the characters and their choices.
A lot of research went into choosing which pieces of music were going to open and close Duology of Man. The decision for immediate opera fills you with a sense of melancholy and the tone is set even before the first scene hits. As we see the characters towards the end finally break down, this looked like a perfect metaphor for the unveiling of the mask some of us wear for the outside world. The use of opera towards the end really helped emphasise the emotional intensity, and with the music being so universally empowering, this particular piece felt right to use.
All of the actors in this film delivered exceptional performances. They were highly complimentary to each other with no one over exaggerating their lines. Everything was accomplished with such a natural inflection, it made it easier to absorb and accept the story as it unravels.
Stylistically, Theo tells me, Duology of Man takes inspiration from the 2015 dystopian film The Lobster, by Yorgos Lanthimos. I found some similarities to the Norwegian film The Bothersome Man (Den Brysomme Mannen), with its approach to complacency in our society, making Ian and Theo’s short film a deeply relevant piece for today’s culture concerning how we reflect on our own behaviour, thoughts and choices.
It’s exactly what Ian and Theo had in mind whilst making Duology of Man; their message isn’t force fed, but it is left open for you to think and interpret it as you see fit. For me, I saw it as a manifestation of how complacency can affect an individual.
In the last scenes, both of the main characters from each story are stood on a beach with a calm sea, yet they are both depicting pain and suffering. The serene ocean representing society and all that it should be, and the hidden distress of regular people like businessmen and expectant mothers. I loved this film because it is left down to the viewers to interpret its meaning for themselves.