Insomnia has long been a popular theme for exploration in films. The idea of others at peace while we enviously look on, our consciences unwilling to allow us slumber. It reinforces the male protagonists’ alienation in” Fight Club” and “Taxi Driver”. It can symbolize guilt as it does in the “Machinist” and the Norwegian thriller “Insomnia” (as well as the excellent American remake). Alex Proyas’s “Dark City” showed a world without daylight in which every night as we sleep, we are implanted with new memories and given new lives.
Director Evan Charles Anderson’s short film “The Long Awake” initially seems to have a new take on the well worn subject of insomnia. The film sets up a very specific situation in which 57 days ago, everyone went to sleep, but nobody woke up. Everyone except for our protagonist, the Wanderer, who is trapped in a permanent midnight. 57 days without a sunrise. The Wanderer spends his nights scavenging for food and supplies, tracking the days through the moon cycle, and looking for anyone else who may be awake. There are hints that he is either losing his mind, dead, or not as alone as he appears to be.
Anderson casts himself as the Wanderer and his acting consists largely of eye rolls and dramatic exhales to show his frustration. The film also employs both voiceover narration and a steady monologue in which the Wanderer speaks his thoughts and actions aloud. This overuse of exposition saps the film of any real chance for mystery or ambiguity. There are many dark or comic places the concept could go, but it rarely does. It falters under the weight of innumerable possibilities that go unexplored. There are just too many logical flaws. Why is the Wanderer on foot? Why not steal a Maserati? Why does he eat old pizza (which, after 57 days, would be an inedible rotting mess), are animals asleep also? Can the Wanderer sleep? Anderson simply doesn’t do very much with a concept which has plenty of potential.
Over the film’s 22 minute running time, the viewer is frequently given information which was already laid out in the opening. I wonder if the director did not trust in his own story and was urged to add the voiceover narration upfront. It’s unfortunate that he chose to spoon feed the audience because the film could have been much more effective if the Wanderer’s peculiar impasse was instead revealed more naturally. Too many times the film stymies itself and sacrifices subtlety. Even the opening credits song is a musical onslaught called “Still Awake”.
“The Long Awake” over explains where it should be delicate and is small where it should bold.