WANDER DARKLY is the antidote to the generic rom-com. Set in the subjective viewpoint of a woman who is convinced that she is dead, it explores a relationship gone wrong using the unencumbered honesty of retrospection.
The woman is Adrienne (Sienna Miller), who is always quick to point out that the father of her infant, Matteo (Diego Luna), is not her husband, even though they have made the couple’s jump into domesticity with not just a baby, but also a home in the suburbs. Though we first see it in an aerial shot bathed in the golden sunlight, this is a household in trouble. After forgetting date night, their excursion into the city arouses Matteo’s suspicions when Adrienne runs into a work colleague who may or may not have designs on her. Like the premise of the film, it’s all subjective, and after a horrific car accident on their way home, the trauma of her concussion leaves Adrienne with only the most tenuous relationship to reality, with only that subjectivity guided by Matteo gently talking her through their relationship from the night they met to the present.
Told with an exquisite artistry that blends the past and present into a seamless unity both cinematically and emotionally, the couple relive key moments as their present selves inhabit their memories, but this time, telling each other what was actually going through their minds. There is delighted surprise to discover how instant the attraction was, how often their minds were in synch, and a different kind of surprise, the revelatory kind, around the most gentle of corrections they voice about what happened when. As they move forward in time, actual events become less certain and darkness creeps in, turning a Day of the Dead festival into something foreboding, and an encounter with a psychic offering a prediction may be tainted by hindsight.
From the conversation just before the crash during which Adrianne wonders aloud what the point is of their relationship if it’s not making them happy, to Matteo’s unflagging insistence that Adrienne is alive, the couple work their way backwards finding each other again. Yet filmmaker Tara Miele maintains an aura of suspense tinged by the supernatural. At no time can we rely on our narrator for facts, only for the truth of her emotions. Visually, floors give way to an idyllic beach, curtains are drawn aside in one reality only to open onto another, time takes on a disorienting fluidity, and foreshadowing may be reality insisting on being acknowledged. The air of tension established by the microaggressions before the accident give way to that of stark unreality as Adrianne follows her corpse to the morgue only to be assured by those she loves and by the medical establishment that she is alive.
Miller gives a career-defining performance of raw vulnerability. A walking heartache that manifests in many ways, all of them rife with the poignance of hope relinquished. The pathos that she encapsulates in the quiet way she answers a doctor’s question about the day of the week by responding that she’s not really here is devastating for its abject resignation. It is the pivotal role that keeps us guessing about whether or not she is dead, and whether or not what is happening to her is her own carefully reconstructed reality designed to help her make sense of it all and, maybe, find resolution.
Full of ingenious twists and haunting moments, WANDER DARKLY is an engrossing psychological thriller that is tender, painful, and wonderfully authentic.