I literally have got to go into full disclosure mode. I can’t even say a single word without dumping all my garbage first. OK, garbage #1, I absolutely adored Izzy Gets the @#$@# Across Town. Like back-flipped I loved it so much. As a super micro-Indie film, and high character dram, it flipped all my switches. Ta-clik, Ta-clik, Ta-clik, clik, clik. (That was the sound of my switches flipping dang it…work with me here people.) Probably not a film most people even have heard of, let alone watched. But WOW. Mackenzie Davis much? So, I went and checked out Halt and Catch Fire over on Netflix…and 30 minutes in I literally stopped because I knew, with my addictive personality, the wheels on my life would literally come off if I continued watching. (Yes, I know, there are groups for this sort of thing, and I am in all of them.) And I’m trying to watch 12 minutes a day in order to keep from binge watching 72 hours of television in the next hour (Trust me, my level of addiction can pull a feat like that off.) and then binge sleeping the next 4 days straight.
Well, Lisa, happened to decide to drop some gas-oh-line on this particular fire in the recommendations section with a little movie entitled, Always Shine. Have you guys seen Creep? Or Creep 2? With Mark Duplass? (He’s my male Mackenzie Davis equivalent. Literally can’t imagine the two of them on the screen at the same time – I personally think any TV that turned that particular film on would implode.) Anyway, Always Shine is basically a two actor Indie film in the same space as Creep. Yes, there are a few more actors here, but they are definitely, 100% peripheral to the story that happens between Anna (Mackenzie) and Beth (Caitlin FitzGerald). If I were you, I’d go in blind with this one – but you can rest assured that if you dig tightly wound indie film character dramas, with all kinds of internal cogs unwinding towards an inevitable conclusion? This is for you. Otherwise Guardians of the Galaxy is over that way —->. And normally I’d trailer it right here – but just go watch the movie if you haven’t seen it already. The trailer gives way way too much already. But, fine, here’s the trailer if you really want to gut your movie experience. Just perfect.
Always Shine Movie Walkthrough
I thought, for years, that movies defined to be “good” were movies that were 150 million dollars worth of production value, a hundred million in advertising. But I got a job at a video store while I was in high school, and the other employees were college students of the enormous nearby liberal arts private school. They quickly, and jarringly, disavowed me of this fairly thin-minded perspective. Early in the morning, when the video store had just opened, and no one was there, they gave me my own liberal arts second hand cinema degree. And one of the movies that I remember standing out, after watching Clerks, Apocalypse Now, and Reality Bites, was a movie called Bad Influence with Rob Lowe and James Spader. It probably was my first introduction to movies that were downward spiral thrillers driven as character devolution pieces. And I thought, woah. Totally different. These films are so fascinatingly different. The characters are three dimensional and their motivations and drivers are just pumping steam engines worth of momentum that are so intense. I’ve been in love ever since. And that is what we get here with this movie. Two extremely well fleshed out characters, a container filled with fissile material. Anna, and Beth, and a whole lot of boom.
The movie has a really basic setup. Two old friends, who haven’t seen each other in a while, attempt to reconnect by heading up into the mountains of Big Sur California together. Anna (played by the aforementioned Mackenzie Davis) and Beth (played by Caitlin FitzGerald) are both aspiring actors, but Beth has reached a modicum of fame, while Anna has not. Anna is still doing unpaid, Indie, short films, in her desperation to get discovered. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it is the way that Anna isn’t handling this very well that is causing all manner of friction between the two friends. And it is also the way that Beth isn’t handling her relatively minor brush with fame well either that is helping to cause a polar opposite repulsion between the two. So much so, that it makes me wonder if there is something else going on here. But we shall get to theorizing in due time, my new found friend, in due time. (Sorry, I make myself laugh.)
Beth and Anna spend time together at the cabin. Spend time talking, stiltedly, haltingly, never addressing the enormous monster, lurking just beneath the surface of their conversations. And in one intense scene, Anna insists on helping Beth with her lines for her horror movie entitled The Stones. (Can you say Clouds of Sils Maria?) Anna is the male part, and Beth is doing her own lines. And it should be said that Beth’s role is supposedly sassy, more of a biting part. But when Beth plays it, she is still her normal wilting violet self. Having none of this, Anna takes over Beth’s role and they switch. Anna, in a word, dismantles Beth, all under the guise of playing this sassy part, and showing her how it’s done. But we can’t tell where Anna ends and where the part begins. In the midst of the harsh verbal opprobrium, we see Anna’s true feelings splattering across Beth’s psyche.
The Woods Encounter
There is a lot more going on this movie than just these two women dismantling each other. But these extraneous encounters are there just to serve the point that these two women are the Yin and Yang of each other. At about the half way point, Anna chases Beth out into the woods, and then we cut away. But when Anna comes back, we see her waking the next morning. Did Anna kill Beth? Did Beth ever exist in the first place? Was everything previous just a bad dream? The bottom line for us though is that Beth is gone.
Anna, taking a more delicate turn, begins dressing in Beth’s clothes, and speaking more demurely. She also has an encounter with a guy that had given Beth a ride earlier in the movie and he mistakes Anna for Beth. So what is going on there? Yeah, we’ll get to that in a minute. Wait for it, but it is a worth while question, that is for sure. Regardless, as the movie winds down, Anna begins seeing Beth more and more often. And confusingly enough, every time she sees her, she is dressed like Anna. Wait, what? I know right? And during one of these particularly intense visages of Beth, Anna goes running off into the woods, and when she circles back to the house, she see the paramedics hauling away Beth’s body, and Beth’s boyfriend grieving. And there stands Anna, crying, as the credits roll.
What Could The Ending of Always Shine Possibly Mean?
This movie, at surface value, is simple. Basic really. Two friends have a conflict, and one kills the other. There’s not much more to it. And yet, in this movie, nothing is simple. The editing – was perforated with cross-cuts of forwards and backwards visions. These cross-cut edits seems to indicate something else is going on here beyond the obvious. But I don’t know, maybe we should investigate a few of the most obvious possibilities for what might be happening here in this movie:
The Literal Jealously Theory of Always Shine –
I would be remiss if I didn’t list, as theory number one, the literal view of this movie. And that is pretty simply that Anna, jealous of Beth, chased her into the woods, and killed her. She then decided, in order to make her break in Hollywood, she took on her friend’s name, clothes, and demeanor in order to finally unlock the key to being successful. And afterwards, she was haunted by visions of her “friend,” and visions of a guilty conscience. Simple enough. The one key question I have here about this theory is whether or not Anna believed she would be able to literally step into Beth’s shoes, and take the role in the movie The Stones. Is that her motivator here? Personally, I don’t think this is the right there, so I’m not going to delve here much, but if you are a literalist, you need to answer this question for yourself. Did Anna attempt to abscond with Beth’s entire life?
The Socially Conscious Theory of Always Shine
I haven’t mentioned this yet, but Takal, the director of Always Shine, is a female. Now, generally speaking, when it comes to feminine breakdown/slasher movies, there are two key ingredients: tears and nudity. Neither of which we get with Always Shine. Why? Because, I get the feeling that women that work in the film industry are required to “Always Shine.” That even with their friends, they are forced to be on. Even where they should be able to be vulnerable, to cry, this isn’t possible. And Takal seems to be saying that even when they aren’t auditioning, they are auditioning – (which I’m pulling from that really great opening dual “auditioning” close up.) Both acting. Both definitely not auditioning.
And while this theory is similar to the previous literal theory, it’s got a whole lot more nuance to it. We learn something critical about Hollywood, and the lack of power of friendships in the face of this spotlight. We also learn that this particular spotlight is bright enough to cause the right (or wrong) person to kill in order to partake.
The Anna/Beth MPD Theory of Always Shine
I am sure that most of you watching this film believe that the literal theory seems pretty iron clad. And maybe you even dig the nuanced version of the Socially Conscious theory. But what if, there happens to be, only one person in the central role of this movie? What if Anna and Beth are the same person? Here, rewind the movie in your mind, and play it again, rethinking through the movie considering this alternate approach to viewing the movie. Anna and Beth are always alone together. In the one or two scenes were they are together with others, they might as well be one person. Like that guy in the bar that Anna wipes out with. Right? Beth recedes into the shadows, until Anna obviously loses it. And then Beth steps forward. Right?
So, could it be, that in Always Shine, we actually have a one person, who is conflicted to her core? We have the introvert Beth, who is so very unclear about her career, and what it is that she wants. And we have Anna, who is so very clear about what she wants, but not sure how to go about getting it. And with this line of thinking, Anna’s chasing Beth down in the woods and killing her, is more of a metaphorical turn of the screw, than a literal one. It is a denial of the passive personality, and an assault of the outgoing side of her personality. Only glitch with this theory? Yeah, the dead body at the end. But maybe she committed suicide and Anna’s running around for half the movie is her ghost?!? hahahah. Oh, I don’t know.
Final Thoughts on Always Shine
Movies that set two people up to have an intense chess game are always going to be fascinating to me. Their history matters. The past that brought them to this point. Everything. And it’s even better when you have such great actors playing such fantastically multi-layered roles. I really thought it was a great movie although I’m not 100% certain how I think the ending ended. I’d prefer to roll with the MPD theory because it is complicated and nuanced. But I’m not sure what to do with that dead body the boyfriend helped the authorities find. Bah. Never let facts get in the way of your own interpretation of a movie… I never do! hahaha.
Edited by, CY