DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: Evelyn

TW:

I would err on the side of caution as a viewer. The contents of this film could be very upsetting for some due to the themes of suicide, mental health, mental illness and bereavement. I understand that these are powerful themes that we try to face in the process of recovery but, especially during this precarious time of living in isolation and avoiding social contact, it might be worth putting this title on the shelf for better days.

“Don’t go, please stay”.

These are the words lifted from a vivid dream in which a brother pleads with the apparition of his deceased brother. He describes that awful feeling of knowing that things aren’t quite right, that his brother isn’t really real, that he must be dreaming because his brother is dead, but he still pleads nonetheless.

Grief is a challenging feat for most people and filmmaker Orlando von Einsiedel is no exception.

Einsiedel is no stranger to danger. His colourful resume is comprised of filming up-close-and-personal in war-zones and refugee camps. As a fly on the wall in high-risk, adrenaline-pumped environments, he has witnessed horrors beyond comprehension. Despite this, Einsiedel claims that none of these things have affected him quite as much as one particular subject: the unexpected suicide of his younger brother Evelyn.

Einsiedel has been unable to say his brother’s name for ten years. His sister, brother and their single mother have collectively struggled to cope with the repercussions of bereavement and have learned to completely avoid the topic of Evelyn’s suicide. With tears in his eyes, Einsiedel stares down the barrel of the camera from the other side, for the first time, and exposes the raw, brutal and long-awaited confrontation that his family face with acknowledged Evelyn’s death.

Sharing is preternaturally difficult for the family, yet they venture out on a journey to heal, retracing the hiking paths they once walked with Evelyn when he was a young boy. Recounting their fondest and most difficult memories of him along the way, they talk mental health, mental illness, vulnerability and the reality of living with the absence of a loved one. They drudge up recurring, vivid nightmares and the feelings of guilt and shame, which have haunted them in the years since Evelyn’s passing. Bearing the brunt of responsibility as a sibling or a mother, they reflect upon the signs of deterioration that Evelyn displayed and reflect on their roles in his battle with schizophrenia and depression.

This documentary is an ode to Evelyn’s life but more importantly, it’s an exploration of the impact his life and subsequent death had upon those who loved him. This film has managed to authentically encapsulate the roller coaster ride that is grief in a way I’m not sure I’ve encountered before. With nowhere to hide, the family are shown bursting spontaneously into tears in one shot and laughing hysterically in another, as they muse on the idiosyncrasies of Evelyn’s life. That’s what it’s like. A complete mess of emotions.

To hear somebody else express perfectly the frustrations and angst that I’ve felt over the last few years, since my uncle died, has been strangely healing. I initially thought that the nature of this documentary would leave me hysterically bawling from beginning to end but, in actuality, it really powerfully demonstrated that experiences of grief, though felt in a very insular manner, are intrinsically similar. It made me feel less alone in my experience and also more motivated to keep the conversation going, regarding mental illness.

For anybody who has experienced an unexpected loss, this documentary is a live-wire and touches a lot of nerves. It’s also a reaffirming scope into how deeply trauma can embed itself and the impact it can have, long after the event in question. Einsiedel captures the fragility of the lives left behind following a suicide and really brings relevant issues to the forefront. I applaud him for finding it within himself to embark on this journey, and even more spectacularly, to also invite others to experience it alongside him.

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