Daniel Monks, Caroline Brazier, Scott Lee
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With a flair for the visual and aural, and featuring solid performances, Pulse does not answer enough of the questions that the film wants to raise.
Combining hyper-realism and fantasy does not, at first, sound like the most cohesive way to make a film, but Pulse, the Australian bildungsroman, does exactly that. Together, female director and cinematographer, Stevie Cruz-Martin and lead actor, screenwriter, editor and co-producer Daniel Monks tell the story of Olly, a gay, disabled teenager, who, after discovering a treatment that would put his mind inside that of a young, teenage woman, does so to combat his body’s slow descent into dysfunctionality.
With the support of Olly’s mother, Jacqui (Caroline Brazier) and his closest friends, Luke (Scott Lee), Luke’s girlfriend Nat (Sian Ewers), and Britney (Isaro Kayitesi), Olly manages life before his operation. He goes to parties and drinks, like many kids do at his age, but it is all numbing. Watching Luke and Nat kiss, he stands dejected and alone on the dancefloor. What he wants and simultaneously cannot have, due to his illness, is love. That is when Olly learns of the long-term issues of his condition from his doctors. Put simply, he is a ticking time-bomb. With no options left, he decides to adopt this body-transplant treatment.
Just before the surgery, he drops a bomb upon his friends and family; he wants to become a woman. Simultaneously, they must grapple with their friend becoming a woman and this revelation of his sexuality, both raising intriguing questions about bodies, sexuality, and what defines our identity. These questions, however, get sidelined quickly and the film becomes obsessed with Olly (now Olivia) expressing her newfound sexuality. Olly gets herself in quite a mess too, delving into deeper and darker sexual depravity as the film crawls along. The character also becomes harder to like as motivations become more unclear, beyond being a pubescent teenager.
It is difficult to determine whether Olly should be called he or she at this point, because director Cruz-Martin has Olly appear, at times, as the old, male Olly and the new, female Olly, cutting between the two in a single scene. One minute Olivia is in bed with another boy, at another, it is male Olly. This, though visually curious, seems like another question the film is trying to raise without giving an answer to.
Though the cast give solid performances, Daniel Monks and Caroline Brazier being the standouts, and Cruz-Martin showing a flair for visual and, in particular, sound production, the film can’t find its footing in the subjects it covers. Olly’s sexual discovery feels like it should be in accompaniment to something that just isn’t there and when the film gets to its conclusion, Olly’s problems resolve themselves and his self-discovery (as you can assume a film like this would have) doesn’t seem to answer enough of the questions that the film wants to raise.