“Till Human Voices Wake Us” was written and directed by Michael Petroni. It tells the story of a psychiatrist, Sam Franks, played by Guy Pearce who returns home to Australia to bury his father. There he meets Ruby, who may or may not be the ghost of a childhood love. She's played by Helena Bonham Carter. Almost the entire film is focused on the two characters and their present and possibly past relationship. If the story sounds familiar it should, it’s nearly the same plot from the 2000 film “Waking the Dead” that starred Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connelly.
Guy Pearce’s portrayal of Sam is well honed, if just a little too inscrutable. His character carries an enormous weight on his shoulders and as a result we are locked out of any kind of insight into his emotions until very late in the film. It’s hard to feel a connection with a character that is seemingly so unfeeling.
Helena Bonham Carter’s performance as the amnesiac Ruby is endearing although it feels as if there’s a puzzle to solve for which we already know the answer. At the very least Ruby is flirty and teasing to the impenetrable Sam and for that we can thank her, adding some liveliness to a mostly downbeat film.
A good part of the film is shown in flashback. The children are impressively portrayed; Lindley Joyner plays Sam and Brook Harman is his girlfriend Silvy. Their performances help to add some clarity to the plot and advance the story. They also provide a nice break to the somewhat tedious present day story.
Still the film asks an awful lot of the audience. The couple takes long walks together as Sam recalls his childhood love. Ruby has a flash of déjà vu and becomes frightened. We watch as the two wrestle with Ruby’s amnesia, attempting to bring her around via hypnosis and word association games. The clues don’t add up to much nor do they build any real suspense.
What rescues the film from total disaster is the performance of two very fine actors in Mr. Pearce and Ms. Bonham Carter. They manage to stretch what little material there is into a few scattered scenes of conflict and tension. Although the chemistry between the two never seems to really boom, it’s more like a whimper.
Unfortunately by the time “Till Human Voices Wake Us” finally arrives at it’s revealing conclusion it’s deliberate pace dispelled any enthusiasm I may have been able to muster. It’s like when your flight is three hours late, do you really care that the pilot had a nice landing? By the end I suspect most viewers will need the waking. I’m Erik Petersen for Movie Magazine.
© 2003 - Erik Petersen - Air Date: 3/5/03
Till Human Voices Wake Us
USA - 2001