Dreams of a Life
Directed by Carol Morley
A London tabloid shocker, the story of 38-year-old occasional office worker Joyce Vincent is both macabre (her corpse, discovered in 2003 in front of a switched-on television, went unnoticed for three years) and dystopian (fears about social disconnect and self-absorption realized). Carol Morley’s reconstructive documentary about Joyce is worth a look not for insightful commentary or freakish novelty, but for the insidious despair it leaves behind.
That feeling emerges obliquely—the interviews get repetitive, the reenactments and score can be heavy-handed, and the scenario is intimidatingly self-evident (the death scene is like some awful, overdetermined installation). But as Joyce’s former co-workers, flatmates, acquaintances, and teary-eyed, egg-headed ex struggle to piece together the specifics about an often-admired woman, Morley’s film becomes a bleak parody of portraiture, its investigations only aggravating the sense of absence.
Morley’s “modern tragedy” is twofold, first in the events themselves (arising out of undefined psychological distress, abusive relationships also left mysterious, and the cracks and incuriosity within casual urban social circles), and in the vividly blurry telling. “Not common, not sort of posh... just nice” goes one recollection, and the film’s title comes to feel obscenely lyrical as one person after another grasps, well-meaningly, at meager memories. “She said no... or did she?” muses her ex, our most sympathetic witness, about a proposal to get together again.
For her 2000 film The Alcohol Years, Morley conducted a similar investigation into her own life, specifically some black-out party years in 1980s Manchester. Dreams, which provides a snapshot of the Thatcher era's ordinary lives (and pop music), yields feminist undertones: hearsay's central role in the film means that it’s all about other people talking about and judging, implicitly or explicitly, Joyce’s professional and romantic independence. In any case, you’ll want to pick up the phone and call somebody immediately afterward. And maybe draft your own obituary.
Opens August 3 at IFC Center