Till Human Voices Wake Us (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" - by T.S. Eliot

In order to honor his father's last request, a young psychiatrist takes his father's body to be buried in the small Australian town where he grew up.  While he is there, he encounters and saves the life of a mysterious woman who has lost her memory. Meanwhile, as happens to so many of us in similar circumstances, everyone and everything in his small town cause him to relive some memories about his first sweetheart. The past and present stories advance in parallel, each of them moving in chronological order, each of them driven by something hidden from the audience. As we follow the childhood story, we can see that the two likeable adolescents are deeply and innocently in love, and we wonder what ever happened to that beautiful love. In the adult story, we want to know the identity of the strange woman. We suspect strongly that the two stories may be closely related, and that the girl in the past may be the same person as the unidentified woman, but we can't see exactly how it will play out.

For about 30 minutes, I was completely enthralled by this movie: the music, the photography, the mysteries, and the understated acting were all blended perfectly to hold a consistent tone. That particular tone was a bit dreary and morose for my usual taste, and I thought the presentation was a mite too precious, but the story had enough mystery to get me inside it.

And then it failed me. It was obvious enough that the two women were the same person, and certain other details were also obvious (e.g., so many different references to drowning, including the film's title), so the film needed to derive its emotional power not from what it revealed, but from how it revealed those things. Sadly, it failed. About 70 minutes into the film, I caught myself shouting at the screen, "Will you get on with it?" The film just didn't have enough exposition for its 100 minutes of running time, so it got stuck into a stasis mode where it simply lingered upon the psychiatrist's not-quite-imminent realization of what was by then completely obvious. The pace of the film didn't just slow down. It literally stopped completely. Complete conversations from the childhood scenes were repeated in the adult scenes until I felt like grabbing the guy and slapping him around - "hey, douchebag - it's your friggin' girlfriend." A long word association game was replicated, in which the adult woman gives the same creative and quick-witted responses as her childhood alter ego. A VERY long word game.

Why did the story choose to tread water? Is it a lofty literary parallel required because the characters were literally treading water? Is it because this kind of gimmicky Rod Serling story can't possibly be extended for 100 minutes? No, I don't think the film's length could be the whole answer because Shyamalan made a good full-length movie out of The Sixth Sense, although he started with nothing but the a trick ending and worked backward. Adrian Lyne's ghost story, Jacob's Ladder, managed to hold me entranced through two consecutive sittings - the second one after I knew all the secrets. Those films simply work better than this film. Their details are more interesting, and their clues are subtler and more complicated. I think the real problem with Till Human Voices Wake Us is that the present-day portion of the exposition is just too boring, especially when it keeps presenting explicit parallels to the childhood section long after we "get it." I found myself dozing off during the present-day scenes in the second half of the movie, but I came back to life every time the film switched back to the childhood portion, in which the two kids did a marvelous job.

I can't recall when I have been so disappointed by a film which initially seemed so intriguing. In fact, I hated typing those words, because to do so seemed very much like betraying or bad-mouthing someone once dearly loved. Damn, this should have been a great movie. I wish I could keep the first 30 minutes and get a do-over on the rest. Just as if it were a former lover, I don't regret the love I once had for this film, and I'm glad I watched it. In fact, I'm glad to see that it overcame harsh reviews to achieve a respectable IMDb score and to acquire some fervent supporters, because it deserves to find the people who will love it as it is, and not want to change it.



  • No features at all.
  • The transfer is widescreen, anamorphically enhanced, and very beautiful.



Helena Bonham Carter shows one breast in a sex scene.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus out of four stars: below the two star level. James Berardinelli 2/4, Roger Ebert 1.5/4

The People Vote ...

  • It never reached more than 17 screens in the entire USA, and grossed a mere $120,000.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C-. Damn, this should have been a great movie. I wish I could keep the first 30 minutes and get a do-over on the rest.

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