The best movies are the ones that make us think. The big budget blockbusters that allow us turn off our brains and get away from the mundaneness of life are much needed fun, but they are just that: an escape. The movies that stay with us are the ones that require a little thought. Directed by Jordan Horowitz, Painless will cause its audience to ask questions from its opening.
Painless is the story of Henry Long. Henry is afflicted with a disease that prevents him from feeling physical pain. (He is able to feel hot and cold, but to a much lesser degree than the rest of society.) The problems this leads to are shown in clips from the Long family’s home movie collection at the start of the film. The opening immediately shows the severity of Henry’s condition and gives an idea of the sad life he lives.Henry (who also serves as the movie’s narrator) speaks in a monotone voice. As Painless progresses and the audience learns more about his character, it makes complete sense. His has spent his entire life unable to feel pain and this has naturally affected how he reacts to others. One of the things that cause emotional outbursts is physical stimuli. Since pain is absent from Henry’s life, it stands to reason he would be emotionally stunted.
This inability to feel emotion unsurprisingly affects Henry’s social life. The closest thing he has to friends are his doctor and a guy named Eddie who Henry does not seem to really like. Henry only leaves his apartment when he needs to and when he does speak with others he is short to the point of being rude. A running theme in Henry’s life is he does not have time for distractions.Henry’s social awkwardness is seen most with Shani. The two meet on a subway after Shani spills hot coffee on Henry. From when they first begin their friendship, Henry obviously has no idea how to hold a simple conversation with someone. It is funny and uncomfortable to watch him discuss diarrhetics and urine with her in casual conversation. This all culminates in an encounter with a former coworker of Shani’s that further illustrates the sheltered life Henry has lived.
The most interesting thing about Henry and Painless is his simultaneous isolation and connection to the world. Due to his condition, Henry has shut himself off from the world. At the same time, his interest in feeling pain has led to intense study. He is unable to look at the word without diagnosing it. It is compelling to watch a character that wants nothing to do with the outside world interact so much with it.
Painless is a deep movie. Filled with medical terminology, the movie rarely holds the viewer’s hand. Instead of using layman’s terms to describe what is happening, the writing is highly technical. This gives the audience the feeling of being in on what is happening. We may not understand every term, but as we see everything unfold there is a sense of understanding. It is a satisfying feeling when you are not being told what is happening and have a chance to form your own thoughts.A movie like Painless is only as good as its actors. Though he only shows emotion when it relates to his condition, Joey Klein is great in a difficult role. His portrayal of Henry is excellent filled with sadness even in the best of times. Evalena Marie is instantly likable as Shani and is the perfect contrast to Henry . This is a varied cast of characters-from the almost emotionless Henry to Shani who is bubbling over with personality and the chemistry between them all is natural, adding to the film’s documentary like atmosphere.
Painless is a well told story that does not need to do anything fancy. It has an interesting main character and tells an engrossing story. Jordan Horowitz tells a moving tale that may seem simple, but is a multi layered journey anyone can relate to.
Painless will be released theatrically in Los Angeles September 21 and on DVD/VOD on October 2.