Neon Films, 2023
John Julius Schwabach / Misan Harriman
📷 : Used with permission, Netflix
Movies/shows with heavy subjects
Many of us believe that when we lose one of our senses, the others grow stronger. In the same way, younger children, due to their underdeveloped verbal communication skills, possess stronger nonverbal abilities and even an intuition of how others feel. As adults, we are frequently too distracted with our own problems and responsibilities to recognize a grieving person in front of us. Just the same, we can often be too desensitized or callous to care even when we do. In this sense, adolescents have an advantage over us, still having empathy and observational skills that have not dulled or hardened from life experience. Misan Harriman’s Oscar-nominated short film, The After, hints at this reality over the course of its 18 minutes.
David Oyelowo (Selma) plays Dayo, a loving husband and father whose world is turned upside down after a stabbing attack that cost him his family. A year later, his career as a businessman is a distant memory, and he works as a rideshare driver while still grieving the sudden, tragic loss he’s endured. Dayo is not without a support system, as many friends call to check up on him, but he has trouble responding and keeping up with his grief counseling appointments. Over the course of a typical day, he provides rides to numerous strangers in London and becomes numb to the conversations occurring in his backseat. Most of his customers are adults who are either conversing with each other, arguing, or on their phones. Though unspoken, it is clear from Dayo’s demeanor that he is repressing a lot of his still unprocessed emotions in order to put on a face for his job.
One day, a bickering couple and their silent child pile into his backseat for a ride home. The child sits in the middle, clearly affected by her parents arguing. However, she observes Dayo’s body language and facial expressions as he drives. When they arrive, the parents exit the car and head up their front steps, but the child remains in the car. Dayo asks her if she’d like to get out and go inside, to which she reluctantly obliges. However, before heading up the steps, she turns around and hugs him from behind. The parents, still wrapped up in their own argument, suddenly turn and run down to pry their child off Dayo as he falls to the ground sobbing. They leave him on the sidewalk, where he continues crying before pulling himself together and driving off.
The After’s opening sequence is jarring and tragic enough to make Dayo a sympathetic character for the rest of its duration. However, the interesting aspect of the short film is its display of children’s intuition. Despite all of the adult passengers Dayo has in his car, none seem to acknowledge or read him at all; to them, he is somewhat invisible. The first pair of passengers make this reality evident, as the father brags about his son’s soccer accomplishments while the son tells his dad that Dayo probably does not want to hear it. Being polite, Dayo denies any disinterest, even though deep down the conversation is white noise to him. What eventually cracks him open is the child of the bickering parents, who very clearly resembles his own deceased daughter.
Often, films depicting a grieving parent begin after the death has already occurred. Witnessing the sudden and violent nature of his family’s death puts the rest of The After into perspective. In particular, it is easy to become detached from the grieving of other adults, as we not only hear about so much bad in the world but witness it for ourselves. Sometimes, it takes the innocence of a young, attentive soul to recognize another person’s hurt and reach out. The After reminds its audience that although we do not typically think of children as the teachers, sometimes it is good to follow their example.