Warning: This post contains spoilers for I’m Not Here.
I’m Not Here is a moving story dealing with alcoholism and its harrowing effects, loss and what is left behind, hope and the possibility it brings.
JK Simmons delivers a haunting performance as Steven Harrison, a broken, desolate, and suicidal alcoholic. The film sets its tone early, with Harrison sitting in his dark, cluttered home, a gaunt and ill man. He is as much a shell of his life as his home is, littered with memories and mementos from his life. These memories are a stark contrast in setting and tone to the way we see Steve now, they are vivid and colorful, but nonetheless painful.
We follow Steven through three distinct periods of his life: now as a sixty year old man (Simmons), and in his memories as Stevie (portrayed by Iain Armitage) and young adult Steve (portrayed by Sebastian Stan). Much of the story is told through these flashes, and memories, as Simmons does not have any dialogue in the film. We follow him as he goes through his day, drifting about in his own home in a drunken stupor, grappling with his own existence and haunted by his past.
Stevie comes from a broken home. His parents divorced at a young age, due largely in part to his father’s (Max Greenfield) alcoholism. Drinking becomes the common thread in Steve’s life, as he has his first drink at six years old while staying with his father. After his parent’s separation, Steve’s father commits suicide, the first of many moments that will haunt him, and contribute to his own descent into alcoholism later in life.
Steve meets Karen (Maika Monroe) in college, and they have an instant connection. He opens up to her about some of his demons, namely his father’s death, and we follow their relationship through marriage, and the birth of their child Trevor (Jeremy Macguire). Steve seems to be trying harder for his son, though he is still drinking. We see a moment from his own childhood echoed when Trevor takes a sip of the alcohol he was drinking. But, as expected Steve’s struggle with alcohol takes a toll on his and Karen’s relationship and their marriage, leading to him being fired from more than one job. And Karen reaches her breaking point, cheating on Steve with his best friend Adam. We see the true extent of just how bad Steve’s drinking has gotten when Karen pours bottle after bottle of alcohol down the drain, but Steve has even stashed a flask in his son’s room. She takes Trevor and leaves for her father’s house. And while Karen’s cheating on Steve may not be a forgivable thing by the audience, it is understandable with the strain he has placed on their relationship.
Early in the film, we learn that Karen has passed away when Steven receives a call from his mother (Mandy Moore) to tell him the news, and wish him a happy birthday. From then on, we see Steve recount memories from his life with Karen, his shortcomings, and his failures as he wrestles with them. We see where it all went wrong through his eyes, from his perspective, and because of this the narrative is somewhat jumpy. We are left wondering at times, even at the end of the film, what truly happened at crucial events in Steve and his family’s life, clouded by Steve’s inability to see past his failures and the self pity they have created.
Michelle Schumacher and Tony Cummings have created a piece that truly drives home the isolating effects of alcoholism and the cycle that it creates, and how it will impact Steve throughout his life. From the young age of six when Stevie tries his first sip of alcohol, spitting it out at first, but quickly coming back for more. When he meets Karen, swigging back several beers throughout the evening, a stark contrast to the way she barely touches the drink she ordered. To the drinking throughout his marriage that ultimately ended. And then we see his brief stint with sobriety, which would be a bright turning point if we hadn’t seen the stupor Steven is in later in his life.
The paradox of Shrodinger’s cat is a theme that Shcumacher and Cummings seemed to use throughout the film. Steve actually mentions it on the night he meets Karen. Will Steve pull himself together while reflecting on his past mistakes, or will he end his own life? The paradox also relates to multiple realities, another thing we see in the film, as Simmons’ older version of Steve comes face to face with Stan’s younger version of the character at several pivotal points in his life. His marriage, his birthday, and when he clings to his son Trevor, who may or may not have been killed. The film’s ending itself is itself a nod to the paradox, because we have no real answers or conclusion. It just ends.
Sebastian Stan delivers another great performance, showing the descent into what changed Steve into the broken man he will become, while infusing charm and warmth into the moments with Karen and Trevor that makes you hopeful for him, despite knowing his future. We see what Steve’s life could have been, and that is what may be most heart breaking when compared to what we see of Steven through Simmons, whose performance was truly moving. He never spoke a word in the film yet, delivered a powerful performance through his actions, body language, and even his overall appearance. I’m Not Here is poignant and simplistic in its message and its delivery, haunting and heart wrenching.
I’m Not Here is currently playing in select theaters and available for download and digital streaming and on demand.