You ever have something really bad happen to you but it takes you a long time to realize how bad it actually was?
I have friends (more than I care to admit, though I suppose any number greater than zero is one too many) who have been sexually assaulted. Some of them continued to hang out with their assailants in the hours, days or even weeks after their attack. Had coffee, grabbed dinner, went to a movie. This is for two reasons. One, they knew their assailants personally and, up until the assault, always assumed they could trust them. Two, my friends didn’t have the emotional context to understand how horrific their attack was. It took weeks to fully settle in.
There are no sexual assaults in 6 Years (there is a drunken make-out session that could go too far, but doesn’t). Nor is the notion of parental neglect touched on. But this is a film about romantic pain. It’s a film about emotional turmoil, physical abuse, and punch-drunk love. Less than seven minutes into the movie, Mel (Taissa Farmiga) comes home happily drunk and wakes up her boyfriend of six years, Dan (Ben Rosenfield). They talk, they kiss, she says she drove home from the party, and an argument ensues. That argument ends when Mel pushes Dan and he cracks the back of his head open on his dresser. There’s blood everywhere, they go to the emergency room, it’s a mess. And then it’s never mentioned again. Save a brief chat Dan has with his female coworker the next day (“What if you did that to her?” the coworker posits), this assault is never discussed.
What if Dan had done it to Mel? What if he had a few too many drinks, accidentally pushed her and she cracked her head open? That’s an entirely different movie. A bit later in the film, Mel and Dan get into a drunken argument on the front lawn of a house. Mel begins hitting Dan, and he gets her on the ground to subdue her. The cops come, arrest Dan, and that’s that. What if Mel had been the one subduing Dan? Would it have been as big of a deal? What If, What If, What If.
6 Years isn’t a film primarily about violence (though that is a big part of it), but these role reversal questions of What If are automatically linked to the movie. Violence isn’t okay. I don’t care how many ways you spin What If, it is not okay that Mel pushed Dan and Dan pushed Mel. 6 Years knows this, but instead of having the characters harp on the violence, it asks the audience to judge it.
One of the best aspects of 6 Years is that it allows both male and female viewers to judge Mel and Dan equally. Mel has a nasty temper. So bad that when Dan assumes it’s coming, he literally steps in front of her so that she doesn’t hurt or damage anyone or anything around her. Mel’s temper is destructive, there’s no arguing that, but is her temper solely dependent on Dan’s transgressions? If Dan weren’t around, would Mel ever lose her cool? Similarly, if Mel weren’t around, would Dan keep getting physically hurt all the time?
What If, What If, What If.
6 Years is a decent film, not a great one. Writer/director Hannah Fidell, and her excellent director of photography, Andrew Droz Palermo (himself a fine director, see the astounding Rich Hill), put plenty of worthwhile effort into the look of the movie. Farmiga and Rosenfield are both great, as is Lindsay Burdge (so good in Fidell’s previous and great film, A Teacher), who plays Dan’s mature coworker, but the movie doesn’t fully live up to the questions it wants you to ask. However, the fact that it does encourage you to ask those questions is a very good thing. If I saw this film with a woman I was dating, I know we’d have a lot to talk about when the movie was over. That’s worth something.
There may be other, better, similarly-themed films like 6 Years, but seeing as how it is currently readily available on Netflix Instant, I’d recommend watching it for the post-screening conversation alone. Watch it with someone you love. Watch it with someone you used to love. Or hell, better still, watch it with someone you want to love. See where the conversation takes you. B