STAND CLEAR OF THE CLOSING DOORS
Director: Sam Fleischner
Cast: Andrea Suarez Paz, Jesus Sanchez-Velez, Azul Zorrilla, Tenoch Huerta, Marsha Stephanie Blake
Running Time: 1:42
Release Date: 5/23/14 (limited); 7/18/14 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | July 19, 2014
There are two narratives at work in Stand Clear of the Closing Doors. The first follows a teenage boy with autism who spends days traveling the New York City Subway. He is alone and has no specific destination. He simply rides the train, moves through stations, and occasionally pauses to observe or interact with his surroundings.
The second thread follows the boy's family, especially his worried mother. She searches her son's favorite spots, argues with her husband over the phone about what she should do, and awaits for the police to wait the amount of time it takes to consider the boy a legitimate case of a "missing person." She fights with the daughter whose impatience with her brother is partially to blame for his disappearance and tapes flyers with her son's picture across the city with the help of a kind stranger who sees the boy with regularity.
The first scenario is intentionally aimless, and director Sam Fleischner captures it in a semi-documentary fashion. We see people going about their daily routines and, every so often, having them interrupted by a rude passenger, an impromptu dance in the train car, or a puddle of urine on the floor. The camera does not always take a directly subjective perspective on these events, but even when the boy is in frame, there is the sense that we are seeing this transitory community from his point of view. Ricky (Jesus Sanchez-Velez) is obsessed with patterns, locks on to various anomalies in the environment, and has only momentary communication with his fellow passengers.
Fleischner's camera does the same things. It will simply remain still, staring at any ordinary scene—a train leaving a terminal in a silvery blur, the approaching lights of another station, a couple kissing on the platform, a mob of feet walking hither and thither until a curious pair of purple shoes appears. There are patterns to find here—in the seeming chaos of the everyday. It's in mass migrations of commuters. It's in the eyes of riders aware they are on camera—darting toward and quickly away from the lens, lest they too obviously let on that they know they're being recorded. It's in a homeless man who appears twice, once to give Ricky a banana and again to acknowledge that he knows who Ricky is—to confirm that Ricky is one of the regulars now.
The subway scenes are fascinating in the way they are empathetic to this character by remaining completely apathetic toward everything else surrounding him. That is not to say the movie continues the myth that people with autism do not feel emotions. It does risk—perhaps to a fault—such an interpretation, given that Ricky essentially becomes part of the machinery of the transit system once he arrives there.
Fleischner isn't commenting on the generals or attempting to dissect the specifics of autism. He is simply capturing the idea of seeing the world through another's eyes (Whether or not that vision is an accurate one is certainly worthy of serious discussion).
Consider not only what we're seeing but also how we are seeing it. There are long takes that play with reflection and the idea of seeing the ordinary as something representational (that smear of silver and the strong focus on lights that leaves everything surrounding them out of focus); there are quickly edited montages of the same thing over and over again. Fleischner forces us to consider patterns in the same way that Ricky caresses a decoration of tiles on a subway station wall. He demands us to latch on to variances in the same way that Ricky eyeing a drawing of an Ouroboros (a dragon devouring its own tail) starts him on—and serves as an obvious metaphor for—his roundabout journey.
The other narrative thread in the screenplay by Rose Lichter-Marck and Micah Bloomberg observes Ricky's mother Mariana (Andrea Suarez Paz), a maid who spends almost every waking moment outside of work trying to find her son. If the scenes with Ricky are removed from overt emotion, these scenes dive into it. The juxtaposition of the two strands is a clearer way that the movie might appear to step over the line of misrepresenting autism by turning Ricky into a comparatively emotionless character.
There's desperation in Mariana's quest. Her husband (Tenoch Huerta) is working upstate for the most of the story, and when he does return, he is little help—not realizing that his wife has already done every plan he makes. She is too angry at her daughter (Azul Zorrilla), who didn't wait for Ricky after school the day he disappeared. She enlists the help of Carmen (Marsha Stephanie Blake), the kind clerk at a shoe store that Ricky frequents, who attempts to allay Mariana's fears that her son could be dead. Meanwhile, a major storm is approaching the East Coast.
Each of the threads works on its own, but the combination becomes problematic. Fleischner wants us to take in Ricky's trek as impassively curious observers, but the scenes with his mother pull us out of that state with the harsh reality of a helpless parent's nightmare. Those scenes, in turn, are undermined by the subway adventure. Stand Clear of the Closing Doors is admirable but unconvincing.
Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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