Some people believe that the fear of death is the only thing keeping society from collapse. But given the events of this year, it may be time to reconsider how much power looming death really has over us. Capitalist culture wants us to believe that death is a necessity to the fabric of society and that it’s simply a matter of choice. Personally, I don’t think that’s true. I think death comes for us all, and it doesn’t discriminate. Not like we do. We push diet and exercise as the key to cheating death. We push morals, religion, laws, all of which are supposed to determine whether or not we die and if when it happens, whether we deserve it. But, what if we knew for a fact that it was happening tomorrow? Would any of this reasoning matter then?
In Amy Seimetz’s long-awaited second feature She Dies Tomorrow, she posits that the realization of impending death leads to a relinquishing of control, which gives way to a sense of peace. The film’s heroine, played by the phenomenal Kate Lyn Sheil, shares her name with the director. And as she moves through the world in what she believes to be her final hours, she participates in an array of activities recognizable to anyone with clinical depression. She drinks alone, slowly, but consistently. She online shops to fill the time, looking for random items to fill her largely empty home. She plays the same song—Mozart’s final requiem—over and over, feeling the texture of the walls or lying on her back as she listens, blanketing herself in the music. When she finally does leave the house, she drives a dune buggy and wanders the desert alone.
Depression often makes us feel like we’re alone in the world, and that no one else could possibly understand what we’re going through. But in She Dies Tomorrow, Seimetz gives us a world where communicating your dread to another person results in them eventually understanding it themself. Amy announces to her friend Jane (Jane Adams) that she is going to die tomorrow. Jane rejects the notion at first, but later has her own realization. Jane tells her brother (Chris Messina) and his wife (Katie Aselton) as well as their two friends Brian (Tunde Adebimpe) and Tilly (Jennifer Kim). They reject it at first but eventually with time they accept it as truth. Most of the film depicts these characters preparing for their final hours, doing and saying everything that they had been holding inside. And then something fascinating happens: Their fear of tomorrow gives way to a sense of peace.
When I entered the theater to watch She Dies Tomorrow a few days before quarantine began, I felt like I was falling apart. And then, oddly, the film had a calming effect on me. I loved watching Jane walk through the city in her pajamas, calmly sharing her realization with others. When Brian and Tilly break up, I’m happy for them. I was moved by the earnest conversation between Jason and Susan after they had spent the entire night trying to avoid serious topics of conversation. I even found myself hopeful for Amy, objectively the film’s saddest character. Though it’s a story about death, She Dies Tomorrow is only the beginning of Amy’s journey. She’s just gone through a very traumatic event and it’s lead her to look at her life and whether or not she’s happy. She’s living in a new house, distracting herself with objects. But in that new empty space, Amy is forced to meet herself, perhaps for the first time.
Now, several months into quarantine with no end in sight, She Dies Tomorrow has been heralded as the movie of this moment. But for the past 4 months, the film has been inspiring me to look at myself. Holding it with me, I’ve been able to come out the other side of a terrible point in my life. And I find myself unafraid—at least for the moment. Death will always be there, but until then we are given this time now to get to know ourselves and face our fears. And in that respect, She Dies Tomorrow is a crowning achievement of cinematic self-reflection. Astonishingly, Seimetz has been able to encapsulate the rawest part of the human experience in a brisk 84 minutes. One can only aspire to create work with that much meaning.