Till Human Voices Wake Us

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
Till Human Voices Wake Us Movie Poster Image
Sometimes engaging, sometimes clunky.
  • R
  • 2003
  • 97 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Violence

Disturbing themes, sad death

Sex

Non-explicit sexual situation

Language

Some strong language

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this movie has a very sad death and some disturbing themes. Characters drink.

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What's the story?

TILL HUMAN VOICES WAKE US centers around Sam Franks (Lindley Joiner), the son of a man who doesn't show him any warmth or affection. Sam isn't sure of how to handle the feelings in his life. But he can't help responding to Silvy (Brooke Harmen). She is his closest friend and they communicate perfectly in many ways. When we first meet Sam, he'd an adult speaking to a classroom of psychiatric students about how and why people block memories. His father's death forces him to return to the place where he grew up, where it seems that his own repressed memories are waiting for him, along with a mysterious woman named Ruby (Helena Bonham Carter) who is having some memory problems of her own and is not even sure who she is. Sam meets her briefly on the train and then sees her try to drown herself. He rescues her, then takes her to the home he shared with his father to help her remember who she is. But the glimmers of memory seem to connect back to a devastating loss that Sam himself isn't willing to remember.

Is it any good?

There are some things that work on paper and things that work on screen, and unfortunately there was no one connected with this film who knew the difference. Two kinds of audiences will appreciate this movie: The first are those who will be so taken by the flashback scenes of first love between two bright, engaging 15-year-olds that they will be willing to sit through the literally murky present-day scenes that show how the events of the past continue to entangle us. The second are those who are interested in figuring out why an award-winning screenplay will not always make a good movie, especially if you let the screenwriter direct it. It's a shame it doesn't work, because the flashback scenes are exceptionally well handled, with newcomers Joiner and Harmen.

The story is ambitious and impressionistic. Is Ruby real? Is Silvy? But it is also very clunky, especially with characters like Silvy's father, who might as well be wearing a sign that says, "I am here to represent earthy wisdom" as try to handle the dialogue he is asked to deliver. The ending is both too revealing and not concrete enough. And the movie makes a crucial error in not exploring Sam's role in the tragedy and how that affects his response to it.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the impulse to shut down our emotions to protect ourselves from being hurt. What will change for Sam and why?

Movie details

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