Curfew is a short film (20 min.) that won the Academy Award in 2012.
It’s about Richie (Shawn Christensen, also the writer and director), a young man on the verge of suicide who receives a desperate call from his estranged sister Maggie – a single mother – asking him to watch his niece Sophia (9) for a few hours. Richie agrees, and he and Sophia form a deep bond during their time together. Maggie is dismissive when Richie brings Sophia home at the end, and Richie contemplates suicide again, but a final call from her tentatively asking Richie to be a part of their lives again brings him back.
It was adapted into a full-length feature called Before I Disappear that came out this year.
Shawn Christensen writes/directs/stars again, and Sophia is played by the same actress – Fatima Ptacek. (She’s 11 in this one.) Emmy Rossum joins as Maggie, and Paul Wesley, Ron Perlman, Richard Schiff, and Fran Kranz play some of the new characters in this expansion of the story.
Since the film is 5x the length of the short you can imagine that a lot had to be added in (and some small things changed), but it’s still essentially the same story.
I’m grateful to have both versions. In my opinion, the short is much better and I like it much better, but that is not a criticism of the film – it is very good. I highly recommend both of them, especially to all of you. (And I’d like to give a shout out to AK who recommended the short to me last year.) If anyone wants to talk about the differences and possibly critique in more detail, I’d love to. For this, I’m going to stay away from doing that so it doesn’t get bogged down in me pretending to know what I’m talking about on more than one subject.
The recommendation is honestly the main thing I have to say. I don’t feel like I have any insightful commentary to add – I hope no one will take this as a criticism when I say that it’s all pretty straightforward.
From a shipping perspective, as you can imagine the uncle/niece relationship is unbearably sweet, but my personal shipping preference here is for Richie/Maggie, which wouldn’t necessarily always be the case, but with these two it is. There’s something broken between them but I get so excited when I imagine it slowly (or rapidly) being fixed.
In the film, Richie seems to be mainly suicidal over the death of his girlfriend Vista. He has visions of her and some narration takes place in the form of letters he writes her, much of the content of which are his plans to join her. It was not done poorly, but as I’m sure you will have no trouble surmising, I prefer the ambiguity of the short. In the short, we don’t know why he’s suicidal. We know he’s in a dark place because of drugs (also true in the film), but we can imagine that he’s lonely and has been slowly in a downward spiral since being cast-off by his sister. In the short he dropped Sophia when she was a baby (one of the only things that is not a part of the film as well), and it’s easy to see how Maggie would have eventually decided that he wasn’t fit to be around her child and severed ties with him. But in the film it’s nailed in that he loved Vista very intensely and was destroyed by her loss.
[One of the things that I think is lost in the expanded version is the concentration on Richie’s relationships with Sophia and Maggie – the razor sharp focus. (No pun intended.) In the short it’s all about them. In the film, he’s got Vista, he’s got all of these other people in his life. It’s about his whole life.]
But there is another way of looking at things. In the short all we know is that Maggie has been hit and has taken out a restraining order. We assume this is against someone she was involved with romantically, but we don’t know if it’s a current boyfriend or Sophia’s father (or whether she was ever married to Sophia’s father). In the film, we meet Sophia’s dad (Fran Kranz) who is terrible and has always been terrible. (Richie apparently punched him some years back for being a douchebag and he whales on him again in the present day.) And we learn that Maggie has been hit by her current boyfriend (who was lying to her about being married). So Maggie has had two romantic relationships go very very wrong, and Richie has lost Vista. It seems to me, all the love interests being felled is possibly even better than never having had any at all. Richie puts Vista to rest in the end in a way that shows he is beginning to move on. (And it’s dubious that she was ever good for him. )
Obviously I’m going to ship ships either way and I’m not going to let myself get bothered too much by petty obstructions like death or rivals, still it’s nice when you can point at what happens and say, “omg they’re meant to be jfkldjljd”. (I always say that Doom, House of Wax, Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie, and Aliens in the Attic make for some of the most enjoyable non-canon shipping partly because all love interests are total non-factors by the time the movie is over.) No matter how much Richie loved Vista, he’s young and she’s gone. Whether in the short where she doesn’t exist or in the film where she does, Richie and Maggie are enjoyable to ship in part because in a way they end up together. You wouldn’t be able to see it that way if Richie had only been fighting with Vista and they patched things up, or Maggie had a coworker friend that she comes to see in a new light or whatever. I mean, with what’s going on in their lives (and the nature of the story and what it wants to be) it wouldn’t make sense at all for either of them to have love interests, of course, but it’s still a point in its favor.
[gets philosophical] Should non-canon shipping really be influenced by such matters as “party 1 has a love interest and ends up with them” or “neither party has a love interest” or “a giant bird comes along and picks up party 2’s love interest and carries them away forever”? I don’t know. But I think the truth is that it does affect how enjoyable it is. No, it’s not a reason to ship them, but it is a reason to ship them even more and it’s a motivating factor in terms of committing to watch the work from our (my?) perspective. It comes closer to canon when they’re not ending up with someone else, when that someone else is, in fact, disposed of in some way.
Richie and Maggie were close once upon a time. Two of the most important things about their relationship in either version are 1) the flipbooks, and 2) the story about the bullies. When they were young, Richie used to draw flipbooks about a girl named Sophia who would be killed in horrible ways but always comes back to life at the end. (Like Richie? Eh?)
He says that Maggie used to love them and would laugh and laugh and laugh at them. He tells his niece Sophia that they never knew any Sophias and he always wondered if Maggie had named her after the character in his flipbooks. He presents his idea in such a awkward and self-conscious way – it really gets me in the feels because you can tell how important it is to him, and how he has always treasured this idea and hoped it was true.
He tries to get Sophia to tell him whether Maggie had ever told her why she had been named Sophia, but Sophia’s answer is, “She doesn’t talk about you.” She says this several times to different prompts. Especially towards the beginning when Sophia seems to assume the worst about him he wonders what Maggie has said about him. I get the impression – especially from the short – that Richie is like a middle schooler who wants to know what his crush has said about him. Obviously he’d be curious to know what she had said, and he would be hurt to know she hadn’t said much at all and nothing positive – anyone would be. But one of the reasons that my preference is for Richie/Maggie is that a lot of Richie and Sophia’s conversations are about his relationship with Maggie. He wants to know what she has said about him, he wants to know if Sophia is named after the character he used to amuse Maggie with, he wants to know how Maggie has positioned herself with regards to their relationship. And Sophia’s answer of, “She doesn’t talk about you” hurts him deeply.
We don’t ever get an answer from Maggie, but I have no qualms about assuming that Maggie did name Sophia after the flipbooks. And that gives me massive feels too. Whether she was married and had a planned pregnancy and named her daughter after something that represented her bond with her brother, or whether (as in the film) she was in an effed up situation, getting knocked up as a teenager by a douchebag who wanted no part of it, and she called upon something that had given her joy as a kid when there wasn’t a lot of joy elsewhere to be found – either way, it’s jfdljalfjdkajfkdjalj, for lack of a better term.
Richie has held onto the flipbooks, which is so important. In the film he says that he made probably 60 of them, and he’s kept all of them in a box. He’s not the sort of person you would imagine would hold onto much of anything, least of all a burdensome collection of sentimental childhood art projects, but he did. And I like to think that it’s more about Maggie than anything. Those books are special to him because Maggie loved them. They’re a good memory because they’re a memory of Maggie being happy, of him making her happy. And another thing that is really important is that early on in his time with Sophia, Richie sees someone pulling out some drugs and we can see this affecting him and making him feel like he needs a fix, but instead of going to get more drugs he goes to get the flipbooks. He replaces his craving and dark inclinations with a symbol of his love for Maggie and Sophia. It’s not just him doing right by Sophia and not getting high while he’s taking care of her – he’s actively choosing one thing over the other thing.
In the film, Maggie sees the flipbooks sitting on the table. She knew what they were right away. It was powerful and it affected her. You can see she’s almost smiling as she’s looking at them. It’s like she’s discovering a whole part of her that has been lost.
And in the short, she sees Richie giving them to Sophia and the two of them exchange a really charged look. There’s so much going on in that exchange. Maggie has to look away.
The other important Richie/Maggie thing that shows how close they once were is the story about the bullies. When Richie sees Maggie’s face, sees that she has been beaten, he recounts a story about when he was being violently picked on and Maggie showed up and punched them and told them to stop messing with her brother. Richie wasn’t embarrassed that his (little!) sister had fought his battle for him, he tells her he knew then that he had the coolest sister in the world, and that he can tell by Sophia that it’s still true. The story makes Maggie cry.
She still lets Richie walk out the apartment, but she calls him as soon as he gets home and invites him to come back another day. Not only is it a story that tells us how close they were when they were kids (and in the film Richie actually says that – we were close, don’t you miss that, etc.) –
– but it also works to remind Maggie of how she used to feel about him. That she used to feel protective, that she used to love him so much. It’s a turning point for her in the short. In the film, Sophia comes back out and stands sadly by the front door. Maggie up from the flipbooks and over at her. It was very effective, you just knew what was going on in their silent communication. Maggie realized instantly that just letting him walk out was a mistake and that they both loved him and needed him. You can see her realizing it: “We need him. We love him and we need him.” That’s the turning point in the film.
But she’s wrecked just as soon as he walks away:I think Maggie’s desire to have Richie back is already there, but it’s like she says, she doesn’t want Sophia to have any more “false idols”. She doesn’t want Sophia to have another shitty guy in her life who can’t be depended upon, like her father. Maggie is trying to save her the heartbreak. Seeing how quickly Sophia has fallen for him just makes her angry instead of moving her. But she’s angry because she wants Richie to be around and she wants him to be dependable and to be a positive influence but she doesn’t think that he will be. Talking with him and seeing him is obviously very upsetting for her. She hasn’t pushed him away because she doesn’t care – it’s obvious from the way she holds out a pitchfork to keep him distant that she cares too deeply and just can’t handle it. She’s got so much else going on, she can’t face this right now.
In the film, we learn that a few years ago Maggie told Richie to “fuck off” after an incident. It seems that she was just angry and needed a little space from him for a moment, but he took it to mean forever and he never contacted her again. (It’s been 5 years.) But Maggie’s is actually pretty angry that she hasn’t heard from him in all that time.
Another thing that I wanted to add is that it’s really hard to watch Richie go home after these hours of being enchanted by Sophia and loving her and seeing Maggie again and still be thinking about killing himself. But the way I see it, even though he had a reminder about what it felt like to have something to live for, it was taken away from him. Maggie was dismissive, she told him it was a one-time thing, she tried to pay him and told him to leave. It was more like a reminder about what he would never get to be a part of. A reminder that Maggie, who he loves and respects, doesn’t want him in her life. Doesn’t think he’s worthy. A reminder, maybe, that he’s not worthy. So it makes sense that he might be worse off than ever. (In the film he actually says that. There’s a brief period where he thinks he’s done his job and he takes Sophia home and then he goes back to his razor and he writes to Vista that he feels even worse.) Another thing that struck me is that when he, Sophia, and her mother are reunited at the end and Sophia is being sent to bed, she goes over and hugs Richie goodbye. But this moment is very much about Richie and Maggie. When Sophia hugs him, he looks over at Maggie, and they exchange a look.
Before I Disappear:I already talked about how this makes Maggie angry because she doesn’t want to see Sophia get her heart broken, but I didn’t mention how the moment which should have Richie reflecting on how far he has come with Sophia has him focusing on Maggie at first instead. (He gives Sophia her due attention when she pulls away.)
I also want to talk about the fact that Maggie saves his life. Was Richie actually going to kill himself? I don’t know. I think we’re supposed to believe that he really did intend to do it even though he wasn’t going about it in a very decisive way.
If Maggie hadn’t called him, he would have been dead. I really like the focus on the telephone in the short – it’s done much more dramatically. It’s the first thing we hear, the first thing we see. The telephone is Maggie needing him and Maggie saving him. And Richie could have said no to her, but he didn’t. Even with what was going on with him – with the incredible inconvenience of her timing – he chose to be there for her. Coincidenceithinknot.gif Even accidentally and in begrudging ways they are there for each other.
And it happens again at the end. In the short, Maggie says that maybe he could help with Sophia once a week, on Fridays or Sundays. In the film (and I like this better), she invites him to come to dinner on Friday “to talk”. I kind of wish she had asked him to come right back. But she didn’t know about his dire straits. I think if she had known he was thinking about killing himself she wouldn’t have left him alone.
And in the film it’s the middle of the night – she didn’t wait a single second. She calls right as soon as he gets home. She was probably waiting, counting out how long it would take him to get there. Maybe she had even called before and he hadn’t answered and she’d hoped it was because he wasn’t home yet.
In the film, she says that she’ll have to take a few days off work while her bruises heal. So I think about her being home alone the next day while Sophia is at school (though Sophia would probably stay home because she barely got any sleep but whatever) and calling him to come over, and seeing the cuts on his wrists and forcing him to go to the hospital and all sorts of things like that. That would be my fanfic.
One of the most amazing things to note about Richie and Maggie (and Richie and Sophia as well, for that matter) is that I wouldn’t change a thing. Even if this was my original story and I was making it canon incest, I wouldn’t change a thing. I would add more at the end, obviously, but that’s it. That’s so huge. That’s good non-canon shipping, when you can say that.
Psst: Richie thinks Maggie is the coolest sister ever. Pass it on.
Let’s leave off with a reminder about how epically precious Richie and Sophia are:
Obligatory cast photo at the end that didn’t fit anywhere else: