We are going to get a whole lot of movies about Covid. It is inevitable. They are going to discuss the disease and the response, the effects on the world at large and specific people in particular. These movies are going to come as fiction and non-fiction, as drama and comedy. They are going to exist in all shapes and sizes and even though I’ve said “movies,” don’t think that stories about Covid will be limited to one medium. They’re going to exist across all forms of media. What’s more, it’s already started.
Out this week in the Untied States from director Stephen Daldry and writer Dennis Kelly is the completely and totally brilliant, “Together.” The movie stars James McAvoy, Sharon Horgan, and Samuel Logan. McAvoy and Horgan are a couple together in a relationship, their names are never given, and Logan—who largely only exists in the background—is their son, Artie.
We first meet this couple at the start of the first lockdown in England in March of 2020. Just returning from what promises to be the final trip to the grocery store for a while, they are unloading their bags and talking directly to the camera, explaining who they are and what their relationship is and what is going on and what they expect of the lockdown. Essentially, they hate each other and have only stayed together for as long as they have because they have a child.
Over the course of the movie, which runs just over an hour and a half, we return to them at discrete moments during the pandemic. We hear where they are and what is going on. We learn of their jobs and what is happening with her mother and they way they see the world. We watch as their relationship changes and their views of the world and what is happening in it morph. It is hugely funny and terribly upsetting.
Daldry films “Together” almost as if he was shooting a stage play. There are very long takes with either McAvoy or Horgan or both delivering these incredible speeches to the camera, which is most definitely acknowledged as a thing that’s in their home. The actors, no matter the length of the speech or what’s happening in the background, keep the audience transfixed. They stare us down, forcing our attention back to them repeatedly as they tell us about trying to get aubergines (that’s an eggplant if you live in the US) or listening to a nurse at a hospital offer updates on Horgan’s character’s mother or just trying to explain the concept of exponential growth. It is completely gripping.
One of the wonderful things about the movie is that it feels as though it truly captures the pandemic for many. The characters’ opinions on what is happening shift as we come back to them over the course of the year, as we come to learn more about what happened and the way in which various institutions in which we all trusted either succeeded or failed. We watch as they struggle with the uncertainty over what’s safe and what isn’t and who & what has to quarantine and for how long.
As much as anything, “Together” puts the entire rational world’s fears about the pandemic on screen. It perfectly encapsulates a moment in time that we have all had to go through and reminds us that even if we did it in our houses all alone, we were in that together. It is bleak and sad and funny and heartwarming.
By no means is “Together” the first movie about the pandemic to have been made and, as noted, a deluge is sure to follow. Even so, the bar is now set at a very high level. The most unfortunate thing about the movie is that, just as I have done with this review, it is sure to be lumped in with movies focused on the pandemic. Horgan and McAvoy, however, offer up performances that deserve to travel far and wide beyond such a niche. What they, along with Daldry and Kelly give us is a great, focused, movie that may be looking at the pandemic but which still aims to offer up insight into the human condition at large (and succeeds at that).
photo credit: Bleecker Street