“I’m not trying to control you. I’m trying to protect you.” —Will, Only
Award-winning director and writer Takashi Doscher’s sci-fi drama Only depicts the kind of love that we rarely get the chance to see on screen. The love between the two lead protagonists is beautiful to witness. It’s the kind of love that has nothing to do with sexual intimacy, carnal desires, and expectations, but rather focuses on loving the very essence and soul of your spouse or partner. Only stars Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton), who plays Will, and Freida Pinto (Guerilla, Slumdog Millionaire), who plays Eva. It is set in a post-apocalyptic world where Eva may be the longest-lasting survivor of a mysterious air-borne pathogen virus that is causing the premature deaths of women. Told in non-sequential order, Only chronicles the very intimate interactions and daily lives of a couple madly in love as they strive to make sense of what’s happening in the world around them and life as they know it.
Eva and Will epitomize a reflection of all that is good in love, until the beauty and revelry of what could have been a fairy-tale ending is quickly jettisoned when Eva’s roommate Carolyn (Tia Hendricks) comes home covered in mysterious ashes that have fallen from the sky. Carolyn dies immediately after. The following acts of love, sacrifice, and protection from Will towards Eva are profound, and their interactions throughout the film carry much more weight because so much is at stake.
A Man Who Loves Unconditionally
In Only, you are immediately drawn into the action of the film. Though the pacing of the film is a bit too slow, you quickly learn that much is at stake. The non-sequential documentation of their lives is an asset to the film, because it places more emphasis on the motives and interactions of Eva and Will as opposed to focusing too much on the timeline and plot of the film. Intriguing extended moments of silence and stillness are throughout, with the stillness and simplicity of the shots heightening the film’s sense of urgency. The stillness draws you in and makes you want to know more about Eva and Will. Will’s compassion, steadfastness and compassion for Eva at her weakest and most vulnerable moments awakens in viewers an empathy and yearning for them to find a way out.
The chemistry between Odom and Pinto is strong. There’s a softness to their interactions that manifests in their scenes together, and the love conveyed between the two of them is so believable. Odom in the role of Will is nuanced, and the level of commitment that his character displays toward Eva is admirable. Odom’s ability to selflessly depict a man who is willing to protect his woman at all costs seems to come easily for him. He’s a natural as Will. From the moment that Will realizes that Eva may have been exposed to this mysterious virus, he does not shun her or abandon her. He seeks out proper advice and prepares to “quarantine” her. This notion of quarantining her serves as a beautiful metaphor for what a real love and relationship should provide. Will immediately starts the process of shielding her from what could be a premature death.
Pinto as Eva beautifully conveys the anguish, frustration, and foreboding pain of letting go of life as she once knew it. She shows great range in her ability to quickly shift from showing an ethereal love for Will to feeling as if she’s trapped in a prison and just wanting to be free. She makes it easy to understand her heart’s inner cry when she utters, “Do you understand now? Do you forgive me?”
A World Where the Female Body Is Glorified
The emphases on women dying and humanity being so greatly affected by the physical loss of women brings to the center of the narrative themes about: the female body and child-bearing, procreation and arguably the original purpose of male and female bonding and marriage; and bringing life into this world. The ideology that the female body is a hot commodity is very engaging. Within this film, the search for women who have not been contaminated is not done in a sexualized manner. In fact, there is a positive connotation that without the eggs and body of a woman, humanity will cease. It was refreshing to see the woman and her body as something that is needed and of great value, not just as a euphemism or idealistic thought, but also from a scientific standpoint.
Lighting, Videography, and Set Locations
While the setting and tone of this film are at times melancholy and dark, the lighting design, set locations, and videography are quite beautiful. The use of lighting was quite effective in guiding the tone of each shot and the transitions within the film. There are moments when the couple is confined to their living space, and the lighting is dim with just enough natural light peeking through the windows. At other times, when Eva and Will are deep within the forest, the use of light is very deliberate and powerful. The aerial shots within the film, especially the shots of the forest and woods, are gorgeous and add much-needed relief to the heaviness of the film. There are beautiful set locations within the film that truly showcase that power of the earth and natural elements and their effect on the human psyche. As Eva and Will struggle to reach a gorgeous waterfall from their past, we get to see how much great location scouting and lighting can positively impact a film.
Under the direction of Doscher, Only poses very powerful questions. How far are you willing to go to protect love? Would you want to live if you were the “only” one of your kind? Can life be lived if you feel trapped inside? Only shows us a love that is powerful and transcendent. In a time when people so easily give up on marriage and loving unconditionally and the norm is to be selfish, Only shines a fresh lens on a love that thrives in the face of the darkest of times.
Only premiered April 27 at 6:30 at Tribeca Film Festival. The schedule of the additional screenings can be found here. https://www.tribecafilm.com/filmguide/only-2019