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Grief is an experience we all are faced with at some point in our lives, and The Things We Leave Behind addresses the differences and similarities of that process through the eyes of Mia (Isla Campbell Gorrie), a 12-year-old girl, and Charlie (George McWilliam), her 74-year-old grandfather.
After the loss of their grandmother and wife Amelia (Heather Cochrane), respectively, to cancer, both Mia and Charlie embark on navigating the murky path of grief. Both experiences differ, with Mia angered by feelings that her mother, Lisa (Catriona Macallister), isn’t acknowledging the devastating reality of the family’s loss, and Charlie struggling to understand how he can carry on. It is through both of these characters, where Director Chris Harrison focuses the emotional confusion and ultimate realisation of the story’s main themes.
Combining long, drawn-out shots with minimal dialogue, it is effective in showcasing the mundane nature of dealing with grief. In mixing this ‘silence’ with the ultimate outburst by Lisa, towards the end of the film, explaining how she herself is struggling; it maximises the impact of the altercation between mother and daughter.
The performances by the cast are impressive in their authenticity, especially Isla Campbell Gorrie, who fully embodies the struggle and frustration Mia faces. Catriona Macallister is emotive as a mother tormented between dealing with her daughter’s grief, whilst trying desperately to hold her family together. And whilst George McWilliam is withdrawn in his performance as Charlie, it fully compliments the overall tone of the film excellently. Together the cast is symbiotic with one another, fully delving into the tragic circumstances they face without over-acting or attempts to steal the spotlight. There is an organic relationship which effectively comes across on screen.
What is profound about The Things We Leave Behind is the feeling of watching a moving photograph. Filmed in the aspect ratio of 3:2, there is a sense of relatability which instantly places you into the film, committing the audience to the plot and characters. It allows accessibility for the audience to embark with Mia’s family as they navigate the tragic terrain of grief, and feel every emotion both externally and internally.
From the characters to the physicality of the film, it is the ending that hits you the hardest emotionally. As Charlie and Mia watch touching home videos of young Mia playing with her grandmother, it is near impossible not to relate. It is a simple scene which contains barely any dialogue, yet its impact is incredibly powerful, and this is a theme evident throughout the entire film; one where The Things We Leave Behind reaps the benefits.
As the credits roll the lasting image of Mia looking through photographs with her grandfather creates a satisfying end and exudes the reality that grief eventually fades into a celebration of a life lived. It is a simple scene, yet the impact is effective in enforcing a theme which is consistent through the film, authenticity.
The Things We Leave Behind is an honest, often emotive film with charm and warmth, even amongst the struggles of a family trying to adjust to their new reality. Through its silent reflection on love, life and loss, you are left with a film that truthfully attempts to show the reality of grief in a way that is both unique and relatable. Chris Harrison achieves this with ease, through his shooting techniques, character development, and his cast’s performances. It is a delightful film which lingers with you long after the credits roll. This film leaves you reflecting on your own personal experiences of grief at those lost, and the bigger realisation to cherish the things they leave behind.
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