“The phone number you are trying to reach has either been disconnected or does not exist.” The man drops the cell phone midair and gazes up to the ceiling, eyes flat with a blank expression. He is covered in his own blood, surrounded by shattered glass and debris, lying next to dead Mexican drug lords whom he shot himself. The camera spans out and slowly he shuts his eyes, breathes his last breath, and dies in a dark, drug filled basement.
This is the end of Reacciones Adversas, a film by Mexican director David Michan, which is a gripping account of the reality of living with depression. It follows the last days of a middle-aged man named Daniel who is depressed because of work, debt, and lack of intimacy. The movie starts with Daniel’s doctor prescribing pills that tend to have adverse reactions. After reading the warnings, he thinks to himself, “I’m screwed if I do, and I’m screwed if I don’t.” Daniel then pops the pills without any hesitation and the hallucinations begin.
Since the movie is based in a magical realism of sort, the audience determines for themselves what actually happened and what was in the main character’s mind. For example, when he gives his written report to his boss, I saw the boss reject it and force him to start over. However, Daniel sees his boss take out his pen, gently sticks it down his throat, forces himself to vomit on Daniel’s report, folds the cover back over and politely hands it back to him. Dark images continue throughout the movie. He kills a man in a bathroom of a bar and covers his shirt in blood. Only later, when catching a glimpse of his reflection, he finds there is no blood on his shirt. Daniel has dream like visions of entering his workplace with a gun and emptying its bullets into the chest of coworkers.
The turning point comes when he meets a young woman who is singing in a bar, this women has a distinct scar on her face, Daniel kills a man in the bar because of a rude comment made regarding her face. They are immediately drawn together, obviously sharing the same feelings of hopeless loneliness. A fragile hope is spurred when they spend the night together, talking of leaving everything behind and starting over. This inspires Daniel, He gets her phone number and the next day he burns his bills, shoots his boss, and goes to the bank to get the last of his money. Walking out of the bank and down the street, he is robbed of everything, but most importantly his cell phone. He cannot reach his newly found lover who gave him hope. He maneuvers his way to the basement where the drug dealers who robbed him do their business. Chaos ensues, but Daniel manages to recover the cell phone; only to find that he was given a faulty number. This is his last thought before he dies.
After the dismal ending, the lights came on as the credits rolled. I realized there were only about fifteen people in the theatre, and looking around at their faces, I concluded that they were just as shocked as I was. The movie was intense and raw, there was very little dialogue in contrast to the multitude of graphic images. The director walked up in front of the screen, ready for questions. David Michan is a short man with beady eyes and humble attitude. Not the man I was expecting who created such a gripping film. He majored in Communication Sciences at the Monterrey Institute of Technology in Mexico in 1997. Michan then went to Los Angeles, where he assisted in over 100 commercials, music videos and movies for five years. He then returned to Mexico and is majoring in Film Directing at the Center of Cinematography. His other major works include True Story and Mexican Dream. There were few questions back and forth between Michan and the audience, but nothing substantial. Lucky enough for me, I had an interview set up after the film...
We met on a picnic table outside of the theatre, and without any prompt or question, he immediately launched into his film. Passion oozed from his words.
DM: “For my thesis project in film school, I was given fifteen days to make a short film. I told them I would make a feature length and they told me I couldn’t do it. So I gave them the script for a short film, just to keep them happy, and at the end of fifteen, twenty hour days, I gave them this.”
SM: “Where did this idea come from?”
DM: “I have a friend who was terribly depressed and medicated. I wanted to get into that human psyche and release a film about depression that made the viewer actually feel as if he knew what it was like to live with that ailment.”
SM: “How is that man now? Has he seen the film?”
DM: “He is doing much better and is pleased with what I produced because to him it feels real.”
SM: “Is the final product what you imagined it to be?”
DM: “Yes, absolutely. It is better than I expected. Because of the hallucinations, I wanted the viewer to create a movie for themselves. Each person can take away a different plot, idea of the main character, rising and falling action, climax of the movie because it is up to his own interpretation of what happened.”
SM: “Can you explain the ending?”
DM: “I wanted a real movie, nothing commercialized. Sometimes, with those movies, the story is just empty. I approached it differently from a realistic point of view. Life is not always full of happy endings. People are so opposed to watching movies that aren’t happy, but that is what art is all about. The daily struggles and lives of everyday civilians. The ending is sad and it is real.”
SM: “How did people in Mexico react to the film?”
DM: “Not as well as other parts of the world. In Mexico, very few people go to the movies. Most simply cannot afford it. And those who do go want to laugh. There is little interest for these types of films in Mexico. But other countries such as Canada and France and the United States have all responded positively. People have told me that it is one of the only movies they have seen about depression that makes them feel as if they are actually depressed. Sad, I know, but that is exactly what I wanted.”
Throughout my entire encounter with David Michan, he was very kind and gracious; seriously concerned if I liked the movie and what I took from it. He was just as grateful and excited to be interviewed as I was excited and grateful to interview him. As I stood up and shook his hand, I felt heavy. The weight of the movie still lingered within me, and continued to throughout the rest of my day and into the night, as I began to question the reality of the images around me. As I passed ordinary looking people on the street, I wondered how ordinary their thoughts were. I walked into a café and questioned whether or not the sprightful barista secretly had a gun stashed beneath the counter. A homeless man on the street was shouting how he really felt and as a man businessman ushered past him clad in a suit and tie, I questioned who was actually the crazy one?