Jan 17, 2022
Believe me when I say, that it’s meant as a compliment to director Mark Garvey’s The Freedoms that it enticed a spectrum of emotions from me when I watched it – and the majority of these were not positive. Yet upon completion, this project’s multi-layered, genre-bending originality left me pondering its true nature and message in a way that few films accomplish.
Estranged brothers Callum and Simon discover that their late father had a link to legendary artist Hettie Entwistle. They meet a follower of hers, Kitty Von Abrams, who informs the brothers of Entwistle’s uncompleted masterpiece – ‘The Freedoms’ – a series of activities based on questionable pseudoscience, designed for self-discovery. Callum’s revelation that he has the same hereditary condition as his father convinces Von Abrams to turn her work over to the brothers, with the condition that they must complete Entwistle’s tasks – no matter the cost.
The Freedoms is an enigmatic faux-umentary, played totally straight by director Mark Garvey, who (along with the rest of his crew) plays himself in the film. The production quality of supposedly intimate filming, along with the clear manufacturing of certain scenes and situations, give the game away to any insightful viewer – but even those who question what they are presented with will be kept guessing as to exactly where the film is going, and what it is trying to accomplish.
The film’s actual aim is kept close to the chest until the very end. It is an ending that fundamentally alters any first-time watcher’s perceptions of the film, and viewers may find it confusing, hilarious, genius, treacherous, spiteful, stupid or more. For me, the ending left me with great relief that my major problems with the film – that being a failure to challenge certain, ahem, questionable beliefs – is an actual part of the overall experience. It is a powerful and provocative ending, and regardless of your opinion, it is much better than a boring one.
Callum and Simon’s relationship is deconstructed throughout the film and is the emotional core. An overview is provided as to their rift at the beginning, though more could have been done to establish the bond the pair held with their father which is the impetus for their quest. The pair have a difficult task to convincingly portray real subjects of a documentary, though certain moments (such as the ‘altar’ scene) do successfully come across as raw and legitimate. Other times, their supposedly unscripted reactions manifest as anything but. And certain revelations about their darkest secrets feel meaningless – and one of Callum’s comes across as distasteful and unearned. Viewers will warm to the pair over the movie, but their stories do not really align with the themes of the film.
The film does meander into a repetitive pattern throughout its 100 minutes runtime. There’s only so many times viewers can watch Von Abrams’ conduit instruct the brothers on their task, only for one of the pair to react sceptically, before resolving themselves to participation. Many of the tasks seem pointless, and their relation to the brother’s greater mission of discovery is tenuous. This fails even to fit with the film’s ultimate revelation – and several plot holes are the result.
It’s hard to discuss The Freedoms without spoilers, given its perspective-shifting end. However, it is nothing if not provocative. And whether it is avant-garde performance art, a profound statement on spiritual freedom, or one big joke is all open to question. It’s not an easy film to settle an opinion on, and for this it is welcome.