Making the film US – Alanna Ubach

Making the film US – Alanna Ubach

Making a film about dissociative identity disorder (DID or multiple personality disorder, as it used to be called) can be a very dangerous and artistically difficult thing to do. A fair amount of luck, intelligence, and intuition must go into the choosing and making of a film like that in order to avoid the obvious pitfalls of melodramatic overacting on the part of the actor portraying the afflicted person, overly dramatic and trite writing on the part of the scriptwriter, and anything else in between. Fortunately, while the script has plenty of drama, writer/director Sam Hancock not only makes that drama grow organically out of the characters and situations, but he takes the script in unexpected – if not altogether satisfying – places. But the hard lesson to learn about movie-going is that leaving satisfied is by no means a requirement of a good movie.

US is about Margaret (Alanna Ubach), a young woman secretly suffering from a case of undiagnosed dissociative identity disorder. Aside from her own striking personality there is a sexy southern belle who goes out nightly to have sex with men, a religious fundamentalist who purifies Margaret by burning her arm with a lighter, an angry and gutter-mouthed adolescent, and an innocent and frightened little girl. These personalities take her over unexpectedly, change her whole way of being, moving, speaking, and the change is always startling and compelling. Alanna Ubach not only portrays these characters strikingly and the transition between each fluidly, but plays the dominant personality sympathy and a singular individuality. Margaret has a charming and vulnerable crooked smile that accompanies a dark sense of humor, a willful strength and independence, and a most unique – almost nihilistic – worldview. Ubach plays her with charm and pathos, speaking with a deep, resonant voice that reminds one in the best of ways of Margot Kidder or Karen Allen. While both actors play strong, resilient women in iconic movies, Ubach conveys a pain and vulnerability – and ultimately a greater strength in living with that pain – than either ever get a chance to take on. She is, in a word, marvelous.

The other actors in the film are somewhat eclipsed by her and we never really feel as if we know any of the other characters. To be fair, we do get an excellent feel for these characters and their distinctiveness. While Michael Navarra conveys great emotion and personal difficulty as Margaret’s dedicated boyfriend Walker, we never feel like we understand his life or his unrelenting passion for Margaret. Patrick Russell as Margaret’s stalker/guardian angel is also a wonderful actor who expresses his character in an interesting collection of awkward and endearing ticks and quirks. However, his character feels out of place, almost written as an afterthought and as a result his character and storyline seem to crowd the movie with extraneous material. And while every scene is entrancing to watch, at a run time of hour and forty-five minutes, the movie feels longer than it actually is. Perhaps some trimming is in order.

The script handles the subject matter of DID rather sensitively and in great detail. The focus, of course, is on Margaret and how she goes through life with this disorder. It is clear from the start that she is in need of some kind of help, that her personalities are controlling her life in way that are destructive, chaotic, and isolating. Along comes friendly social worker, Walker, who takes a personal and romantic interest in Margaret. While he finds himself drawn to her and she finds herself hoping for a change, predictably enough, things start going downhill rather quickly. The film investigates the different ways in which Margaret’s condition keeps her isolated and actively sabotages her hopes of a healthy relationship, and also details her complicated relationship with her other personalities. An interesting and rather common thing the script also showcases is Margaret’s unwillingness to seek help – whether because of pride, or hopelessness, or emotional isolation and despite the continuous unraveling of her life, the battle to get her to a doctor is a long and difficult one. In the end, she makes a rather surprising decision regarding her condition and her outside relationships – one the audience might not have even considered given the state of her life and the seriousness of her condition – and while it leaves the audience somehow unsatisfied and slightly mystified, it also leaves us thinking and re-thinking our conceptions of DID and the people who suffer from it.