I was nervous about watching “Together.”
I didn’t think I was ready to relive the early stages of the pandemic on film, or to go through that panic and pain again.
As if it isn’t still happening, as if it hasn’t been a daily reality for more than 18 months.
I was afraid this story of a UK couple enduring lock down would treat the pandemic as a lot of network television programs have: something to work around, an inconvenience in which characters come home wearing masks and awkwardly keep their distance, but otherwise treat the threat of COVID-19 as background drama for a more personal fiction.
I was wrong. As wrong as the main characters at the heart of Stephen Daldry’s new film are, but maybe a little less reluctant to admit it.
Written by Dennis Kelly, “Together” is about an unnamed couple in a fraught relationship. We meet them as they endure the idea of indefinite lockdown in March 2020, and travel with them through the devastating pandemic, all the way up to the present-day vaccine era.
James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan’s characters proceed to experience the plethora of emotions we’ve all felt the past 18 months. They go through the same moments of confusion, weary humor, deep loss and uncertainty so many of us have felt in this historic, horrendous period of history – all while managing their rocky relationship.
Kelly showcases brilliant writing at its finest, with the characters giving lengthy monologues about everything from harvesting asparagus to caring for elderly loved ones. McAvoy and Horgan are remarkable actors, addressing only the camera and each other for 91 minutes and yet never wavering.
But it’s the universal emotions at the heart of “Together” that make it essential viewing. While mental health has been a buzzed-about topic this year, Daldry’s film is the first time since early 2020 where I felt like someone really understood and captured the frustration most families are still facing – and remembered how much art can help us deal with painful realities.
Of course, we’re all tired. Of course, we’re all still unsure. But somewhere along the way, the crisis stopped being about we and started to be about me. The way this fictional couple’s relationship mirrors that progression – and gives us hope that maybe there’s a way out of it – is absolute perfection, and about as necessary and timely as a film can get.
The disbelief and confusion still plagues us as the virus surges around the world. But the characters in “Together” made me feel less alone in that than anyone in real life has. It is timely, and necessary, in addition to being beautifully-made. More than any news story or social media post ever could, it took watching a work of art to finally feel just a little bit better about a huge tragedy.
The film did not make me feel anxious or sad, the way I expected. It did not make me relive the trauma of the past year and a half. It did what the best kind of art does: reminded me what matters, and that I’m not alone, and neither are you.