“And God left it to them to choose darkness or light”
Actor Sam Jaeger played the most calm and collected character of the bunch on “Parenthood”. Introduced as a stay-at-home dad with a smile, he had a way of internalizing his feelings so every emotion coursing through him was seen behind actions trying hard not to reveal them. As the show progressed Jaeger’s Joel found himself thrust into situations where the psychological trauma of bottling everything risked becoming his undoing. He couldn’t cope with what was happening so he retreated further until discovering he was on the outside of his family, potentially for good. Portraying a complicated character like this isn’t an easy feat and you have to imagine such a keen sense of emotion was part of him as a person. Watching his latest short Plain Clothes almost guarantees it.
Jaeger’s feature directorial debut Take Me Home had a very personal and intimate through-line of everyday life coupled with the struggles we endure to carve a piece of happiness we dream can be sustained. Taking such a concept even further by adding another level of turmoil, Plain Clothes sees its lead Cole (Jaeger) caught at a similar domestic crossroads exacerbated by his job. A police officer that has experienced some terrible things—we can guess he possibly faced his own mortality or maybe was living with the effects of losing a partner—he’s brought onscreen talking about faith during a therapy session. Where some see God as a reason to keep moving forward, a safety net with which to balance good and bad, Cole can’t help but use a Creator as evidence of mankind’s inherent evil.
Trying hard to be vigilant on the job as well as loving to his family, separating those worlds is a near impossible process. Based on discussions Jaeger had with officers in the field, the script distills this man’s attempt despite the PTSD erecting walls in his way on both fronts. Cole is like us with a wife and kid, missing a work event to attend his son’s birthday party and swinging by the supermarket to pick up dinner. The difference is his training to always be more than a common citizen minding his business and ignoring what’s around him. Whereas we’d be so focused on what pasta to buy, purposely ignoring everything around us because we have enough on our own plate, Cole can’t help hearing trigger words uttered by a stranger (Christopher Weir) over the phone.
We don’t know much about Cole, but Jaeger ensures we know enough. There’s no question he will follow the hooded man from the store to make sure nothing happens—it’s his job as a police officer and in his heart a human being. What ensues and his reaction, however, is dependent on the moment. Shifting into his subconscious memory for a glimpse of what’s happening inside while the adrenaline is pumping and the fight or flight mentality is kicking in, we watch Cole choose between his own darkness and light. We were all put here innocent and full of promise, but not everyone finds his happy ending. Some might not know they have it and others won’t accept they can. No matter how bleak things look, though, we have the power to keep going.
And that is the message Jaeger sends: the optimistic hope we find someone or something to cherish and hold dear. Because our being made to suffer through nightmares as commonplace reality means it’s hardly a difficult thing to simply slip away and believe darkness has permeated life to the point of rendering it futile. For someone in law enforcement or the military, this truth is increased tenfold because he or she is on the frontlines 24/7 whether in the streets or at home. Flipping the switch to see an enemy as human is far from an involuntary act. Jaeger’s Plain Clothes may show a man finding his path in an uncertain world to courageously do so on the surface, but it simultaneously provides a metaphor for the fierce struggle PTSD sufferers endure internally every day.
Watch Plain Clothes for yourself on Vimeo here.