“Which one of the men is going to see the light?”
Who isn’t self-centered? If you find someone, please let me know because I don’t think that person exists. Even when we are at our most compassionate, empathetic, or charitable, our actions are still our own. We do what we do out of love—molding our lives as society or religion deems moral. Action or inaction is a choice no one can make for us. Our weakness or strength allows us to be manipulated or stand tall, not the other person’s ability to sell. And this fact is only amplified with marriage. We go in believing love to be a great unifier, erasing the board on individuality so a team can take its place. Instead, doing something for your spouse may actually be the most selfish act of all.
With a central conceit revolving around a possible alien invasion, it’s easy to perhaps be disappointed to learn the science fiction in Brian Ackley‘s latest film Alienated is relegated to the background. Much like Nacho Vigalondo‘s Extraterrestrial, however, this can be a good thing. Sci-fi’s beauty is its ability to force us into asking relevant questions we avoid in the creature comforts of known scientific rules and regulations. The genre’s true worth is introducing a catalyst to spark a conversation about something we only acknowledge when the status quo shifts. Nate (George Katt) glimpsing a UFO in the sky doesn’t put strain on his marriage with Paige (Jen Burry). It merely ensures they can no longer pretend that strain hasn’t existed for years.
Ackley could have left what Nate sees off-screen and retained every ounce of emotional drama it triggers because like the character tells his wife, whether it’s all in his head or not is inconsequential. If I were to criticize one aspect of the film it’s the attempt to answer this question. It doesn’t negate the great verbal sparring matches preceding it, but the script does such a commendable job pushing the UFO to the side that going back feels selfish in itself. The maneuver also risks declaring a winner between Nate and Paige by allowing a sense of “I told you so” to permeate the reality that both are equally at fault. Their anger goes deeper than one moment; don’t give it the opportunity to define their argument.
The film lives in this quarrel—one so overblown and trivial that we can all relate to how it could explode the way it does. Both Nate and Paige are revealed as self-centered, temperamental, and hypocritical through this back and forth because that which they despise in the other becomes exactly what they do to make the other despise them. Despise is a strong word, though. They use the term disappointed instead and it sums up their feelings perfectly because they utilize it in a brilliantly patronizing way. It doesn’t supply a reason for their attitude nor a solution to the problem; it goads their partner on because it labels them the real problem without saying it out loud. “I’m disappointed because you’ve let me down.”
Communication is a huge factor to their fracture with Nate exasperated as to why Paige refuses to share her thoughts, dismissing his interest for him: “You wouldn’t be interested.” The opposite is true for the reverse since Nate desires nothing more than for Paige to engage in what’s going on with him despite her not having the time. He cannot let her be alone to find the solitude she craves and she doesn’t have it in her to push through and provide him attention when she’d rather be watching a TV show instead. But these truths are only explained in the aftermath. They continue to push, prod, and annoy until their breaking point. Then and only then do they choose to bare their souls—right when it’s too late.
As soon as you utter the words, “I want to tell you something but you have to promise not to be mad,” you’ve invited tension. It may be subconsciously, but it’s a fact all the same. The word “whatever” as a response is an equally thinly veiled instigator, shutting down the potential for progress by pointing the blame and refusing to budge. We’ve all fallen prey to anger and used these very terms, so watching the reactions exacerbate each situation is a familiar one. No one is villain or hero; both need to look inside and see why they refuse to treat their issues objectively. This is hardly an easy task, but their neighbor Griffin (Taylor Negron in his final performance) tries to show Nate how.
This character is a bit of a wild card—a blind man spouting on about astral projection who looks into the sky as though he feels the UFO’s presence despite having no clue as to anything being there—but he delivers one more jolt of electricity into Nate and Paige’s union. He makes the former question his love and respect, explaining how one cannot survive without the other. As soon as Nate loses the capacity to accept Paige’s thoughts and concerns as valid, he reveals that his love may be void. Love exists to take away the anger and fear. If the person we choose to spend our lives beside only increase both, something must change. The UFO gives cause to discover whether they’re just going through the motions.
It also provides a new choice because if their love for one another is faltering, was its former power enough to fight to reclaim it? This is Alienated‘s most important question and one Ackley may diminish when bringing the sci-fi to the foreground to make their decision for them. Maybe their relationship is destined to fail and the fact outside forces can have such an effect proves they will be tested again soon. In this regard I can take the ending as a bittersweet notion of love’s complexities reinforcing our ego. One half being proven correct making the other forget issues small and large (a decision they made years ago eats away at both) isn’t healthy. It’s exactly what got them here in the first place.