“I never thought I’d find myself here. Yet here I am.”
I often think that my lack of feeling towards pets prevents me from truly appreciating supposedly emotionally heartwrenching works because my initial reaction is to laugh. I chuckle much like the filmmakers behind John Wick wanted me to as it hinged its entire revenge plot on the death of a dog. That example was easier to understand on a practical level, though, because the titular character’s wife had died and left him this friend posthumously. The puppy was an extension of her—an unwitting surrogate for him to latch onto not as a pet but as a person near and dear to his heart that was no longer there. Something like Steve Kahn‘s The Opera Singer, however, conjures a giggle because it all seems so slight.
This short focuses upon an aging opera singer (Rena DuShey) who has found herself in a rehabilitation center after a nasty fall leaving her in a wheelchair. Narrated by her younger, former self (Shannon Elizabeth), we learn that this woman once had the opportunity to move to Italy and try and make it big in the industry. This sadly never occurred, however, because of reasons she remembers, regrets, and wonders if they were actually just excuses. There are some powerful emotions in this scenario that could be mined perhaps with glimpses into the past of family and the life she led by not going. Show us the happiness she experienced from the decision so the regret becomes bittersweet. But that’s not what we receive.
Instead we get silent moments of the aged woman wheeling around the center and talking to her caretaker. We’re watching her final days as this disembodied voice speaks about things that never occurred. I’m sorry, but I found no entry point into her tale of woe. The attempt is made to have her cry out of guilt from leaving her dog behind, but that’s not enough for me to care. Maybe I’m not even supposed to and the dog signifies how she literally wasted her life with no one by her side but an animal. Maybe it’s supposed to tell me that Italy was the one opportunity for happiness she ever had and it was squandered. That’s the message I ultimately took from the film.
Without expressing any joy we only see sadness and depression. Suddenly The Opera Singer isn’t bittersweet or melancholic; it’s a cautionary tale about taking chances so you don’t end up broken and alone like the character onscreen. You can say I’m being cynical or jaded, but I’d argue the film is. The final shot is of a postcard depicting the Leaning Tower of Pisa, a monument we assume she never saw in life. The idea is that she’s finally made it there in death. But what lesson does that teach? That through death we can live out our fantasies thanks to God? That we must slog through pain and suffering because a reward is in store? Life is but a prelude to death? Maybe now she’s finally happy.