Do what is right, not what is easy.
Dr. Leigh Waters (Angell Conwell) has a line of dialogue towards the end of Caretakers that I was desperate to hear since the beginning. She reminds the med student under her supervision (George Loomis‘ Jones Berg) that he’s neither a psychologist nor a social worker and thus shouldn’t concern himself with questions or manufacture unsubstantiated answers about his patients beyond the already crucial job he has. I’d go even further by telling Jones he isn’t a detective either. He’s not a family member, bodyguard, or any other label he pretends to be due to deep-seeded grief within himself as a means of fixing strangers who don’t want to be fixed. He blames himself for his father’s death and works tirelessly to ensure nobody he knows ever dies again.
Jones is willing to do whatever’s necessary to save lives and he’ll do so with the ugliest indignation he can muster. And if his patient does pass, he’ll curse the family members who refuse to show up and pay their respects because to him that makes them monsters. To Jones that makes them no better than he was during a drunken night that caused him to miss dinner with his Dad right before he died in a tragic event overseas. This is why Jones won’t drink alcohol anymore. Sobriety is his penance and medical school his path towards redemption. The only problem with this, however, is the anger in his heart. You don’t yell at a convalescent’s wife about your grade point average unless you’re consumed with rage.
It becomes impossible to care about this character that Loomis (who also wrote the film and co-directed with Elias Talbot) created to earn our empathy. I conversely wanted Jones to get kicked in the face so he would wake up to the reality of his own psychological issues since berating a transplant patient like former ambassador Chris Williams (Christopher Cousins) for not wanting to get better is the definition of hypocrisy. The only way to forgive his actions through the entirety of this film would be discovering that Loomis utilized paranoia as a means to push Jones over a figurative cliff in order to finally seek the help he needs. Without that we’re being asked to condone his animus as acceptable despite it proving anything but.
The way in which scenes progress with seemingly little purpose besides assuaging Jones’ ego doesn’t help matters since we’re left scratching our heads as to why things are getting better. Chris refuses to talk for half the film while Jones tries everything to make him speak. He goes so far that he triggers his ward into a PTSD attack (that’s never addressed, properly or otherwise) because he’s too young and inexperienced to comprehend the complexities of the situation he’s overseeing. Rather than empathize with those under his care, Jones projects his own problems onto them before taking a nuclear approach towards healing he’s unable to take for himself. He isn’t therefore the over-zealous angel Dr. Sherry Cooper (Vivica A. Fox) sees. No, he’s a dangerous liability.
And it irked me so much that no one acknowledges this fact until Dr. Waters tells him to stay in his lane. Again, though, she changes her tune once progress is witnessed. Jones has somehow isolated himself in this impenetrable bubble of self-righteousness where everyone is oblivious to his pain. That’s a very interesting truth worthy of a character study willing to delve into how his father’s death has affected him and how comparisons between it and Chris’ past have brought his suffering back to the forefront. Sadly Loomis never attempts to get under Jones’ skin. He sets up these weighty threads and stretches them taut only to forget about them on his quest for a twist that proves the detail meant to create three-dimensionality was only distraction.
I should have guessed this would be the case considering Jones’ brother Miles (Nick Airus) is drawn as a sociopath desperately trying to get his sibling to detach from his patients and also finally drink again despite knowing the extent of his problem. This character is unbelievably destructive to Jones and yet he too somehow makes things better. All these people’s otherwise mean-spirited acts are performed with unmistakable vitriol only to have them manifest via productive outcomes into a warped sense of tough love. And if that’s not off-putting enough, there’s the inclusion of a potential romance between Jones and Lucy Clark (Katalina Viteri) that feels as though ever other scene between them has been removed. So much either doesn’t run its course or does in manipulative ways.
Even the ending provides more questions than answers as far as the whos and whys because Loomis basically throws everything good into the garbage for a cheap parlor trick. I say this because there’s a worthwhile dramatic look at trauma and recovery beneath the genre thrills. Pitting Jones and Chris together as bottled-up men in desperate need to talk through their problems without pushing them onto others is the first step in breaking down the “masculine” stigmas associated with mental health issues. Adding Miles and Alana (Natalija Nogulich as the ambassador’s wife) to risk push them further towards oblivion with their seeming indifference shows them that support systems start from within. Just like Chris must rediscover his desire to live, Jones must recognize his rancor and heal.
He never does. I have to believe Loomis knew what he was doing, though, considering the lengths he goes to mirror many of Jones’ and Chris’ problems. Maybe everything Jones does succeeds in its unorthodox way because Loomis is commenting on how luck can give a false sense of control before leading us towards our own demise if our issues are left untreated. I don’t buy it, but would concede this might have been the goal. Or perhaps I’m saying that because I hope he didn’t actually believe the way Jones acts is healthy. His temperament, entitlement, and inflated self-worth should disqualify him from any occupation placing another’s life in his hands. By praising his results under an umbrella of “caring too much,” the hospital is criminally complicit.