Comparing the growth of a malignant tumor from a kiwi, then to a peach, and finally to a grapefruit subtly moves the narrative along and hastens the urgency of action of 24 minute ‘Wish 143’: who would have ‘thought’? The story is all too familiar: Tim, an ill assured 15 year old, has terminal cancer, knows that he’s not going to live long let along play hard, and gets a chance, thanks to a charity, to make a ‘dying wish’ which raises eyebrows.
We’re in Leyland, England, a working class town, famous as the home of Leyland Motors. Tim is under treatment for cancer in a Catholic hospital. Bald as a cue ball from chemo, body ravaged by his disease, he dreams of ‘shagging’ his favorite girl, Amy, in the back seat of a motor car to the strains of classical music on the auto’s radio.
His journey to lose his virginity is the riff of the story as his cancer fatefully eats him up.
Ian Barnes’ film, ‘Wish 143’, with a script by Tom Bidwell, himself a cancer survivor, is among the five short listed, live action shorts for the 2011 Oscars. The red thread running through all these films is the loss of innocence and awareness of the whimsicality, if not the dark side, of the human condition. The distinct influence of the influence of a Catholic education on the story line, in most of nominated shorts, is difficult not to ignore.
Is it the surge of testosterone or the realization that it is now or never that is at the heart of Tim’s wish? Whichever it is, the impersonal forces of fate ridicule his heated up desires. Amy, the girl of his dreams, gently refuses to satisfy his lust. Then he manages to sneak out of the hospital at night, to buy the favors of a hooker. She treats him like the ‘innocent’ that he is, telling him to go quietly along back home. If this let down is not enough, her pimp threatens Tim, who, with his tail behind his legs, dejectedly returns to his hospital ward.
In the wings, however, lurks Tim’s guardian angel, the hospital’s Catholic padre. Quietly he finds Maggie a lady who will ‘entertain’ Tim for the night. With her, as can be expected, he’s timid and nervous if not anxious. To the strains of classical music, she enfolds in her arms as a mother would a child of hers crying in the night; for she realizes that at heart, Tim is looking for the human spark and touch that his medical care (and the absence of parents) lacks.
At the end, Tim remains the virgin he is, but Maggie’s tenderness has lanced the abscess of pent up emotions, and has restores a psychological balance the boy needs for his cancer’s treatment.
Everything about this film seems old hat. The cinema has never shied away from using cancer as a theme, for example, in ‘Promises in the Dark’, ‘Bang the Drum Slowly’, and ‘Brian’s Song’. And then the stock characters of the kind hearted or good priest and the ‘whore with a gold heart’, see, Bing Crosby in‘The Bells of Saint Mary’ or Pat O’Brien in ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’ or Mae West in ‘Klondike Annie’ or Nancy Kwan in ‘The World of Suzy Wong’.
Everything, too, about ‘Wish 143’ seems right and effortless, thanks to the performance of Oliver Arudale as Tim. He brings to the film’s protagonist the angst that testing his manhood requires without sacrificing his moral and emotional nature. Jodie Whittaker in her pivotal role as Maggie, through her kindness and knowledge of boys and men, lends a restorative hand to Tim’s sense of who he is: a man-child. And finally, the crag faced Jim Carter as the priest and the pastor of men’s souls, who recognizes the lost sheep that Tim is, and through his compassion, returns Tim to the fold of humanity by exemplifying the meaning of the Beatitudes that the hungry [of the soul] will be comforted and the pure of heart will see God.
Comments: ”Pass the Kleenex!”
“Would losing his virginity brought more peace of mind to Tim since the object of his desire had spurned him?”
Reviewer’s comment: Of the five short listed live action shorts, four came from abroad. The winner, ‘God of Love‘, a black & white U.S. film took home the Oscar. It is not the first time nor the last the American jury favored one of its own. In this reviewer’s opinion, ‘God…’ was the runt of the litter: obvious and contrived in spite of the music which hid its cinematic faults.