For the uninitiated: In 2008, Canadian filmmaker Bruce McDonald re-watched My Dinner with Andre, and was itching to do a barebones piece using the same discussion-over-dinner style. He lured scribe Daniel MacIvor with the idea, who in turn convinced the filmmaker that it should break out of one location and become the story of two men out in Toronto. It became two women, Tracy Wright was invited to participate, and when she learned that she had six months to live, the film was fast-tracked and shot with astonishing indie speed, becoming one of her last films.
The world of Trigger is simple. Two women (Wright’s Vic and Molly Parker’s Kat), who haven’t seen each other for years, meet for dinner. Vic is the aging rocker who has kept the bare-bones lifestyle, and struggles to balance her own cynicism with her quest for spiritual relief. Kat is the rocker-gone-mainstream-success, the woman who puts on a show but yearns for the honesty of her previous life. Within moments, their inner dams are broken and skeletons start climbing out of their psyches – addiction, pain, betrayal, feelings of uselessness… Each woman is the knowing face of the other’s past, both the only person who can really understand them and the exact person who is too dangerous to see. It’s impossible for either to maintain false civility as their inner demons are released, teasing both danger and catharsis.
The Andre-ish start quickly bubbles into a Before Sunset structure as the women step outside and traverse the city over the course of one night. Each locale – restaurant, home, club – seems to bring out a new revelation, many of which have an eerie similarity to Wright’s real world outside of the film. (A similarity that MacIvor assures is a coincidence.) The pair discuss addiction, friendship, families, work, life, mortality, and all of the minutiae and drama that clutch onto our lives.
These moments seems incredibly intimate to real life while also being perfectly contained in the film, existing as a natural form of method acting rather than moments where real life rips attention away from the fictional film. They are much like the scenes in Before Sunset when Ethan Hawke’s Jesse talks about his marital discontent, soon after his own real-life marriage dissolved. While the stories aren’t the same, the emotional truth is, and unleashing just that little amount of real-life pain gives the fictional journey all the more weight – the presence of real, never-to-be-released tears trumping carefully planned crying. In fact, that slight blending of fiction and reality allow us to feel the wall the actresses built between themselves and the material, which in the context of Trigger, feels like the characters’ own safety mechanisms.
Bruce McDonald’s straightforward filmmaking is an apt companion to their interpersonal exploration. There are no stunning visuals or slick camerawork to make this feel like a big production. The camera just lurks, almost voyeuristically capturing the experience, and rather than controlling our attention, it’s all up to the actresses – particularly Wright. When the cinematic moments are closest to real life and Wright speaks, the camera is content to stay on her, lovingly but also quietly mesmerized, just like those times when we get so caught up in a moment or piece of beauty that the rest of the world, the screen, or the film fades away. Instead of a slick package dictating our reaction with angles, light, and swelling music, it’s up to Wright and Parker to make us feel, which makes each moment that much more real – there’s little between the performance and the audience.
It helps that everything seems to be a reflection of the other. There is Vic and Tracy Wright – two separate stories that coincidentally come together into a whole, and the glue is the time and place – Toronto. Each location reflects an aspect of the story, from the crispness of a classy restaurant reflecting the initial false civility of the affair, to a school emphasizing the fact that you can long for the past, though your current self can never fit into it. Wright was an important piece of the indie film and theatre scene in the city, and Trigger manages to express her moments in time as well as her talents – not the glitz and glam but the hands-on, dirty, creative energy.
Each piece intermingles with the rest and continues to flow back and forth between all these aspects in a way that could only work as well in that time, place, and circumstance. When Vic says “I don’t care about the destination; I’m more concerned about the velocity,” it speaks as much to real life as it does to the plot’s experience and the nature of nostalgia in both the city and beyond. It speaks to growing old, to struggling to find a place, to settling, to convincing yourself that the false is good, to trying to find faith, and most certainly to let an actress thrive in a role she wasn’t usually awarded, while giving her a vehicle to express some of her final moments in time.
As a DVD treatment, however, one can’t help but wonder (or hope) if this release is the placeholder before a special edition. The film is packaged with two all-too-brief “extras” – a few short clips of the table read the actors did before the film, and a trailer for TO in 24, the latter of which isn’t clearly explained to be a trailer (it’s titled “One Breath”), and seems like a random short film slapped on to fill space.
Obviously, this film is minimalist and there likely wasn’t the budget for special features like a making-of, a retrospective of Wright’s work, a look at the Toronto musical talent featured in the film, or other highly produced goodies. That said, there are a myriad of options that could have bolstered the release that would have taken much less effort – a brief blip from the filmmakers/collaborators about Wright, her filmography and biography, the TIFF Q&A’s, or even Don McKellar’s letter to friends upon her death, which was subsequently published for the fans who mourned her. As a production that came together in a shockingly brief amount of time, Trigger is at least begging for a commentary or two, to talk about how all of this came together, and how they pulled it off so fast and so well.
Perhaps in the future. For now, however, I urge you to watch the film, and use the links below as your special features.
The Letter Don McKellar Wrote to Friends After Her Death:
Q&A from TIFF 2010 Premiere
Daniel MacIvor Writes about Tracy:
Notes on Her Memorial: