Set in rural Alberta, They Who Surround Us tells the story of Roman (Troy Ruptash), a Ukrainian farmer who has lost his wife in a tragic accident. Struck down by grief, Roman begins to alienate those around him who love and care for him, including his young son. Caught in an emotional spiral, Roman’s pain opens the door to the trauma of his youth in the Ukraine and he slowly becomes overwhelmed by the power of his heartache.
Quiet and raw, They Who Surround Us is a meditative piece on the burden of grief that can bubble underneath the surface. Written, directed and starring Ruptash, the film is both poignant and powerful as Ruptash lumbers around the screen in a reflective anguish. Filmed in his hometown of Vegreville, AB, the film simply feels like a personal journey for the actor and his performance remains grounded.
While the film is far from paranormal, Surround Us is about the ghosts we carry with us. Utterly paralyzed by the stories that haunt him, Roman struggles to make it through the day. Living in a bottle and unable to feed his son properly, he remains psychologically tortured and trapped within the events of his past. Although many films grapple with the effects of grief on the soul, Surround Us goes deeper. As his hurts become more troubling, the film demonstrates the power of grief as the events of the past begin to interact with his daily life. (For example, this becomes particularly troubling when his own personal ghosts drive him out of his home in the middle of the night.)
With this in mind, there is a deep sadness that penetrates within They Who Surround Us throughout its runtime. Although Roman isn’t a bad man, he has been absolutely crushed by the weight of history. To him, hope seems elusive. After all, how do you process things that aren’t supposed to happen. The traumatic effects of war. Losing one you love. These are events that feel as though they somehow break the very fabric of the universe and eat away at our souls. Without giving any spoilers, for Roman, hope lies in accepting what lies beyond him. Whether one calls it the ‘serenity prayer’ or rediscovering a faith long since lost, Roman’s ability to release the damage of his past extends from his ability to recognize and accept that things happen over which we have no control.
But that doesn’t mean we aren’t alone in our grief.
That doesn’t mean that we’ve been abandoned.
In this way, Roman’s journey must grapple with whether or not he can acknowledge the power of what he has today while still honouring the hurts of his past. For Roman, all is not lost, even if it seems as though that may be the case. As a story that highlights one man’s quest for peace, They Who Surround Us recognizes that hope lies outside of our pain, be it in our relationships or our spiritual understanding. Although we are often products of our past, the film openly engages the fact that our lives consist of more than these stories that have shaped us and shows us what it means to lean into the future when we’re ready.
They Who Surround Us is available in theatres on Friday, August 27th, 2021.