You can live forever… if you make the cut.
Set in the early 1990s, You Can Live Forever tells the story of Jaime (Anwen O’Driscoll), a teenager who grew up in Thunder Bay with a love for sci-fi and smoking weed. After her father’s passing, her mother’s struggles with mental health become more severe and she sends Jaime to live with her aunt (Liane Balaban) and uncle (Antoine Yared). Her aunt and uncle are dedicated members of the Jehovah’s Witness community and insist on Jaime’s involvement in their religious practices. However, Jaime is gay and, although she keeps her sexuality private, she finds herself alienated in this environment. Things begin to change though when she meets Marike (June Laporte), a young woman who instantly sparks a forbidden attraction between them both.
Written and directed by Sarah Watts and Mark Slutsky, You Can Live Forever is an honest and sincere love story that wins the viewer over with its earnestness. Having grown up in a Jehovah’s Witness community herself, Watts’ experience gives her great insight into their lifestyle and it benefits the script tremendously. As a result, as a former insider herself, Forever’s criticism on the treatment of LGBTQ youth is written with insight and precision. There’s wisdom in this script that stems from familiarity.
In some ways though, what’s most surprising (and most welcome) about Forever is its affection towards the Jehovah’s Witness community. In these sorts of stories, the temptation is to demonize the other entirely, especially when their rules and beliefs are shown as oppressive in nature. Instead, Watts reveals that there’s value in this community and their system of beliefs. While being fully honest about the failings and flaws of their faith, Watts’ script still acknowledges the hope that it provides the families who follow. Warm colours flood the screen during scenes in their homes and church services, indicating a certain sense of welcoming. (There are even moments were Jaime spends time attempting to understand their beliefs herself.) Despite their feelings on the LGBTQ community, there’s a sense of earnestness and care that shines through these characters. In essence, we may not always agree with them, but we recognize its importance to them as well.
But therein lies the film’s deepest question. With this tension between faith and practice, is it really possible to see a world where ‘everyone loves each other’? With their beliefs driving them towards ‘truth’, their response to sin instantly drives a wedge between worlds. There are conditions to salvation here, beginning with repentance for one’s sins. Suddenly, genuine love and relationship with anyone outside their community feels impossible, despite it being the core of their faith. In this world, you’re either ‘in’ or you’re ‘out’.
And, if you’re ‘out’, you’re really out.
Convinced of their convictions, the families in the Jehovah’s Witness community will do whatever it takes to protect their community. To them, their lives are rooted deeply in ‘truth’ and those who do not believe the same may be a threat. For those within the LGBTQ community, those lines create division, no matter how many times ‘love for others’ is proclaimed.
These are difficult lines to cross and Forever lets them lie in that same complexity.
In this way, You Can Live Forever lets itself wrestle with the blurred lines between faith and love. With wit and discernment, Watts and Slutsky commit their act of service by letting the Jehovah’s Witness community speak about their ‘truth’ while, at the same time, challenging them with justice and grace. These conversations are difficult but Watts and Slutsky’s script simply asks that the viewer have a little faith.
You Can Live Forever is available in theatres on Friday, March 24th, 2023.