Fragile World, written and directed by Sandy Boikian, centers on Rosalie (Alexa Jansson) as she navigates a life marred by mental illness and uncertainty.
Following the death of her father, Rosalie suffered a breakdown that blurred her distinction between reality and fantasy. We first meet a Rosalie who is apparently healed, and we watch as she deals with an emotionally draining family structure and changes to her career as an interior designer. Fueled by the uncertainties of her new friend, Britt (Noelle Perris), and her doctor, Logan (Chad Bishop), Rosalie questions whether her newfound love, August (Benjamin Keepers), could be a figment of her imagination. The film weaves together Rosalie’s story with those of Britt and Fitz (Marco Aiello), whose reality is also a mystery to the viewer. The stories are told within an unflinchingly Christian framework, as a pastor ministers to the poor and several friends urge both Rosalie and Britt toward faith, as an instrument to heal and guide them.
Fragile World maintains a childlike quality throughout, from August’s self-proclaimed Peter Pan complex to Rosalie’s haircut. Even as the film explores mental illness and homelessness, the innocence displayed by its characters and the bright, sunny shots emphasize its message of finding hope in the darkest of situations.
While this hopefulness reached me as a viewer, leaving me wearing a smile as the credits rolled, it ultimately dissipated the emotional impact of the film. Despite moments of stiff dialogue, overall strong performances from Perris and Bishop made me believe the stakes were high for Rosalie. Unfortunately, any tension these performances created was undercut by the overly optimistic tone of the script. While I believed the characters felt the heaviness and desperation of Rosalie’s situation, I did not feel the same urgency. The stakes simply did not feel real to me.
Alongside Rosalie’s story, the viewer follows Britt and Fitz in their own personal battles. After the revelation of her friend’s mental instability, Britt reveals her ongoing struggle to find faith. Her religious journey parallels Rosalie’s, as each character searches for religion in the face of tragedy. While Britt’s friendship pushes Rosalie to seek help, Fitz’s situation serves as a warning to Rosalie; if she doesn’t accept her deteriorating mental health and work to correct it, she will wind up as delusional as Fitz, who believes himself to be a rock star. Fitz’s story is by far the most predictable of the film, but it is also one of the most satisfying. Furthermore, Aiello’s contribution to the film’s indie soundtrack goes a long way toward winning the viewer’s sympathy. Overall, I found myself to be more invested in Fitz’s tale and well being than in that of Rosalie.
The most interesting aspect of the film, by far, is its exploration of reality. After the revelation of Rosalie’s mental instability, the film presents a single question to the viewer: Is or isn’t August real? This, in itself, is sufficient to hold interest. But more thought-provoking is the impact this question has on Rosalie, prompting the viewer to ask whether it matters if August is real and which world is better for Rosalie, the one in which she lives or the one she has created for herself. These questions create the potential for depth in the film, but the film’s simple emotional tone isn’t well matched with the the theme’s complexity. Attempts to evoke fear or anger were limited to Jansson’s high-pitched screams, which felt over-played and out of context, with little justified motivation for her sudden outbursts.
And while the film keeps viewers guessing whether August is real, in the end, the answer doesn’t appear to matter. The sunshiny world in which the characters reside—although plagued with difficulties—destroys the impact of the resolution. August’s reality has no real bearing on the trajectory of the other characters’ lives. The fact that the film’s central mystery becomes irrelevant to the overall emotional framework of the film represents a string of missed opportunities to connect with and emotionally impact the viewer on a powerful level.
Fragile World is clear in its intention to tell an uplifting story of overcoming hardship through faith. To do so, it sacrifices an opportunity to delve into under-discussed topics and to present an emotionally provocative picture of mental illness and homelessness. Its constant optimism detracts from the emotional impact of an extremely desperate and threatening situation, leaving the final resolution feeling shallow and expected. However, with convincing performances from the cast and constant adherence to the Christian worldview, the film certainly conveys a message of hope, and viewers will almost certainly find themselves rooting for the characters.
For someone seeking an emotionally complex journey built to challenge and expand the viewer’s mindset, this film will disappoint. But for a lighthearted take on difficult subject matter, which approaches deep questions with a distinctly Christian and optimistic view, Fragile World is a good choice.