It’s hard for me to trust anyone who has never thought about suicide.
None of us will make it out of this life alive. At some point or another, we will all die.
Wanting some control over when your time is up is a very human thought.
If you’re in pain (of any sort), it’s a natural desire to want to end that suffering. That doesn’t mean you should end your life to end that suffering. But the thought itself is something that we all experience. Anyone with a hint of self-awareness questions their place—why they’re here and how they fit in the world.
Some people just don’t fit and don’t want to fit into this world. We didn’t ask to be here.
Before I Disappear heavily explores these types of dark themes with a very deft hand.
This movie opens with the main character, Richie (played by Shawn Christensen), working his literal shit job cleaning toilets at a nightclub. After opening stall after stall to see the revolting horror show that awaits, Richie finds a girl dead from a heroin overdose. It’s the last straw for Richie—who is still in mourning after his girlfriend, Vista (played by Isabelle McNally), died from a heroin overdose. That drug has ruined his life and he’s had enough.
When he gets back to his apartment, Richie starts a bath and grabs a razorblade so he can join his love in the next life. But then the phone rings. Just like that, he’s roped back into existence.
After 5 or so years of not talking to his sister, Maggie (played by Emmy Rossum), she calls Richie in her time of need and she asks one favor: pick up and look after her daughter, Sophia (played by Fatima Ptacek), while she is unable to do so herself. This mission becomes Richie’s sole reason to live—at least for the moment.
I fucking love this movie. Before I Disappear feels like the movie equivalent of Alice in Chains. The subject matter is inescapably depressing, but it’s enjoyable to sulk and soak in the darkness. Sometimes it’s just nice to sit in a room by yourself with no lights and think about life. That’s the type of odd satisfaction I derive from Before I Disappear. At this point, the number of times I’ve watched this movie is creeping up into double-digits.
Regardless of how many times I watch it, I will never get sick of this movie.
On every repeat viewing, it draws the same strong emotional response.
The heart of this movie is the interaction between Richie and Sophia. I don’t recognize Shawn Christensen, but he is incredibly solid in this performance as a man at the end of his rope. You feel the void in Richie’s soul. That feels like it is completely the result of Shawn Christensen’s work put into the character. Before I Disappear comes off as an intensely personal story for writer/director/actor Shawn Christensen.
This film certainly captures the despair of depression and drug addiction like no other.
But don’t worry, there is still plenty of dark humor to savor in Before I Disappear.
A lot of the laughs come as a result of Richie’s irritation with people. However, the shining star of this movie is Fatima Ptacek as Sophia. Apparently, Fatima is the voice of Dora the Explorer. However, she is phenomenal in this more adult role. With a vibrant presence, you can’t help but smile when she is on the screen. Just by her actions and demeanor, you can tell that Sophia is a goody-goody raised by a strong, independent mother. It shines through in the character. Amidst all of this chaos, the only thing Sophia wants to do is schoolwork.
Richie and Sophia have a perfect blend of odd couple chemistry. You see these characters form a relationship after starting off as relative strangers forced together as a result of this weird situation. Their budding camaraderie is adorable, and they grow closer as the night grows longer. With nowhere else to go, Richie and Sophia explore the seedy underbelly that is Richie’s life in New York City.
Before I Disappear is surprisingly even-handed with comedy and drama, but this movie isn’t afraid to go to dark places. Richie is abrasive, but you still can’t help but like him. He’s a guy with a good heart, and he feels like a genuine person rather than a two-dimensional character. You don’t know the exact destination, but you want everything to work out for this guy on his journey. Even if he just wants to get back to his cold, red bath.
While you are with Richie the entire time, the audience is only fed bits and pieces of Maggie’s story—until near the end when it is a necessity. However, Emmy Rossum makes an impact with her limited time on the screen. When they finally reveal where Maggie is and why she’s there, you experience her feelings and that realization washes over you at the same time as the character. Essentially, her carefully crafted business world is a facade that she is trying to keep from crumbling down. She has to stay strong for herself and her daughter.
Before I Disappear might be a slow build, but it is undoubtedly worth the wait. No punches are pulled in this movie. By the time it was over, I felt emotionally pummeled. I would highly recommend this movie to anyone—especially those who enjoy movies that can make them emotional. I’m not afraid to cry while watching a movie, and Before I Disappear earns its tears. I couldn’t help but experience those same feelings on every repeated viewing.
In my eyes, Before I Disappear is a special achievement. This movie perfectly hits its intended spots and the result provides a valuable refuge from the outside world. Everyone should watch Before I Disappear and it is still streaming on Netflix. If you don’t like this movie, then I don’t think you need to come back to this website.