Concussion (2013). USA, 96 minutes. Directed by Stacie Passon. Starring: Robin Weigert, Julie Fain Lawrence, and Johnathan Tchaikovsky
Concussion is a well-crafted, provocative film produced by veteran filmmaker Rose Troche and directed by newcomer Stacie Passon. The filmmakers were at the Castro Theater with cast and crew at the 36th Frameline Film Festival in June, following the film’s debut in February at the 63rd Berlin Film Festival, where it won the Jury Teddy Award. The Castro Theater event was special not only because Concussion picked up another award for best debut feature, but also because Troche presented her debut film Go Fish (1994) at the Castro nearly two decades before, which has since become a cult classic lesbian film.
The premise of Concussion is that after a hit on the head by her son’s errant baseball, Abigail (Robin Weigert) feels that her talents should be spread beyond working out at the gym with body conscious housewives, folding laundry, and fielding questions from teachers who are afraid of other WASP parents who think that Halloween represents witchcraft.
To make her life even more unappealing, Abigail’s long-term partner Kate (Julie Fain Lawrence) seems sexually uninterested in her and is zoned out most of the time with work. Both go through the motions as a long-term couple with children in a suburban home. Kate works as a lawyer; Abigail fixes up lofts in New York and sells them for profit. She is now on her sixth refurbishing with the help of friend Justin (Johnathan Tchaikovsky). She is also an avid member of a woman’s gym and even runs off stress on her own treadmill at home to the point of nausea. Sports help, but soon prove unviable, and she starts noticing women in the gym and on the street. In desperation, she answers a personal ad. The woman is not from her privileged white middle class and is a woman of color who works out of a cheap hotel. She finds the encounter crude and unsatisfying. Justin sets her up with a woman named Gretchen, who works for his girlfriend “The Girl,” who arranges high-profile erotic dates for primarily college women. She is in law school and can’t get caught, so she discusses the “sales” via the language of interior design improvements.
As a storyteller, Stacie Passon wastes no time and rather than explaining everything in dialogue, her picture language is both economical and meaningful. The interior sets of the family home have a hygienically sealed cleanliness and smoothness. The meditative Eastern soundtrack by composer Barb Morrison tells a similar story about what can be perceived as a path to Abigail’s “enlightenment”—her experiences in an almost transcendental state in the esctacy of communion with others awaken parts of herself that had until then been unexpressed. For me this experience is the central core of the film that Passon has brilliantly created as a perplexing question for exploration.
Most of Abigail and Kate’s friends are straight and ask patronizing questions like, “When did you first discover you were a lesbian?” The couple seems to inhibit each other when they entertain, and though they are free to express love for each other, they don’t look or act like a couple “in love.”
Contrasts between the darkness of the suburban home and the light of Abigail’s inner city loft suggest that enlightenment is beyond the confines of her stale marriage. I am not sure if this is Passon’s intention but Abigail’s bourgeois suburban relationship seems to shift to a bourgeois call girl loft, but at least it is her own space. The upscale loft is for her upscale clients, with art books and classics like “Gandhi on Non-Violence” on the bookshelves, and paintings and strategically placed art pieces.
Abigail’s series of adventures with primarily young women who pay her for sex is done for enjoyment, not for money, and she is good at it, probably the first thing she has been good at for a long time, besides gentrifying warehouse lofts and working out. She is still a “hot dyke housewife,” as Justin calls her, catering to young women with their father’s credit cards looking for a “mature situation” with a woman of 40+.
In the midst of the loft’s decoration as a clandestine meeting place, Passon reveals the needs of women who, like Abigail just want sex,—younger women who have no experience and older women who want some romance. This includes even her happily married neighbor, who is on the PTA and food bank committee, and whom she occasionally meets in the supermarket in the canned goods section.
Given the success of Abigail’s interludes, why shouldn’t this all work out with Kate none the wiser? Perhaps because leading a bourgeois life is in dire conflict with passion, joy, and creativity on the side. The Berlin audience picked up on that and asked Robin Weigert if the film was against the bourgeoisie.
Concussion makes you feel that there is just not that much going on in the suburbs and fixing up a loft for erotic encounters makes a lot of sense. The loft space, which Passon calls “heaven like” in an interview in San Francisco, is Abigail’s dream world, where she truly lives for the first time in a long time.
If you want to read more about Concussion, check our interview with director Stacie Passon and producer Rose Troche and our interview with composer Barb Morrison. You can also visit Moira’s profile and the film’s website.