Diagnosis: A Short Film Review
Have you ever wanted to know exactly how and when you will die? The ripple effects and responses to having such knowledge are explored in Diagnosis, a black comedy short which shows the importance of living even when you know the end is near.
Medical science has now unlocked the ability to predict the time and cause of one’s death, within a relatively small margin of error, and Eden (Oliver Burton) has gone to get tested. The results are less than hopeful: Eden has seven months left on this Earth, and a car accident will be how he meets his end. This doesn’t sync up well with his partner Jo (Kate Cheel), who is due to give birth at roughly the same time of the year.
At just over 11 minutes in length, Diagnosis wisely commits most of its runtime to the characters reacting to the test results, rather than the actual test itself. Despite being labelled “scientific” several times in the script, as viewers, we aren’t expected to ask questions around the ins and outs of how the forecasting works. Instead, director Byron Keane and Burton – who also wrote the story – attempt to show how this information impacts the lives of those involved. And in this sense, I was intrigued by what they had to show me.
Eden’s life post-test result spirals into a pit of denial and paranoia. Time becomes his biggest enemy as he watches the days tick by in dread of the seemingly inevitable. This places obvious strain on his relationship with Jo, whose pregnancy is now being managed solely by her. It’s heartbreaking to witness Eden essentially stop his life because of the knowledge he possesses, and Burton’s performance captures the inner turmoil his character is fighting.
Despite the rather morbid subject matter, Diagnosis isn’t above having some fun with itself. There’s a slightly absurdist undertone that permeates throughout the short, especially with the doctor’s (Chantelle Jamieson) entirely unprofessional way of delivering shocking news to the main character. While I believe part of this choice was to provide some levity to the darker plot points, I also felt it captured the surreal and incomprehensible nature of having a terminal illness. Diagnosis understands that laughter and crying can be adjacent emotions, so the see-sawing tone actually works in favour of the script’s layered themes.
The score by Bryce Halliday does a mesmerising job supplementing the story and themes of Diagnosis. The bouncy, almost Glee-esque, choir and accompanying drum rhythm effortlessly transitions from being light and playful to anxious and foreboding depending on the direction of the scene. Furthermore, that drum becomes directly intertwined with the story, through sounding like the pulse of a beating heart or the tick-tock of a clock.
Clocks and calendars are present in almost every scene, representing the steady, unshakable march of time towards the predicted end day. Once September 30 does arrive, circumstances that I won’t spoil here force Eden to partake in that dreaded car trip, only the outcome isn’t quite what he expected. The ending is still traumatic, but it’s a trauma brought about by his paranoia, thus self-fulling the prophecy and creating a sense of inevitable tragedy.
Diagnosis takes a quirky and quaint look at the every-so-fragile dynamics of life, death, and time. Releasing in 2020, the film places its warning against denying medical science straight into the topical pile of messages, but the surreal tone and captivating performances ensure this short film is an intriguing watch for anyone with a spare 11 minutes to kill on their calendar.