While movies about trauma have chosen different narrative conveniences to tell a story, very few of them have so potentially dealt with the exact moment that causes said trauma as ‘8:37 Rebirth’ does. It stands out because it circles back to the moment again and again and delivers a wise, palpable look at how triggers work and how often the victim turns the narrative of the incident into burdening themselves with a guilt that is not theirs to have.
Directed by Juanita Peters, ‘8:37 Rebirth’ opens with a shot of violence that changed two completely different lives forever. Jared (played by Glen Gould) is denounced as the perpetrator of the violence and the film shifts 22 years into the present day. Sergei (Pasha Ebrahimi), who was on the receiving end of the violence has never moved on from the traumatic experience of witnessing his father being killed by the gun that Jared possessed. However, to shield himself from it, he has found some kind of solace in his family – a wife and a kid, and mathematics; which he is extremely good at.
Being a professor of mathematics, he is constantly wrestling with the idea of an equation that he is unable to solve. But along with fighting the trauma that permeates, he is also trying to find peace in the fact that he and his family are safe. That is until he receives the news that Jared is being released from prison. Something inside him completely snaps, and he forgoes on a downward spiral that doesn’t just upend his personal life but also forces him to face the way the trauma has shaped him into someone he isn’t.
On the other side of the trauma spectrum is Jared. Having lived with the repercussion of his actions every single day for 22 years, he has reached a point of some kind of peaceful reconciliation. While most of what he could draw before starting his sentence was a manifestation of his mind’s spiraling being, he has slowly accepted his fate and learned and unlearned things in order to bring back the color in his life.
When he is released, he tries to make a new life for himself. He believes in rebirth and retribution; which we get to know through a metaphorical and really well-intentioned story that he narrates to his landlord. However, he is also just a few minutes away from diving right back in.
The co-relation of the two main characters is apt, and director Peters ensures that we are able to patch through to both Jared’s side of the story, as well as Sergei’s. What makes the dynamics here interesting and investing is Peters not retorting to amping up on the sadistic imagery that we often associate with when it comes to movies about trauma. She instead focuses on developing these characters into more relatable human beings, so that when the plug is pulled, you are able to get involved.
Having said that, what really brings the movie down is when its focus shifts to John (Mark A. Owen). The character is someone who is also in some way related to the tragedy that took place 22 years ago, and his arc should feel like it also deserves an equal share of response from us. But his part is so underwhelmingly written and performed that no amount of character build-up is enough to make it interesting. The same goes for Sergei’s wife played by Amy Trefry. Trefry overplays her hand so much that each frame that she is in, levies the movie into uncharacteristically melodramatic territory. Which, in no way helps the central setup.
That said, ‘8:37 Rebirth’ is a sagacious look at trauma and the ramifications of a single moment of violence. There’s no other way to put it, but I can only think of a handful of movies that really delve into the obsession and guilt that trauma can enforce on both the victim and the perpetrator. And for that alone, I’d recommend it.