Slamdance 2020 Review: “Murmur” (2019) ★★★

Murmur has a couple of definitions that have been applied to this interestingly made documentary film bearing the same name. One meaning refers to the unusual sound in the heart between heartbeats while the other one refers to the act of speaking something very quietly or softly. “Murmur” is that type of a story where it does not offer a happy ending but rather what happens when one person finds himself in the midst of self-destruction and peaceful discovery through animals that are nearing the end of their life.

Donna (Shan MacDonald) has recently been convicted for impaired driving due to her issues with alcohol. Her daughter, Julia, does not want to see her. Her life is purely based around the walls of her house she lives in with no companion whatsoever. When she was ordered to perform community service at the local animal shelter as part of the rehabilitation program, she quickly finds a connection with animals, especially Charlie, an elderly dog who’s scheduled to be euthanized. As she sees in the little being a refuge from her loneliness, she begins exercising the opportunity of having more animals brought up to her home which causing herself more trouble in the meantime.

To capture a human/animal connection is important. This film is right to the point in regards that. However, as we watch Donna, we don’t really judge her for where she has found herself. As we try to understand her point of view, the animal shelter also does not like the idea of letting sick animals out of control in Donna’s hand. Donna is a very loving and caring person; she is not shy about sharing the same with pets. However, as any coin has two sides, “Murmur” well delivers that subtle moment of how and when we should be kind to animals and at what stage of our life.

That said, with a cast of non-professional actors, most of them playing themselves in the film, Heather Young’s debut feature film goes beyond our understanding of a human connection shared with animals or vice versa. Young lets the camera follow Donna as she is the one who’s doomed to be alone. Honestly, at some point when you see her violating the rules set by the animal shelter about letting pets stay with her, she eases her pain while the pain of animals keeps growing. Of course, it’s not just because of her reckless actions, which has never been the case but rather what we do to get better. Do we stop doing things that have started destroying our lives to start repairing it, or stay just where we are and hope for the best? “Murmur” may not be able to provide that answer but it’s close enough for the audience to grasp the moment of despair and move on from there.

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