Sydney Film Festival: Pulse

Kate Young
18th Jun 2017

If you could trade bodies with anyone else in the world, would you? For Olly (Daniel Monk), a young gay disabled teen, this is not a question - especially when he is given the diagnosis that his body is being ravaged by disease. Faced with the truth that within a year's time he won’t be able to walk, Olly’s liberator comes in the form of an experimental surgery, where they plan to take his mind and transfer it into the body of another. The body that Olly chooses is that of beautiful young girl.

With the support of his mother Jacqui (Caroline Brazier) and his two best friends Luke (Scott Lee) and Nat (Sian Ewers), Olly faces everyday life before the operation. He goes to parties and gets wasted just like every other teenager his age, but feels like he’s always on the outside looking in. Doesn’t help that Luke and Nat are getting romantically closer and there’s not enough room in the relationship for the three of them any longer. Feeling rejected, Olly gets a numbing dose of reality that love is something that he craves but due to his illness may never experience. When Olly and his mother go to the hospital for a routine checkup it is then when the doctors inform them both of the long term issues surrounding his illness, with no options left, he opts for the body transplant treatment.

Just before surgery Olly drops the bomb that he wishes to take the form of a woman, this leads to questions of identity, sexuality and gender. As Olly becomes Olivia (Jamiee Peasley) so does the shift in persona begin, as Olivia becomes alive so too does Olly, testing boundaries of both his/her own and those around them. The film takes a dramatic turn as we watch Olivia descend into a world of sexual indulgence and self-sabotaging relationships with loved ones. It is at this time that we as audience find it very hard to like and understand the character, but when you’ve been trapped in the cell of your own body and you're given the chance at a new lease on life, the sky truly is the limit.

Writer, editor by and star Daniel Monk at the very young age of 11 was found to have a tumour on his spinal chord. When doctors tried to remove it, complications arose resulting him becoming a quadriplegic. As if high school isn’t difficult enough for a teenager - but for Monk it meant starting his high school in a wheelchair. It was also around this time that Monk started questioning his sexuality. All he wanted was to be close to somebody, to make a connection both mentally and emotionally, but found it impossible considering how disconnected he felt from his own body. Six months of intensive rehab saw Monk being able to regain use of his left side, but has still been a long journey for the now 28 year old to fully embrace himself.

It was Monk's own personal journey and search for self-identity that truly drives the story of Pulse. Screening as part of the Screenability program of the Sydney Film Festival, the program sets to showcase the works of filmmakers, writers and actors who identify as having disabilities. For so long Monk felt marginalised, not only was there no representation of teen homosexuality that was resonant to his experiences, nor where there any of teens with disabilities. There was a large community that had no voice and surly he wasn’t the only one seeking this exemplification. So Monk set out to tell his own story, believing “You can’t tell everyone’s story, you can only tell your own and hope that people resonate with it."

For fellow queer Director Stevie Cruz Martin, this is her first feature length film and she has done an amazing job. Her use of interchanging actors within the Olivia/Olly scenes is some very clever camera work. Martin made both Monk and Peasley act out the scenes which allows seamless transitions between the showings of personalities, Olly representing the vulnerable side of this one person, where Olivia was the wild, exhilarated side.

Pulse is a confronting portrayal of one person's quest for love, not willing to shy away from the sexual misadventures of its main character as they use the people around them in order to manifest any feeling of self worth. It's tempting to say that this film falls into the sci-fi category but its unlike any body swap film I’ve experienced, as it focuses more on the characters and how each person is effected by Olly’s choices then in the science itself. Pulse is a brave film that will test boundaries of sexuality, disability and gender, proving that sometimes what we resist the most is what we choose to pursue and in this case it's love and acceptance both from others and from within.

Pulse screened as part of the 2017 Sydney Film Festival.