Representation is important. If you think it’s not, then it is likely that you’ve always seen yourself in the media you consume. Listen to those who have been underrepresented or misrepresented in media, and you’ll know how validating seeing a version of you on the big screen can feel for those who don’t have it in abundance. Writers and directors Sarah Watts and Mark Slutsky were motivated by the idea of representation when they collaborated on You Can Live Forever (2022). The specificity of the film helps make the characters feel genuine and lived in, which only makes their story all the more gutwrenching.
In the early 1990s, Jamie (Anwen O’Driscoll) moves in with her devout Jehovah’s Witness relatives after the death of her father. Initially feeling like an outcast, Jamie finds a strong friendship with Marike (June Laporte), the daughter of a prominent Witness elder. Their attraction is strong and a secret relationship forms – but their passion threatens to reveal their secret as the community moves to keep them apart.
The relationship at the heart of this film is so incredible. It builds quite gradually; a small smile, a touch of a pinky with the one’s pinky, and an innocent cuddle while sharing the bed at a sleepover. It’s courtship on film in a way that feels so organic and sweet that the direction the film is heading fills you with dread almost instantly. This is a doomed romance – or one of the girls will have to give up everything they’ve believed in order for it to work. Either way, their circumstances are not built for this relationship that seems so innocent and pure to work out in a way that we the audience would want. This is why the performances are so important, and O’Driscoll and Laporte are phenomenal.
I’m not sure which character I loved more. Both earned my affection and empathy – and while I would side with Jamie more, I totally got where Marike was coming from. Marike’s mother was forced to leave early in her life, and while the film never fully explains what happened, we get that her punishment could be Marike’s as well. Jamie doesn’t buy into the religious elements her relatives adhere to, but she seems willing to at least consider it for the opportunity to be with Marike. Jamie’s only other friend in the film, Nathan (Hasani Freeman), constantly picks on her about being a “Witness” but even his comments don’t dissuade her because of Marike. It’s a beautiful friendship-turned-romance, and it’s hard not to get sucked into his film.
I cried a few times and felt some anxiety a few others, as the girls’ fate felt clear. This story is small and intimate and clearly crafted with care. Films that have genuine representation and authenticity are valuable. I really hope that You Can Live Forever gets distribution, and people who need to see themselves on the big screen, or the TV screen, or on their phones find this film. You Can Live Forever earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.