Written and Directed by Takashi Doscher
Produced by Gabrielle Pickle, Eyal Rimmon
Executive Producers Jim Kaufman, Gideon Tadmor
Unrated, 98 min.
Tribeca Film Festival 2019
There has been a recent uptick in a specific type of post-apocalyptic cinema. First, there was A Quiet Place, where making noise is fatal, then Birdbox, where seeing is fatal, and now Only, where being female is fatal.
Only unfolds in a non-linear format, opening with dramatic flourish on “Day 400”.
It spends little time trying to explain why things happen, so the assumption is the asteroid mentioned on the news in the background of a scene is the source of a mysterious virus that swiftly infects and kills – in a matter of days – all female creatures on the planet.
As only females die, we see a world where life changes slowly for the remaining men. There are no eggs to eat, presumably no milk, and a constant sense of desperation and dread. The Earth is populated with the final generation. Science is trying to find a cure, trying to continue humanity. The government gets involved, first peacefully and later by offering enormous bounties for living women. All of this, however, isn’t what Only is about; it serves as the background that drives forward the story of our surviving couple, Eva (Freida Pinto) and Will (Leslie Odom Jr.).
Eva and Will are staying at their friend, Carolyn’s (Tia Hendricks) apartment. When Carolyn comes home deathly ill, the duo takes her to the hospital where Will is quick to notice that amidst the chaos of the Emergency Room, all the patients are female. He quickly takes Eva back to Carolyn’s apartment where, with the assistance of Eva’s father, a virologist, he constructs a clean-room and initiates protocols to keep her safe.
Even though Eva is safe and appears symptom-free, around them society crumbles. There are riots and uprisings. Governments around the world fall to chaos. Yet, as long as they follow protocols, she is safe.
Days, weeks, months pass. Then more than a year. Confined to what is little more than four plastic walls of a single room in an apartment that isn’t hers, Eva is still alive even when as the counter for her online “support” group dwindles from hundreds to one. Once a loving couple, Eva and Will now only exist as a team struggling to keep her alive. Going outside won’t harm Will, but until he is decontaminated, he could kill her. She is alive, but what is she living for? Supermarkets are bare, the military is conducting raids for hidden females to steal away to government facilities for testing and breeding, and Eva hasn’t seen the outside in over a year. She has a decision to make, one that is entirely hers: Is this a life worth living?
Only is stunning – both visually and socially. The movie never dipped into the violent tropes that most would think would befall the last woman left alive on Earth. Filmmaker Takashi Doscher understands that those threats come included with the audience’s own baggage – the movie never has to go there, because it’s constantly on our minds and we bring our own fear. Instead, it tells a story about what happens to a relationship when love turns to obligation, and asks if that love can ever be found again. It puts this in contrast with a story about selfishness and jealousy in the form of a father and son who pursue them when Eva and Will finally escape the city. What happens when someone has something everyone else does not? Only explores that jealousy by comparing it to our lovers’ story. In doing so, it doesn’t give us “bad guys”, it gives us desperate men acting in a way they believe is in everyone’s best interest. Even the faceless soldiers show us heart. It’s for us to decide who we would be if the decisions were ours to make.
Although a handful of other characters enter the fray, Pinto and Odom carry the two hours of this film almost entirely on their own, and they carry it well. Doscher has shot an intimate film, and these two actors reveal nuance and truth under his microscope.
Without ever branding itself as a #metoo story, without ever making Eva into less of a woman, Only succeeds in telling a story about a future where the few remaining women on the planet are suddenly seen as a commodity, as a necessity for survival the same way food is, and leaving us shocked when Eva is treated as a thing and a possession rather than a human being. It becomes a metaphor for how women are treated today, how decisions about women’s bodies are made by men, and without ever preaching this point, gives us a context to see how shocking and reprehensible that behavior is.
Post-apocalyptic? Yes. Very much “now”? Also yes. Worth seeing? Definitely!