By Nicole Zamlout
Waiting at a red light is an annoying part of driving many have participated in with no alternative. Some choose to yell and vent at the glaring light to pass the time. Some distract themselves with their phone, the radio or their thoughts.
In the Vimeo short film “Red Light,” the brash and lively protagonist Ruth chooses to spend this time spinning a tale of identity, freedom and love lost. With no one but herself to appreciate her work, she uses the car and her own voice to act out the tragedy of a good life gained, only to be lost by her own hubris.
As she spins her fictitious tale of woe, the scene stays awash in the red glare of the traffic light, reminding the viewer of where we are — with a bored woman trying to pass time.
A film like this, which is essentially a one woman show, is difficult to make. Any actress would feel they need to overcompensate their acting for the lack of dialogue. However, that is not the case with Jen Tullock’s performance as Ruth.
She is able to create a complex story with compelling characters using no more than a few voice inflections and a couple of shifts of her car seat. Her acting is masterful as she spins out what amounts to a Shakespearean tragedy — the rise of a woman who seems to have it all, who loses it when she forgets how good her life is; spiraling down into depression, she only reconciles with her husband at the very end as she dies of cancer.
Casting a random passerby as a lost love, her performance shows so much nuance you forget you are sitting in a car with a relatively young woman waiting at a light. Entertaining, witty and creative, Tullock makes the whole scenario work.
While Tullock’s performance whisks us away on this journey of identity, the stubborn consistency of the red stop light both lulls viewers into the narrative and jolts viewers out of it. In certain parts, it aids Ruth’s telling, such as when she is “traveling around the country.”
Other times, such as on the beach with her fictional fiancee Terry, it creates a sharp enough juxtaposition to shatter the illusion. The use of lighting is odd and thrilling all at once, making the viewer straddle the line between immersion and tonal dissonance.
The score, while much subtler than the lighting of the film, aids the tale just as beautifully. It cradles the narrative in soothing tones throughout, picking up in times of joy and slowing in times of sadness. It never felt out of place and made the story all the more heartbreaking. It helps sell the tale Ruth is spinning as the light burns on.
The film takes such a simple, mundane past time and tells a story Shakespeare would kill for. It asks the viewer about what we want out of life, and shows us the amusing and potent power of our own imagination.