The Night Listener
At the most basic level, The Night Listener is a search for the truth. In many ways it is a detective story, looking for clues that will in the end reveal the truth. Here, though, the truth isn’t found in the end. Maybe viewers will think they know the truth, but they will never be quite sure. But the lack of closure to the mystery is not a frustration. Rather the open-endedness of the film is part of what makes it so enthralling.
Based on a semi-autobiographical story by Armistead Maupin, the film tells the story of Gabriel Noone, a radio storyteller with a national following. He has been given a manuscript of a not yet published memoir of abuse written by a fourteen year-old boy dying of AIDS. Captivated by the boy’s story, Gabriel makes contact with Pete and his adoptive mother, Donna, who are living in a small town in
One day, Gabriel’s former lover hears Pete and Donna on the answering machine and notices they have nearly the same voice. A bit of questioning shows that no one has ever really seen Pete. The key question: does Pete really exist? As the story unfolds and Gabriel goes to
There is more here than just a mystery. Gabriel needs to believe in Pete – not just to prove he isn’t gullible and being taken in, but because he needs the emotional connection he and Pete have established. Gabriel is in the midst of a very painful breakup with his lover, Jess. For years Gabriel has cared for Jess as Jess battled his own HIV infection, but now that Jess is responding to treatment and not at death’s door, Jess needs to rediscover life away from Gabriel. This has left a large hole in Gabriel’s life, and the bond he quickly formed with Pete has begun to fill that hole.
But his emotional needs are not the only ones involved. If Pete doesn’t really exist, what are we to make of Donna? When Gabriel finds her, she has needs of her own that initially surprise us. But those needs may be far deeper than the obvious needs we see. Can she be making up everything about Pete so that everyone will pity her and take care of her? Or is she perhaps the most loving person around who takes on the care of someone like Pete and is merely protecting him from all those who might do him harm?
The Night Listener is a well done psychological thriller that seeks to play with our minds as well as the minds of the characters. It evokes a sense of dread and foreboding (or just plain creepiness) throughout, in much the way many of Alfred Hitchcock’s films did. Toni Collette is especially effective in establishing the mood of the film. Her performance as Donna is essential to making this film work as it does.
Director Patrick Stettner’s previous film, The Business of Strangers, was another story that kept truth at arm’s length, never letting us know for sure what was fact and what was lie. Both films make us question how easy it is for even an intelligent person to get lured into believing something that somehow feeds our needs. We are reminded how easily we can be attracted to the lie as easily as to the truth.