Humans have always used art to ask the big, existential questions in life, the ones that we all ask ourselves and our loved ones. Peter Wollen’s feature Friendship’s Death (and his only solo directorial credit) does this tenfold, following the unlikely bond between a Scottish war correspondent (Bill Paterson) and an extra-terrestrial, Friendship (Tilda Swinton), who is on a peace mission to North America. When Friendship crashlands in Amman, Jordan during an intense period of civil strife known as ‘Black September,’ she befriends Sullivan and a unique connection begins to blossom between them. Having its world premiere at the London Film Festival 2020, this sci-fi remastered in 4K by the BFI National Archive is absolutely dazzling, and Friendship’s Death is a piece unlike any other, making it worthy of a watch.
Finding themselves both suddenly lodged into a strange situation, Paterson and young Swinton make for a rather compelling duo, never dwarfed by the complexity of the large scale questions and conversations they find themselves having. themes which Wollen seemed eager to explore within his work. Sullivan’s pent up frustration and confusion regarding Friendship’s arrival and indefinite stay is compelling and believable.
It is difficult trying to imagine anyone else stepping into the shoes of Friendship, especially when looking with hindsight as Swinton’s career speaks for herself, taking on roles from cross-gender characters, to other mystical beings. Her presence onscreen alone can easily suggest something other-worldly, her poise and calm demeanor starring opposite Paterson is rather captivating. This all adds to the piece’s blend of serenity and existentialism, making for an intellectually loaded experience.
Though most of the film’s narrative takes place during an exact period of war-stricken tragedy, the topics of discussion and thoughts that arise when Sullivan is faced with Friendship are timeless, that is, other than the glaring advancements in technology since that period. Themes such as alienation are universal and omnipresent, and a film that leaves you with pondering thoughts is, in my opinion, always an impressive feat. One of the most spellbinding elements of the film lies in its final moments, when Sullivan decides to play a message that has been left to him by Friendship. Abstract shapes, colours, functioning organs and veins fill the screen, and snippets of Friendship’s voice accompany the trippy visuals, leaving the viewer pondering over the sheer power and otherness of Friendship’s abilities and culture.
Friendship’s Death is a wonderfully touching piece, simplistic in its form but vast in its commentary of the human experience. Although it is a very surreal encounter between two species, the core performances from Paterson and Swinton truly ground the piece, injecting it with enough wonder to make the most miserable of souls intrigued.
Friendship’s Death is available now on Blu-ray/DVD, BFI Player, iTunes and Amazon Prime.