Why do people repress memories and bury trauma only to have it resurface in a big way later in life? Often life events can be so painful that in the moment that is the only way to carry on until we are older and perhaps ready to process them better. Michael Petroni’s Till Human Voices Wake Us explores these feelings in deeply poetic, dreamlike and underrated yet very affecting fashion.
Guy Pearce is Sam, a Melbourne psychologist who travels back to his roots in rural Australia to bury his father, and a few other things from his past. We see flashbacks to his childhood (his teenage self played by the very talented Lindley Joiner) and his days spent with childhood sweetheart Sylvie (Brooke Harman) who tragically passed away when they were both very young. This key event has shaped who Sam is as an adult now and he is disarmed and unprepared for the flood of memory, emotion and unresolved pain that accompanies his return home. On top of that he meets a mysterious amnesiac woman named Ruby (Helena Bonham Carter) who can’t remember who she is and needs his help.
The title of the film as well as many plot and thematic elements are based upon a poem by T.S. Eliot, particularly this passage:
“We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.”
This excerpt and the overall poem are like a compass to the heart of what this story is about, it’s poetic in itself and speckled with clues here and there although to a seasoned filmgoer the story and twist ending won’t be especially difficult to discern, but like they say it’s about the journey. Pearce is an endlessly mesmerizing actor who only lends himself to challenging, distinct projects and he turns in a heartbreaking, implosive and eventually very cathartic turn here as a man who has done his best to avoid emotion for years until he can ignore the past no longer. Carter is sensational too, her dreamy meanderings slowly giving way to realization, she has the deep set eyes and features to pull of the most ethereal, mysterious characters. They have wonderful chemistry together too, as do Joiner and Harman. This is a quiet, slowly unfolding piece that requires your patience, understanding and diligent attention as it has no intent to crowd please, cloy or beg for cheaply elicited tears. Intensely moving romance, gorgeous Australian scenery and four rich, deep central performances from Pearce, Carter and the two kids. Highly recommended and available on Amazon Prime in HD.