To me, there’s a specific category that a film like “With Joyful Ring” falls into, and that’s the right kind of heartbreaking. Sure it’s a Drama at the end of the day, but with such a wide range of different ideas that can be found under that umbrella, I figured I’d pinpoint which aspect of the genre it deals with and highlight how seriously evocative, thought-provoking, and insightful a film like this becomes.
Without using a single word, director Gary Karapetyan knew exactly what he wanted to achieve and communicate through what we see onscreen. “With Joyful Ring” tells the story of Thomas Mitchell (Matthew Rhodes) who, at some point, lost his wife (Elena Hollander) – and while we don’t dive into the specific details surrounding how or why she’s no longer with Thomas, we know he wishes that she were still with him based on everything we see in this film. From the anti-depressant medication by his bedside along with her photo - to the many ways he drifts into his thoughts where she is still very real to Thomas – anyone that’s loved and lost too quickly will feel how heart-wrenching a film like “With Joyful Ring” can be. Being set around the holidays spares our emotions no further quarter either, for as many of you out there know, that can be the hardest of times to be alone. I felt like Gary included everything that was crucial to have in the visuals to make this story work and communicate how isolated, sad, and lonely Thomas is - but also how his sweet nostalgic memories were able to stave off what could have been the worst of outcomes, and let him somehow find some peace of mind instead.
I’m one of those folks that will always try to identify with what the main character in a story is going through, to begin with, but Matthew Rhodes made it that much easier to do by diving into his character with such impressive commitment. I genuinely felt extremely sad for the guy … I can’t even imagine what my life would be like if my own wife weren’t by my side every day. I would think the closest I can come to imagining that horrific scenario would be nearly exactly what we see in “With Joyful Ring” – I, too, would be a man clinging to every last morsel of my memories. I’d be lost without my wife, and we see this is the case for Thomas. With medication to help ease the pain, his life has become more manageable, perhaps, but it’s not at all like he wants that memory to be gone – in fact, he invites it to be as clear, sensory, and real as if she were still right there in the room. From scenes where they’re sitting together toasting marshmallows to drinks at dinner to the finale climax of the dancing scene towards the end of the film, we feel empathy, sympathy, and sincerity as we watch, and quite likely all at once.
I didn’t feel like anything was left out at all. “With Joyful Ring” is certainly on the shorter side of cinema, but it’s still a complete story. In a way, it felt like a microcosm of the television series called “Dopesick” that came out last year – Michael Keaton has a scene of his own in one of the episodes of the show that plays out a lot like the most pivotal scene in “With Joyful Ring” - and its emotionally devastating dance sequence.
While that moment in “Dopesick” flies by quickly, in this short film, it’s like we get to understand further a scenario like that and how it could occur – we spend the entire length of this film in that similar moment and get to connect to everything from behind the scenes that we were never shown before. It heightens our understanding of the endless depths of loneliness & how we search so desperately for any kind of reprieve from that feeling, even if it means we’re reaching for some mental escape more so than a physical one. Therein lies the real magic, though – Gary’s film does such an exceptional job of showing us all this without the use of any dialogue, which allows our minds to fill in the blanks; and what seems like it was once imagined becomes so much more real than we’d ever assumed it could be. In the most pivotal scene of “With Joyful Ring,” we don’t know what’s real and what’s not for a moment, only to have that answered for us clearly within the final frame. As much as I was sure I had an inkling of where this short film was heading, all credit where it’s due – Matthew made that scene just before the dance sequence so vividly real that I had to genuinely wonder about what was and wasn’t real onscreen myself – and I LOVED that.
While I would bet that some people would watch this film and not understand how substantial the content really is, I felt like Karapetyan added everything that “With Joyful Ring” required, which was an exceptional accomplishment given the fact that there is no dialogue, only music. I felt the sting of Thomas’ loss and the absence of his wife, I felt the loneliness around the holidays and the lack of the cheeriness those times provide; I felt the love shared between them and the devastating hole left behind. “With Joyful Ring” is heartbreaking, yes – but it’s the right kind of heartbreaking … the kind you can relate to and understand … the kind of pain and heartbreak that could happen to you or to anyone you know. Three and a half stars out of five from me – “With Joyful Ring” is well conceived, well executed, and honest.