May 24, 2024
I Don’t Know Who You Are is a visceral race against time for a critical drug | CBC News

I Don’t Know Who You Are is a visceral race against time for a critical drug | CBC News

WARNING: This article contains mention of sexual assault.

919 dollars and 57 cents. 

That’s the critical sum at the centre of the new film I Don’t Know Who You Are, the feature film debut from director M.H. Murray.

Every day, the news is filled with those living their lives on the margins. People battling soaring rent, food prices and more. What would you do if suddenly you had to pay out of pocket for life-changing medication? What if you had nothing left?   

This is the power of IDKWYA — how it humanizes the statistics, embedding us in the predicament of Benjamin, a musician, played by Mark Clennon. 

Benjamin sits on a couch drinking wine while his friend Ariel hugs him.
After an awkward date, Benjamin (Mark Clennon) unwinds with his good friend Ariel (Nat Patricia Manuel). (Black Elephant Productions )

The story opens with Benjamin consoling himself, after a date with his boyfriend Malcom goes sideways. At a party, Benjamin drowns his sorrows with champagne and commiserates with his friends. On the way home alone, Benjamin has an encounter with a stranger that leads to a shocking sexual assault. 

While the flashing yellow caution light seen moments before may seem precious, what follows is raw and all too real. Shaken and still processing the attack, Benjamin is tracked down by his friend Ariel (a wonderfully warm presence played by Nat Patricia Manuel), who was also at the party, and encourages him to go to the ER. 

A critical drug and a ticking clock

At the rapid-test clinic and ER, the staff question Benjamin tenderly; Murray cast people who work in health care in real life. Much of what they get in response are silent nods as the musician retreats into himself, hiding behind his hoodie. But the course of action is clear.  

The ER doctor writes Benjamin a prescription for PEP, an HIV prevention drug, that costs $919.57. The treatment regimen must begin within 72 hours of exposure to be effective. The clock is already ticking, but Benjamin is tapped out. He just paid rent. He sent the last of what little money he had to his parents in Jamaica.   

At the drug store where Benjamin sees the pills he can’t afford, the pharmacist can only utter bland apologies. With an empty fridge and overdue invoices, Benjamin begins scouring his list of contacts, trying to scrounge together the money. 

A man sits on his bed, his face in shadow.
Clennon, who plays Benjamin, also worked on the film as a story editor, contributing aspects of his life, including his own apartment and cat. (Black Elephant Productions )

An aching sense of shame and insecurity

Shot quick and fast on a micro budget, I Don’t Know Who You Are offers an unfiltered look at how easy it is to fall through the cracks, while also showing how artists and the queer community support each other in the face of a heartless health-care system. Murray’s camera hovers nearby as we watch Benjamin process his ordeal, self-medicating with wine, approaching old friends and hiding his desperation behind a shaky smile.

There’s a bracing vulnerability to Clennon as Benjamin that grounds his 48-hour journey, as the musician battles through a cycle of shame and self-sabotage while somehow still trying to prepare for an upcoming show. 

Murray, who’s worked with Clennon before, brought the actor on board as a writer and editor, too, allowing him to add aspects of his own life to the film, including his apartment, cat and music. In fact, the scene where Clennon sings, “I’m not sure I remember when I need your help” was inspired by the actor’s conversation with the director. Murray told CBC News he wept on set when he heard the song for the first time. 

From Clennon’s input, to the real-life people playing medical professionals, and the director’s own lived experience that inspired the film, there’s a veracity to Benjamin’s struggle that makes up for a somewhat over-tidy ending. I Don’t Know Who You Are demonstrates you don’t need a massive budget for what is a compelling engine of empathy and a showcase for an exciting new performer.  

I Don’t Know Who You Are is open in select theatres across Canada.

For anyone who has been sexually assaulted, there is support available through crisis lines and local support services via the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. ​​If you’re in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.

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