The box copy on the DVD explains more clearly what Morning, a film directed and written by Orser, is about, but the film itself doesn't give off the impression that such narrative clarity is what Orser intended. The synopsis above contains only the information he provides as setup for a "cryptic" story about lost souls, seemingly designed to give Orser and several other talented actors (Juliet White, Laura Linney, Kyle Chandler, Elliott Gould, Jason Ritter) a chance to show off their raw chops. It's not that it's ignoble to design a film that doesn't spell out every little detail for the audience, but it's obvious that the script and direction are working overtime to avoid including even a single straightforward scrap of exposition, just so all of the necessary dramatic information can be conveyed through performance.
The film primarily focuses on Alice as she struggles to make sense of her surroundings. Her friend, Mary (White), tries to soothe Alice's nerves by smothering her with normalcy, but this drives Alice to miniature outbursts, like smashing a plate in the middle of dinner with Mary and her son, Jesse (Charlie McDermott). Meanwhile, Mark lounges around at home, smashing flowers with golf clubs, eating junk food, and refusing to answer the door. Since Orser tells the story in an intentionally vague way, it's not clear how fast the audience is meant to put two and two together, but most viewers will do so pretty quickly. To his credit, sort of, this proves a smart audience doesn't need to have everything spelled out for them, but the truth behind Alice and Mark's separation is pretty obvious, and it becomes increasingly frustrating that the film won't address the elephant in the room like normal people would.
As the film continues, the talented cast Orser has assembled elevates the film somewhat. Alice and Jesse share a moment of understanding outside Mary's house that maneuvers a more compelling emotional path than ten scenes of Alice weeping. Shortly thereafter, she meets with two Dr. Goodmans (Linney and Gould), both of whom find more interesting ways to work between the lines than the screenplay, shading in exposition with glances and gestures. Orser's character, on the other hand, becomes outright exhausting, regressing to childlike behavior and cliched "emotional breakdown" scenes (at one point, he picks up a cardboard box to do some sort of work and ends bawling and tearing it apart instead). His thread also contains the film's most obvious, head-slapping visual metaphors, including a pool being drained, and a fish flopping on the floor.
Ultimately, Orser fails to let us into these people's lives, specifically placing the viewer outside of their torment looking in. Near the end of the movie, Tripplehorn and Linney share a scene in which the film comes as close as it ever does to really describing or getting inside the heart of Alice's emotional turmoil, yet Orser still refuses to directly address what happened, despite how clear it is. It's a frustrating conundrum: how can Orser possibly hope to address the complex web of emotions his characters are dealing with if his characters are never actually allowed to talk about it?
The Video and Audio