There’s no doubting we’ve lived through some challenging times lately where everyone has probably needed help of some kind to get by. But what happens when the helpers get exhausted, or when the caretakers need care themselves? I have seen a few films address this question recently, one of them being Numb.
This short film opens with the monologue of Dr. Lola Enochs as she reclines in a chair next to a side table with a stiff drink in hand in her huge and completely empty in-ground pool. “Who invented the waterbed? And what was I thinking when I purchased one in med school? The cold winters, the sloppy sex.” I couldn’t help but laugh a little bit even while it was clear this character was drowning herself in booze and her own disorganized thoughts. As you may have guessed, the empty pool becomes a metaphor in the film, and the poolside scene in the end is in striking contrast to this one.
In addition to the outside world being as depressing as it is, Lola is a grieving widow. Numbing with pills and alcohol is one way of coping when life seems too painful and overwhelming, though it usually ends up tipping us over into more pain once we become aware of some of the things we do while we’re numb.
Lola gives off the appearance of being very made-up and professional despite her condition. She’s the kind of chronically depressed person you’d never guess was depressed, and it seems like she didn’t even know how depressed she was, either. She’s the kind of person the words “high-functioning alcoholic” were invented for. A few times her overall exhaustion breaks through the surface, my favorite and the funniest to me when she orders pizza, Chinese, AND sushi for dinner for her kids rather than using up the energy to argue about it. She also can’t summon the energy to argue with a patient about a prescription, which ends up backfiring on her and bringing her some self-awareness of this exhaustion.
Co-writer and lead actress Luella Hill hits just the right note for Lola, slumping blearily sometimes, but still smiling weakly and still able to engage with some of her favorite patients. Numb is an interesting portrait of the more nuanced addiction and grief that you don’t always see: an upper-middle-class helping professional with good hygiene who isn’t obviously stumbling or slurring all over, but who is just very tired and very numb.
Numb plays in Shorts Block No. 5 until November 6th: