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Night Ride (2020): Oscar Nominee for Best Short Sends a Good but Patronising Message

In places where strangers congregate, like on a tram, it’s easy to dismiss others as stand-ins, mere figures who happen to be standing around us. But what do we do when these strangers need a connection? What happens when bystanders just stand by when someone is in need? Night Ride, directed by Eirik Tveiten, poses this question to the audience.

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CW: Descriptions of transphobia

In places where strangers congregate, like on a tram, it’s easy to dismiss others as stand-ins, mere figures who happen to be standing around us. But what do we do when these strangers need a connection? What happens when bystanders just stand by when someone is in need?

Night Ride, directed by Eirik Tveiten, poses this question to the audience. The short film follows Ebba (Sigrid Kandal Husjord), a woman who just wants to get home and asks if she can wait on the tram until it's ready to leave the station. When the driver says no, she breaks in and takes off. She ends up being mistaken for the tram driver and continues on, driving the tram when a trans passenger named Ariel (Ola Hoemsnes Sandum) experiences harassment.

Tveiten told the BBC that "I think speaking out if you see harm being done is probably the main message in the story". To which I say, well, duh—there isn’t really any room to interpret it another way. The bigoted harassment occurs because a male passenger decided to flirt with a passenger before discovering she isn’t cis. It is excruciating to experience: you fear for the girl's life as two men begin bothering her with actions like trying on her wig and asking if she wants to come to a party. The worst part comes in the footage of the bystanders. The camera regularly cuts to the other passengers, who look on in horror or pretend not to look at all. Ebbi is too scared to get involved from the driver's seat and pulls the curtain over to hide from them.

It is too easy to say this anxiety is to the filmmaker's credit because it isn’t that hard to build that anxiety. The camera privileges Ariel’s fear in this, zooming in on her face as she tried to deescalate the situation. Her powerlessness is emphasised when the camera zooms out, the two men trapping her in the corner of the seat as she begs for help. Her pain is on full display for most of the short. Ebba, the stand-in for the audience, does seem to want to help but is undecided on the matter. It is an unoriginal way to convince the audience to feel sorry for the victim: just overt discrimination (bordering on hate crime) on display and a main character who seems concerned.

Ebba does help, giving Ariel time to run away. Ebba returns the wig to her after and there is a soft moment of solidarity between the two women as Christmas-style music plays. Ebba wears Ariel’s wig as they look at each other and flash a brief smile. It is a sweet ending, but any kindness after such a grotesque display of human brutality is sweet. It views like an after-school special, patronising the audience that puts Ariel second and the bystander who decided to assist first.

Perhaps Tveiten is right: most people wouldn’t help in this way and so when people do, it can make a difference. Maybe that is why it's so brutal; it is grounded in reality. But there becomes a point where filmmaking like this just becomes patronising. There are better ways to explore the dangers of doing nothing, of not seeing figures in our routine lives as full humans, than through a lazy depiction of a potential hate crime to simply say, why can’t we all get along?

You can catch Night Ride and other Oscar-nominated shorts in cinemas this weekend! Locations and session details at: https://shorts.tv/en/events/oscar-shorts-202.

 
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