If you crave a body swap movie that avoids the usual cliches of the genre, Pulse may just be the film for you. How is it different? Let me list some of the ways.
First, Olly, the protagonist is NOT some sexist or callous male who needs to walk a mile in her heels to learn some life lessons. In fact, Olly is a gay, disabled teen age boy. He long for a new body in part to escape his disability, and he thinks becoming a girl will allow for him to have a relationship with a straight boy he is in love with and has been for years.
Other than one scene where Olly is amazed to have BOOBS! The film otherwise plays dark and dramatic. The creators choose to have many scenes after Olly gets his new body where they cut back and forth between how he looks to the world– a young blonde– and his “inner self.” This worked for me in the sense that in many of these movies I feel it is easy to forget the “guy” inside. In Pulse, we are constantly reminded, and without giving away too much it also speaks to what ultimately becomes the theme of the film.
Olly has a very supportive group of friends. They embrace his choice, and the only concerns they raise relate to the intolerance of people and how he needs to be careful. Olly’s mom is okay with it as well, though her own drinking problems and absentee motherhood have as much to do with it as her willingness to support her son’s choices. Still, Olly then proceeds to engage in a lot of alcohol related behaviors some young people stumble into, and we get a kind of coming of age story within the gender swap.
I thought the acting was great, and I liked the style of the show, which is currently streaming in the US on the HERE network. I do recommend, but now I must address the ISSUES. Stop here if you do not want to get into the politics.
_______________________________________ Politics and some spoilers————————————
The concerns I have seen raised about this film are numerous. First, there are concerns about how it could be seen as making trans look like a choice. The creators state that the movie in their view has nothing to do with the trans experience and was not in any way to suggest trans people just choose to be trans. In this day and age, every gender swap movie is examined in terms of how it can impact the trans community, which is very important given the reality of the dangers posed by intolerance, ignorance and hate.
Another concern raised is that if re-enforces an assumption made by some cis people that gay men want to be women. I feel what this movie explores more specifically, and the writer has stated it was inspired by his own experiences growing up and exploring his sexual identity, is a much more common fantasy. That is, seeing someone who is attracted to the opposite sex and kind of wishing that you were that sex, so they could love you. It is not a fantasy that is really rooted in that feeling of being in the wrong body, but a kind of fantasy. The same thing can happen in terms of our types– the nerdy girl who wishes she was a cheerleader so the quarterback would like her, or a dorky guy who wishes he was the quarterback.
Some young people even do change to become what they feel others want them to be, a strategy that usually leads to unhappiness and regret.
Lastly, of course, is the portrayal of the notion that his disability is something to be escaped. We live in an amazing and awesome era where differently-abled people have embraced and thrived. So, here’s the thing and where we get to the spoiler. Olly ends up going back to being a boy. He finds out that becoming someone else does not solve all his problems. He learns that being a disabled gay man is who he is, and all he needs to be.
That, to me, is a positive message.