Spoiler alert: No dragons were harmed in the making of this film.
Sure, TOMMY BATTLES THE SILVER SEA DRAGON is best described as a musical fantasy film… just not that type of fantasy. It is an allegorical look into the psyche of a man overcome with guilt, and trying to reconcile the decisions of his life and where they have left him. Along the way the audience is treated to a feast of stunningly surreal visuals and dramatic musical numbers that I found myself humming well after the credits rolled.
The film begins with trench coat and fedora clad men bursting into the apartment of one Tommy Silver, and dragging him into a court room where he is at once the defendant, the prosecutor, the defense attorney and the judge. He is forced to relive painful memories from childhood, through adolescence, and into adulthood to uncover his guilt in the deaths of his brother, his mother, and his girlfriend. As his memory proves unreliable, it is up to The Prosecutor to drag the truth into the light and make sure Tommy is punished for his crimes.
Of course, there is much more to this film than that quick synopsis covers (and much of it turns out to be untrue as Tommy’s memories are gradually revealed). But it does encapsulate the bizarre and fascinating framing device the film uses to dig into the mind of a man who only wants to help people, but due to his childhood trauma cannot bring himself to let anyone in. Even the woman he loves most.
At its heart, this is a love story. And despite the fantastic elements, it’s one of the most realistic love stories I’ve seen put on film. Despite the film centering on Tommy, we see most of the central relationship through the eyes of his girlfriend Carolyn. She’s the one who truly sees the damage that Tommy tries so hard to hide; and must bear the brunt of that damage as he vacillates between romantic whimsy, cold-hearted selfishness, and violent obsession. Anyone who has been in, or witnessed, an unhealthy relationship will feel chills through the latter half of this film, as Carolyn dissects and diagnoses all the reasons why Tommy can’t bring himself to truly love her.
All of this is executed in such a way as to bely the inexperience of the filmmaker. The shots are polished, the editing is sharp, and the music is truly something to savor. In the Q&A following the screening, writer/director/producer/composer/editor/star Luke Shirock noted that he began writing music for the film back in 2011, before the story was fully fleshed out, and post-production took roughly two and a half years to complete. A true labor of love, Luke has intricately crafted every frame of this film to be a perfect representation of his vision. I commend anyone who is willing to dedicate this kind of time and energy to their art, especially when the end result is such an enjoyable and emotional experience.
I would be remiss to end this without a note about the incredible performance of David Andrew MacDonald as The Prosecutor. A true veteran, he adds charm, menace and tension to every scene he’s in. He has exactly the presence and weight necessary to carry the central conflict of the film, and I couldn’t imagine the story being nearly as engaging without him.
I recommend everyone check out TOMMY BATTLES THE SILVER SEA DRAGON when they get the opportunity. Even if you’re not a fan of musicals, even if the synopsis seems bizarre, even if love stories aren’t your cup of tea. Because I think everyone will find some truth in the conflict between guilt and forgiveness that Tommy must battle through. Even if, in the end, it looks nothing like slaying a dragon.
Special thanks to Jonathan, Lari and all the rest from the Toronto International Spring of Horror and Fantasy Film Festival. What a wonderful weekend of great films and great company. I suggest anyone in the Toronto area check them out when they’re back next year.