Numb: a powerful short film on the effects of lockdown isolation on young people

Liv McNeil, “Numb” (2020)

Originally an art school project to occupy her for the rest of the school year, Liv McNeil’s three-minute film “Numb” has reached far beyond her original audience at her school in Etobicoke, a district in Toronto, Canada: the film has garnered 100,000 views on Youtube and gained praise from Canadian film director Sarah Polley. Starring 15-year-old McNeil herself, the film is a mostly silent work (save for the music soundtrack, “My Tears are Becoming a Sea” by artist M83) detailing a young person’s experience of COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and the effect that loss of daily structure and enforced social isolation has on her. After a tour of her bedroom, in which the camera fixates on photos of friends and other memorabilia that establish the lone protagonist’s identity, the film settles on the stunning climax: a full one-minute stop-motion collage of McNeil in front of her laptop, surrounded by furniture, school notes and toys, going through weeks and months of her days in her prison, during which she suffers a silent breakdown and screams.

This heartfelt and intensely emotional film should be considered an indictment on governments and public health experts who impose lockdowns and other restrictions on healthy populations, with no thought as to what to actually do during lockdowns to ensure such actions only remain as a last resort, and who fail to protect the most vulnerable groups (in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, the elderly and others resident in nursing care homes, often run by private companies for profit) from the very scourge that supposedly necessitated lockdown in the first place. “Numb” can also be read as a protest against government and corporate actions and restrictions that cause and/or promote long-term economic and psychological pain and damage: jobs are being lost, businesses are shutting down, people are losing hope and taking their frustrations out on family members or even themselves.

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