Inertia (2001), Sean Garrity’s first feature film, draws its energy from improvised dialogue and its structure from a classic plot: the chain of unrequited love. First introduced to France during the seventeenth century through Racine’s play, Andromache, this plot type dates back to a fifth century B.C. play of the same title by Euripides. Both plays were developed as tragedies; the characters in the love chain are each hopelessly in love with someone who loves someone else. In Racine’s treatment of the theme, bodies litter the landscape and no one wins in the end. Euripides, on the other hand, uses deus ex machina to bring some resolution to the emotional stalemate of the love chain. Like Euripides, Garrity chooses to break the chain by separating its component parts and providing at least two of the characters with a new start.
Garrity provides us with four would-be lovers. Joseph loves Laura, who loves Bruce, who loves Alex, who loves Joseph. Laura is Joseph’s former girlfriend; Bruce, his best friend; and Alex, his 19-year-old cousin. The inertia generated by this chain of longing emanates from Joseph (Jonas Chernick). He refuses to let go. Although Laura (Sarah Constible) has been trying to sever their relationship for several months, Joseph will not admit that it is over. He thinks that Laura is confused; she doesn’t know what she wants out of life. As the movie opens, Laura is just leaving Joseph’s apartment. She has made the mistake of spending the night with him; to his mind, this means that she is becoming less confused. She tells him instead, that this was more like a one-night stand, a momentary weakness, and that they will have to work harder on their break-up. Joseph is a scientist; his is a world of order and method. Convinced that Laura loves him, he feels that a break-up is simply illogical. For Joseph, Laura’s mental confusion can be resolved. That is what they need to work on, not a break-up.
Joseph’s intransigence over his love affair with Laura is contrasted throughout the movie with a problem that he is trying to solve at work. Joseph is employed as a scientist by the Water Department of the city of Winnipeg. The suspicion is that a viral epidemic in the city is due to “something in the water.” He works closely with colleagues over long hours examining every possible cause, monitoring the water at multiple points in the network, and even the composition of the pipes. Joseph’s real problem is that he tries to transfer a scientific application of logic in the workplace over to his own life, thinking that “love” is also a kind of system.
Laura teaches at a Catholic girls’ school, which doesn’t fulfill her any better than the love affair with Joseph. The administration wants Laura to teach the girls about contraception; she refuses to do so unless she can also teach them about abortion. Eventually Laura quits because she can no longer stand the ethical strain, but she is less principled in her personal life. She, Joseph and Bruce have been friends since high school. Bruce (Gordon Tanner) was her first lover, although Joseph doesn’t know this. Laura has had many lovers during her relationship with Joseph and after. He doesn’t know this either. Laura is confused, but not about her feelings for Joseph. Her religion has failed her; she is haunted by an abortion she had while in high school; and her first love is now married to someone else. Laura needs to get away to a place where she can think clearly.
Bruce has spent his adult life in haze of booze, drugs and women. In an effort to reject his past life, he married Yumi while passing through Japan. They have nothing in common. On the rare occasions that he is at home, he watches pornography on his computer. Bruce has long forgotten Laura until he meets her one day with Joseph; his one concern is that she not tell anything to his friend. But meeting Bruce again has rekindled all the old feelings in Laura. Unfortunately, Bruce has also met Alex (Micheline Marchildon), Joseph’s cousin and temporary roommate. He falls immediately in love with Alex, who attaches little importance to who she has sex with, but who is very serious about love. She regards Bruce as a dirty old man and spends part of an afternoon running away from him in Joseph’s apartment. Alex has always loved Joseph, though he has no idea about her feelings.
As the plot unfolds, Joseph becomes vaguely aware of the emotional undercurrents around him, but can’t react appropriately to anything he learns. His consistent reaction is denial. When he comes across Bruce and Laura kissing one another, he hits Bruce. Laura tells Joseph that he should wake up and realize that she, Laura, does not love him, Joseph. He simply tells Bruce to go home to his wife (apparently, Bruce is also confused). Joseph is horrified by an unguarded moment that results in a passionate kiss with his young cousin, Alex. She deals with his rejection by telling him to relax: it was just a kiss. They then sit side by side on the couch staring straight ahead eating potato chips while the phone rings and rings. It is a call from Laura.
Garrity resolves the impasse created by unrequited love by having the two women break out of the circle, which turns what might have been a tragedy into a bittersweet romance.
Inertia won Best Canadian First Feature Film at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2001, as well as three Blizzard awards in 2003 for Best Long Drama with a budget under $1,000,000, Best Performance by a Leading Actor (Jonas Chernick) and Best Performance by a Supporting Actor (Mike Bell).