An Analysis of 2021 Oscar-Winning Short Film, ‘Two Distant Strangers’: The African American Experience Might Just be One Big Time Loop

Joe’s Badass is Just Trying to Get Home to His F*cking Dog, just Like Many Others Trying to Get Home to Their Loved Ones.

Spoiler Alert!! Go watch the 32 min short film on Netflix and return to enjoy this analysis focusing on the usage of time loop and why it works.

It is a beautiful morning in New York. The weather says it should rain ‘skittles and froyo’, but a young man (Joey Bada$$) won’t get a chance at a peaceful walk of shame. Leaving a beautiful lady behind, his morning turns into a horror one in this time-loop short film, directed by Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe.

Carter (Joey Bada$$) and Peri (Zari Simone). Via Netflix.

The young man is Carter. He bounces from a one night stand with the excuse that he needs to get back home to his dog. One notices his connection with his pet during a playful chit chat with the canine over a gadget that remotely serves it breakfast and is equipped with a camera and microphone. This establishes an emotional connection and gives reason to their  relationship, making us understand his love for his pet, and why he would decline a breakfast offer just to go spend the morning with his best friend.

#001. Via Netflix.

The horror begins when he steps out of the apartment building and he is racially profiled by a police officer, Merk (Andrew Howard), who requests to search him. Seeing no reason for this, Carter refuses and they get into a scuffle, which ends in his death by a chokehold—in what would count as #001.

As a viewer, you are first pulled in with the witty dialogue between the two strangers who have just spent a lovely night together, only to be thrown out of the bliss that the apartment offers—into the chaos involving two other strangers— an African American man and a police officer. We all know what happens when both words are used in the same sentence—anything but a positive ending.

Officer Merk and Carter. Via Netflix.

The time loop format really works for the story in a way that intensifies the extent of this issue, which is an occurrence that has happened repeatedly in real life. How does this make viewers feel, most especially the out-group members? In the film, the main character repeatedly goes through the same event, with the hope of breaking out of the cycle, only to find himself shut down again (pun intended). Every time Carter has to go through it again, the glass becomes more magnified and the object (subject)—police brutality—becomes clearer. 

It makes you ask yourself if he would win, even if he changes all he can, representing other real life victims that were posthumously advised to have just obeyed the police in order to survive. But, is that really the case? What happens when a man alters everything about himself (and actions) to avoid getting killed, until it dawns on you that there is only one thing left that can not be changed—an innate trait, which is the colour of his skin. Carter’s experience in the half hour movie is a terrifying (and at times comical) endless loop with the same outcome. His repetitive trials to overcome this loop and failed attempts depict what a black person goes through everyday.
Would it have been any different for other victims if they had smiled? Would they have survived if they turned mute? What exactly ensures survival going forward—stripping off one’s skin?

By going through the horror life event with him everytime it happens, it would leave a huge emotional feeling on the viewers regarding the themes of gun control, police brutality and race in the United States. During each loop he tries to correct a mistake he believes he made the last time that led to his death. No matter how logical or sensible he tried to be with Officer Merk,the colour of his skin  always turned out to be the problem. The question is, do the measures work? Are Africans Americans actually the problem or the police and the system? As many questions as I am posing to you as you read this, so exactly is the same way that you get worried, full of questions as you watch. These are questions that should be asked everyday, and not until the next victim kisses the dust.

Despite the gloominess, it becomes comical when several loops occur repeatedly within a short time, ending with the same result and we see a shot of his lonely dog waiting for him in his apartment that boasts a king-sized painting of him. After a number of loops, Carter, with a confused lady (Zaria Simone) by his side, wakes up crying, “this keeps happening to me”. This is the reality of people of colour in the United States. Even if they’ve not been victims personally or through people they know, they can always relate due to the shared racial bond and this rightly can make every person of colour  scream out loud— “this keeps happening to me”. The question is, would the dominant white race see it the same way? More questions, exactly the same way it hit me at every juncture as I watched.

In a turn of events, Carter eventually gets past the stage of death and has an intriguing conversation about race with the officer. This conversation tries to get into the psyche of a racist uniformed man and thwarts whatever ‘excuses’ he might want to project to justify his bad day at work RACISM! Nothing justifies lack of patience, nothing justifies 9 minutes on a man’s neck, nothing justifies your pure sense of grandiosity.

It’s a beautiful day in New York, or not. Via Netflix.

So, what armour does the black man have against such injustice? I would say the group’s persistence. They keep going, heads high, regardless of the uncertainty when they step out to start their day that boasts a pleasurable weather forecast. Come rain, come shine, they never go all out attack seeking vengeance. They would rather bide their time to come up with a way out on top as past racial movements have proved to us. This persistence is one last thing that the time-loop signifies to me. 

Even if humans had nine lives, should any human go through such horror multiple times? No human, regardless of race, should ever have to go through such events, even when it is certain that you will survive. Not surprisingly, the film’s major critics have questioned why such a sequence of events would be repeatedly put on display, citing how traumatic it could be, thereby marking it needless. Although it is often said that a question shouldn’t be a response to another question, the ultimate counter-question from this oscar-winning short film might just be— when will it all end?

Side Musings

  • The first credit scene is replaced with a long list of victims who suffered the same gruesome fate as Carter in the past. It doesn’t matter if you’re at the door appreciating a passerby’s kicks or on your bed after a long night shift— a black man living in the United States can only hope it won’t be his last. 
  • This dude who keeps playing racist asshole/crooked Police officer, I remember him last from Perry Mason.
  • “That Kevin Hart movie was a fvcking lie.” Lol. So people are not allowed to ride along in the front seat of a police car. That’s interesting if it is actually true.
  • One of the lines during the conversation with the officer: “The system rewards you guys with the best possible prize for the only thing you had nothing to do with, being white.”
  • The George Floyd rooftop graffiti! ✊🏾
  • Despite the number of symbols already existing in the film, it would have been more symbolic to have Carter own a cat rather than a dog. Why? Cats have nine lives, don’t they? *winks*

Two Distant Strangers is currently streaming on Netflix.

Bis Bald!

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