"I paid a lot of money for you."
That's what the big man (Brett Gelman) tells the little man (Simon Helberg) in End of the Line, a short film based on Aimee Bender's short story of the same name. In the surrealist film, a man purchases a small man in a cage in the interest of having someone to entertain him. There's a metaphor here — the big man buys and abuses the little man — working against the film's insistent whimsy. Director Jessica Sanders, a decorated documentary filmmaker, says the absurdism of the film is integral to its larger, darker point.
"As a filmmaker, I've always been attracted to really deep themes," Sanders told Refinery29 over the phone from Sundance, where she's getting ready to premiere End of the Line. "My past documentaries have been about wrongful conviction and Holocaust remembrance, but I'm also really into comedy. I think themes of power, power systems, or how you get power — there's something very innate about a story that explores these themes. It's in my core of what I'm naturally attracted to." (Sanders' documentary After Innocence won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance in 2005.)
But, there's also the comedy aspect. End of the Line's silliness derives directly from its premise: a big man purchased a small man. Crazy, right? The small man lives in a small cage, where he sips at tiny tea and reads tiny books. He wears tiny clothes and, before he made it to the cage, he had a tiny family, too. The movie is The Borrowers, but if the titular family were captured and treated like hamsters.
In Sanders' words: "[End of the Line] tells the story in a really fun, playful way. So, it does explore power but you don't really realize it while you're watching it." At one point, the big man mixes a pink martini for the little man using an eyedropper — how cute! The twist is that the martini has an agenda more sinister than its pink façade.
Sanders based the film on a short story from Aimee Bender's collection titled Willful Creatures. Sanders read the story years ago, and it's almost ironic that she's telling this story — a story about the ways men express power — in 2018.
"I think it's interesting that the story was written 12 years ago by a woman about men — [and] it's being made now. It seems very timely," said Sanders. "When we were editing the film, just every single day there'd be a story about a man abusing power. And what happens when you have power over another person and how far you can go in a direction that you may not have intended is definitely what we explored. It's very perfectly timely."
End of the Line is part of Refinery29 and TNT's filmmaking effort the Shatterbox Anthology. Shatterbox exists in part to promote women filmmakers — as Sanders points out, only 7% of Hollywood features were directed by women in 2016. Those numbers need to change, and Shatterbox hopes to propel that change.
"What needs to change is that women directors actually need to be hired," Sanders added. "It isn't for any lack of female talented highly-qualified directors. It's just that hiring practices need to be more equitable."
Simply put: Hire more women. Then we'll get more absurdist short films about the bonkers effects of power.
Watch the full trailer for End of the Line, below.
Just 7% of 2016's top films were directed by women. Refinery29 wants to change this by giving 12 female directors a chance to claim their power. Our message to Hollywood? You can't win without women. Watch new films every month on Refinery29.com/Shatterbox.
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