AN OPENLY gay Jehovah’s Witness is an oxymoron: homosexuality is harshly punished by “disfellowship”, which entails never seeing loved ones again. This is the context of You Can Live Forever (Cert. 15).
Seventeen-year-old Jaime (Anwen O’Driscoll) moves to the Saguenay region of Canada after her father’s death and her mother’s mental breakdown. Her aunt Beth (Liane Balaban) and uncle Jan-François (Antoine Yared), with whom she stays, are devout Witnesses. Although she is not of their persuasion, they treat Jaime extremely well.
So does the family of Marike (June Laporte), a friend whom she makes at the Kingdom Hall. There is gentle pressure exerted by all of them for Jaime to engage in worship, Bible study, and “field service” (door-knocking with The Watchtower). When Marike’s biological mother left the faith, it was deemed that “She’s not in the truth any more. . . We’re supposed to imagine she is dead.” This only adds to Jaime’s growing unease about the Witnesses’ beliefs.
This intensity is counterbalanced by the friendship that develops with Nathan (Hasani Freeman). The young man’s hedonistic and non-judgemental attitude enables Jaime to maintain a relative perspective on life. But it is with Marike that true love lies. If this became known, it would jeopardise the girl’s tenure in a fellowship that she holds dear. During their secret liaison, she “baptises” Jaime in the bath that they are taking. It is hard to tell whether she is parodying a ceremony over which JWs can take up to three years in preparation, or whether it is a soft-sell prelude to converting her lover to her way of thinking. “I have enough faith for us both,” Marike says.
This is where the wheels come off the narrative somewhat. To say more would be a spoiler; but it is enough to say that her reasoning is in its own way as questionable as that of the JWs themselves. And, despite insider knowledge, the writers-directors Mark Slutsky and Sarah Watts don’t give them any space to justify their position. Instead, we get nice people with harsh notions of salvation.
On the other hand, while one can bemoan the ramifications of the JWs’ beliefs, nor is any attention given to Jaime’s mindset. She attends worship without participating in the hymns or prayers. We are as ignorant of what she believes by the end as we were at the beginning. She questions those with a firm faith, but without ever disclosing her own spiritual outlook. The film is at its strongest when it explores the agonising dilemmas of faith versus love.