‘Dissolve Cut’ makes mention of loss and grief, including traumatic grief and disenfranchised grief, and repression of trauma, and features depictions of trauma and guilt relating to the death of a loved one. It also makes mention of homicide and suicide. 

Thirteen years after his murder, which occurred on his thirteenth birthday, I dreamt I was back in my childhood home with my brother Alexander. For both rational and irrational reasons, I cannot bring myself to believe in coincidences. So, considering that he appeared not the way that I usually remember him—bedraggled, strangled, bruised—but rather the way I have tried to remember him—golden hair brambling in the wind as he dashed down the driveway, his favourite sports jersey rippling, loose on his small, lanky frame (mum bought it two sizes too big under the auspice that he would fill it when he hit his growth spurt); considering that until that night I had not dreamt of Alexander nor our childhood neighbourhood once since his death, despite the shadow it has cast across my life; considering the perfect alignment of years and date and age; considering all that, I could not help but interpret the dream as a signal.

            A question.

            A request.

            Though our family is full of storytellers, that night was never discussed. My father is a reporter, my mother a sculptor, one aunt is an amateur playwright, her husband is her muse, my cousins have become novelists and essayists and poets, I am a budding filmmaker, and Alexander was a musician, although he preferred the term rockstar. Cain family gatherings were times for stylised recounts of family folklore. Death was a recurring character. There in Nana’s final words to Mum: ‘I hate your new haircut.’ And in Uncle Tony’s misbegotten last will and testament (he accidentally left everything to his cat). Even cousin Clive’s suicide-murder, where he took his wife Jennine—loathed by everyone—out with him. But something was different with Alexander. As far as I know, my parents never spoke about it with anyone else, least of all each other. They certainly never brought it up with me. There was never a moment of vulnerability, where all their pent-up emotions gurgled like a gutter in a rainstorm. Not even a few whispered words on a late-night drive with Dad or during a drunken confession from Mum as I put her to bed again.

            Maybe they didn’t speak about it because of how morbid the death itself was. My parents worked hard to keep me from seeing photos. Shielding my eyes when we passed the papers in the supermarket, switching the channel just before news segments on the investigation. Still, I caught glimpses. His hand, brown-red dirt under his chipped nails; his feet, still wearing the sneakers he’d been given as a birthday gift.

            Or perhaps they didn’t talk about his death because such conversations would naturally segue into discussions about his final moments: Who could do that to a child? How long had Alexander been meeting with this person? What happened that made them kill him? 

            Or maybe still, we didn’t talk about it for a much simpler reason: he was young and he was loved.

            Not talking about that day evolved into not thinking about it. And not thinking about it evolved into erasing it from my personal history altogether. 

            Which is why, when he appeared in my dream, portentous; when his hand brushed against mine as he bolted down the driveway—it was warm and soft the way I remembered it, but cold and clammy the way I feared all dead things being—I knew that he was asking something of me. No, not even that. He was begging: Please, Logan, please don’t forget me.

            I jutted my hand out after him, but he was halfway down the driveway already, worn-out trainers slapping against white concrete. With no other choice, I took off after him. 

            He’d had a habit of snatching toys out of my hand and taunting me with them, running around our backyard, around our house, around the roundabout in the middle of the cul-de-sac, waving them in my face, asking why I didn’t come take what was mine. And I—hysterical the way only a young child can be—would run after him, begging him to give them back. Sometimes he would slow down until he was a little more than an arm’s length away, before taking off again. He always extended beyond the reach of my grasp then, and I was strangely comforted to find out that he still did now. 

I would like to be able to claim that the idea to make a film about Alexander came as some epiphany. But the truth is, it arose as a practical solution to a creative and academic problem. 

            In the days and weeks and months following the dream I discovered that where my memories of the year after Alexander’s death were a void, I could recall the summer preceding it with startling clarity. Remembering was all I wanted to do. All I could do.

            Take, for instance, the class screening of The Souvenir

            In the film there is a motif, a painting of a woman carving her lover’s name into a tree. When I saw this image, the woman transformed into Alexander; the knife in her hand became a phone. Suddenly I was back home, seven years old, spying on Alexander through the staircase bannisters. He waited by the phone, dodging calls from his classmates, but picking up a blocked number on the first ring. 

            Footage of old film projectors morphed into the wheels of his bicycle; the steady clat-clat of the reels transformed into the rattle of the playing card—the King of Clubs—he’d jammed between its spokes. He rode down our driveway and across the street to the forest that bordered the back of our neighbourhood. He tossed the bike off and ran in—where he would presumably meet whoever had just called. This was the last time I saw him.

            And after the film finished, while my lecturer teased out some of the ideas and concept wrinkles within the film—‘…of course, Hogg’s ethics are still dubious. Anthony, whatever his real name might be, has no agency, no way to inform this depiction…’—I bombarded myself with a completely different line of questions: Would Alexander still be alive if I had asked him who he was calling? Why hadn’t I told my parents, the police, anyone, what I had seen? Was this all my fault?

            When my subject coordinator informed us that the pitches for our major projects were due in a couple of weeks, it was obvious that I had to make mine about Alexander. Turning my memories of that summer into a film seemed, to me, the only way I could possibly exorcise them from my psyche.

            But as I began writing the screenplay—a dreamy series of vignettes, more felt than plotted—I came to suspect that Alexander had purposely been leading me to make a film about him. After all, he had begged me not to forget him. What more fitting way to achieve that than by immortalising him in celluloid? 

Writing the screenplay was one thing; filming it was another altogether. 

            When I presented a first draft to my classmate Bailey, who had often served as producer on my student productions, I was met with a tepid response: ‘This is certainly… ambitious.’ 

            Similarly, the classmate who had agreed to help me with casting—a nepotism baby named Annie—immediately rebuffed me: ‘It’s unclear to me how old these boys are. Am I casting tweens or am I casting adults?’

         Neither of these interactions, however, prepared me for the calamity that was the viva voce. It was with my head of faculty, Dominic McArther, an older man who wore wire-rimmed glasses which made him look like a librarian, and my subject coordinator, Jeanette Ellison, who was in her mid-thirties and had a fondness for tweed jackets. They were seated behind a table at one end of a small classroom. Bailey and I sat on chairs in the centre of the room. After a long round of questions, which I felt I answered mostly coherently, and a short period of deliberation, they gave their verdict:

            ‘When you applied to this school you—like everyone else—did so by presenting a cinematic short of your own creation, and a portfolio of original imagery and loose narrative concepts. What you kids call a mood board, I believe.’ Dominic made a meal of the word mood board, rolling it around in his mouth. ‘The idea, of course, was that you take your portfolio, nurture it throughout your studies, and turn part or all of it into your final work—a kind of “then” and “now” thing, to show your progression. Naturally, this is not mandatory, but it is the expectation of this board that, in lieu of developing one of your legacy ideas, your new concept be thoughtfully constructed—’

            Jeanette cut him off, ‘What Dominic is getting at is a curiosity we share: Where did this new story come from? We can’t trace it in any of the material you first submitted, nor anything you’ve worked on in the years intervening.’

            ‘I know you had a very good idea that you were playing with a few months back. That Pillow Talk pastiche.’

            ‘Where did that one go?’

            ‘And why this one now?’ Dominic punctuated the sentence by rapping his knuckles against the desk.

            ‘Well,’ I said. ‘For me, this felt necessary. I don’t know if you know about what happened—’

            ‘We all know.’

            ‘Right. So—I—yes. To me, this felt like the right time, maybe the only time, to make this film. As I’m graduating film school—it’s like I have to put this to rest. Close as many chapters of my life as I can at once, so I can open myself to something new.’

            ‘But you must see that this is untenable.’ Dominic had begun flipping through my screenplay, which I had bound with twine in a tribute to Alexander’s years as a boy scout. Only then had I realised this could seem unprofessional. ‘Even if this script was shootable—which I’m not certain it is—I fundamentally disagree with this topic, with this creative approach. This reads to me like the work of someone who doesn’t actually know what they want to accomplish.’

            ‘I just told you—’

            ‘We heard you,’ said Jeanette. ‘But are you hearing yourself? Look at these images: “There’s black bruising where the noose was moments earlier”, “Hard cut from Lennon looking at the razor blade to the bloody aftermath.” I’m seeing violence. But to what end?’

Although the university wouldn’t back my film, I was not yet out of options. The following day I phoned my mother—who had been clear throughout my entire degree that she would help fund my projects should I ever need assistance.

         I barely got one sentence through my pitch, however, before my mother shot me down: ‘I’m sorry, darling, but I can’t help you with this.’ When I asked her why not, she said: ‘It’s not that I don’t support you. If your film was about anything else, I would. But this… Do you remember what it was like after Alex died? You were very young, so maybe not. It was terrible. Just awful. First the police, then the reporters, then the public. Everyone was watching and weighing in… Oh, god, I’m sorry, darling, give me a moment… His face—our faces—they were everywhere. News. Magazines. I couldn’t buy groceries without being recognised: The Mother Who Let Her Son Die. We weren’t people to them. Do you understand, darling? We couldn’t even have our grief to ourselves.’

The production quickly fell apart after that. I didn’t begrudge Bailey, Annie, and the rest of the crew for abandoning me and Alexander. They needed to graduate, they needed something that they could use to audition for film and television productions, that could launch their careers, and it was clear that my film was not going to be that.

            The original plan had been to shoot the film on a sound stage, using minimalist sets to evoke the idea of my old neighbourhood. Now that it was just me, I took what little savings I had and booked a plane and accommodation back home. I toyed with the idea of roping in some local children as actors—in fact, this seemed to me the only way forward with my screenplay. I hoped that one of the families who had been living in the area when I was a child would still be there, and that they would remember me, remember what had happened, and willingly lend their children (and perhaps their houses) to see mine and Alexander’s version of what happened brought to life.

            Every part of my hometown had changed in the thirteen years since I lived there, but no part more so than my old street. It had been part of a new urban development plan, carved out of the forest. Our houses—exposed brick walls; white, red, and blue tiled roofs; anonymously modern—were a pocket of civilisation among the wild green. A place where people could host barbecues for their neighbours while their children rode their bikes up and down and up and down and up the street. Back then it seemed to be an ultimate triumph of modernity.

            I don’t know how quickly the neighbourhood was abandoned, whether other families left en masse shortly after my own, or if they trickled out, one by one, year by year, but either way there had been no one living there for quite some time, and nature was reclaiming what had been taken.

            Because I had been denied access to university equipment I was forced to use my own camera, a Sony DSR-PD150. Once I commenced work I found that shooting on digital—rather than on film like I had planned—gave the images an almost forensic quality. Even the smallest details came through clearly: the scuff marks on his windowsill from where Alexander had spent hours looking at the houses across the street. Had his killer lived in one of those houses? Were the scuff marks one of the last signs of their connection?

            My filming—an unstructured process of capturing whatever caught my attention—eventually led me to the middle of the cul-de-sac, directly above where they found Alexander’s body in the drain. From there I followed the drain’s path, a straight line which cut out of the neighbourhood and into the forest. Tramping down the dirt path, through the underbrush, I felt certain that I was following a course Alexander had set out for me. That he had brought me here, manufactured these exact conditions—my solitude, my lack of materials, my need to abandon my screenplay and improvise—so I could capture the exact right image at the exact right moment, something which would immortalise him. Us.

            The drain’s outlet was little more than a rusted pipe, jutting out of the dirt the way a broken bone protrudes from flesh. I shot straight into it. It was all darkness within. And yet, through my camera lens, that darkness seemed almost to be dilating, ever so slightly, like an eye adjusting to light.