A Must See Film: Two Distant Strangers by Travon Free


Two Distant Strangers is a 2020 Academy Award winning short film written by Travon Free.  As of June 2023, the film is streaming on Netflix.  Even though the running time is only 32 minutes long, the short film tells a fully developed story and leaves a lasting impact for days after viewing. Two Distant Strangers explores relatable themes about power, free will, control, déjà vu, police brutality and racism. Why are these types of stories important and need to be seen?  In his article, How Stories Change the Brain, Paul Zak states “…stories are an effective way to transmit important information and values from one individual community to the next.”  Let’s discuss….

Two Distant Strangers tells the story of Black graphic designer Carter James who is stuck in a violent confrontational time loop with officer Merk, an overly aggressive NYPD policeman, on his way home to see his pet dog Jeter after a date. Each interaction ends with Merk shooting and killing James, who then wakes up again back in bed with his date Perri. James tells Perri that the experience feels like deja vu or something. Officer Merk is also aware of the repetitive experiences. However, no matter what James changes to fix the problem so that he can finally go home, the violence repeats. James laments, "This keeps happening to me!"  Does Carter James ever make it home to see his dog? Watch the film and find out. 

No Two People Watch the Same Story

We watch stories through our own eyes. What we relate to in stories is influenced by our own personal experiences.  There are several underlying themes in Two Distant Strangers:

  • Control vs Free Will - Carter James just wants to go home to his dog. He makes choices that are within his control to achieve his goal. Unfortunately, officer Merk interferes with James achieving his goal. The collision ends violently, and then repeats itself again, and again. As much as we try to control our fate, we are impacted by our environment. Nobody is an island to him or herself. Success is a team effort. This is why getting involved in the community, donating to educational institutions, voting and supporting positive change are important. Each person plays a role in making the world better for today and the future.
  • Police Brutality is a SERIOUS Problem - The movie ends listing the names of Black people who were murdered due to police brutality: Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Terence Crutcher and others.  According to U.S Data on Police Shootings and Violence, 15% of civilians who experience police threat of or use of force during legal interventions are injured; an estimated 250,000 civilian injuries are caused by law enforcement annually; and more than 600 people are killed by law enforcement each year.

  • Deja Vu - Emile Boirac (1851- 1917) was a French philosopher, parapsychologist, promoter of Esperanto and writer. In 1876, Boirac was one of the first to use the French term deja vuwhich means a feeling of having already experienced a certain situation, in his book The Future of Psychology. In 400 A.D., St. Augustine is also credited with referring to 'false memories.' If a new experience feels familiar, then you are having a deja vu moment or are you? According to the article,  Deja Vu: What It Is and Why It Happens, an estimated 97% of people have experienced deja vu. Your mind mixes memories together and makes a new experience feel like it has happened before.  In Two Distant Strangers, Carter James says that his repetitive experience are deja vu, but in reality, the memories were not an illusion because the events were actually happening to him in the present moment.  Mr. Free uses the concept of deja vu as social commentary to say that police brutality and racism keep happening over and over again, and something has to be done to make a change. Stop it!

  • Stuck in a Rut/Spinning Wheels - describes feelings of frustration when changes in behaviors fail to result in new experiences or results. Two Distant Strangers excellently portrayed the protagonist Carter James making strategic changes in his behavior with the hopes of getting home to his dog. Unfortunately, the changes he made did not prevent the repetitive interactions James had with officer Merk.  A feeling of stagnation is a clue that we need to make a change in our lives. However, sometimes it is difficult to determine 'what to change' and/or 'how to change it.'  A nice vacation can clear your mind and be inspirational, but some situations may require more extensive alterations. Success comes from never giving up. For assistance, counselors such as life coaches and therapists can assist with getting your life on track. Also, writing down your goals helps to clarify what you really want. 

  •         Summary: I thoroughly enjoyed Two Distant Strangers and I encourage you to watch the movie with an open mind. Even though the subject matter is serious, the movie has humor and light-hearted moments. The dialogue was natural. The actors gave great performances.  Critics believe Carter James portrays a victim, but the ending of the movie proves he does not feel like a victim (no spoilers).  Two Distant Strangers is short on time but tells an expansive story about the negative consequences of police brutality. 
Pictures: courtesy of Netflix.com
Emile Boraic - https://dbpedia.org/page/%C3%89mile_Boirac
Deja vu - https://health.clevelandclinic.org/deja-vu-what-it-is-and-when-it-may-be-cause-for-concern/
A Brief History of Deja Vu - https://deja-experience-research.org/history/brief-history