For anyone who hasn’t watched Tangerine on Netflix, it’s a movie shot entirely on an iPhone about transgender prostitutes in LA. It mostly follows one woman as she searches the city for the woman her boyfriend supposedly slept with while she was in jail for the past 28 days and as she subsequently finds the woman, beats her up, and drags her through the city to her friend’s performance at a bar and then to a donut shop to confront the boyfriend, who also happens to be both of the women’s pimp. It’s not as confusing as that might make is sound, but just as it may be relatively easy to follow, it is not always easy to listen to, as there are often several voices clamoring to be heard at once. In a way, this isn’t a clean-cut movie with lines for every actor at their designated time. It is just like life, where the script doesn’t exist and sometimes leads to everyone speaking over each other. But right at the end of this life-like movie, there is quiet, and it is this quiet that reveals so much more about the characters than their words do.
The movie is intentionally chaotic—a few storylines simultaneously occurring, sometimes intersecting; yelling and fighting and arguments happening throughout—to make the silence a few minutes before the movie ends especially noticeable. And though the intense arguing throughout the movie could be considered disheartening to some, to me it holds the hope of connection, for regardless of how harsh their words are, these people are reaching for each other, for ways to be affirmed and known in their community. It’s like what I’ve learned about child development: the crying child is still clinging to survival, is still choosing life over resignation. The child who no longer cries for food or touch, who doesn’t seek the caregiver’s face, has given up, has ‘failed to thrive.’ No matter how loud or mean we may get, as long as we are still making a commotion, we are letting the world know that we’re trying, that we’re putting our faith in life.
So for those few moments of silence at the end of the film, when the characters stop fighting and go their separate ways, the heart breaks: they had tried so hard, given so much to resist— however destructively— the pain of isolation, and it left them alone and isolated anyway. There is nothing sadder than that. What makes this particularly heartbreaking is that the two main characters—the one who dragged the accused mistress through town and her performing best friend who had told her about the infidelity in the first place—are not on speaking terms because, as it turns out, the best friend also slept with the boyfriend/pimp while the friend was away.
It’s not hard to see that each of the characters is guilty for something—infidelity, lying, betrayal. No one is completely in the right. But to have a friend who has your back, who has seen you at your worst and nevertheless supports you and loves you, and then to have that her hurt you can feel like a death—you no longer know what is right and what isn’t; your whole world has to re-calibrate to adjust to this shock. After the revelation, the two women walk the same direction, the friend who betrayed walking a few yards behind the friend who was betrayed. The latter tells the other one to leave her alone so she can do her work, but right as she approaches a car with two men for a job, they throw a cup of their piss in her face as they yell a slur and drive off. Her friend is the only one around, and she takes her to a Laundromat to clean her off.
Forgiveness rarely comes easily; one scene could never capture it. Still, the woman helps her friend out of her clothes and wig and sits with her while they wait for them to get clean. They leave a seat between them and sit in silence until the first woman offers her wig to the other. Sitting there—one clothed, one not; one with hair, one with a hair net—they look at each other; they are seeking each other’s face. And right before the credits roll, the two women reach out across the void of separation and brokenness to hold hands.
In the quietude, the film ends with a moment of connection. There is nothing more beautiful or more profound than that.