What would you do?
This is the question filmmaker Michael McGowan poses with his second feature film, One Week.
Despite the heavy, soul-searching implications of the film, it’s not sombre or overly dramatic. Starring Canada’s closest thing to a former teen heartthrob, actor Joshua Jackson takes on the role of Ben Tyler: a mid-twenty-something year old school teacher, poised to get married, ready to continue his life of mediocrity until he’s informed he has Stage 4 cancer.
“How many stages are there?” he asks the doctor.
Before anyone, including Tyler himself, has the chance to absorb the severity of the situation, he’s off on a vintage motorcycle leaving Toronto for the Pacific Coast. It’s a roadtrip film that romanticizes the beauty of Canada, but explores how the character has lived and how that has now changed after hearing the worst news of his life.
As the story unfolds you see that “nothing changes with him yet you realize that in some ways it’s the best news he could have heard because he’s done things he would have never done,” McGowan explained. “He would have lived an unfulfilled life and died at 75 or could have done what he’s done now and lived the way he’s supposed to.”
Playing the regular — but cute guy — with quirks, Jackson’s character gives his roadtrip a theme, visiting the biggest monuments in every small town. From the big goose in Wawa, Ont., to the dinosaurs in the badlands of Alberta, the scenes of Canada’s landscape is a visual love letter to the world’s second largest country. There was a point to avoiding all of the major cities except for Toronto.
“It’s him trying to get to his essence, his soul,” McGowan explained. “If you put it him in a city it doesn’t keep it as much in contrast. The loneliness of the long distance motorcycle ride worked more effectively outside the cities.”
Keeping the film out of major cities also diminishes the need for other characters, which works well for the use of in the narraration of the film. Similar to descriptive passages in a book, the narration brought the audience closer to Jackson’s character.
“The use of a narrator just allowed us to go a lot more places with the story in terms of how Ben was feeling and allowing those emotions to be explored.” McGowan said, adding it “also allowed us to use comedy because the narrator could undercut things … he could get under it in tone and sarcasm.”
It is an emotional journey that audiences take with Jackson’s character, who visibly struggles with memories seen through flashbacks and emotions played out on his face, including irony and sadness. Along with beautiful imagery of the vast country we live in, the third star of the film is the music.
What is a roadtrip film without the perfect soundtrack to accompany you on the journey? Though not available for purchase yet, the songs and score were carefully selected by McGowan and his music supervisor to match every scene of the film.
“It was meant to evoke an emotional reaction to the song and I think it honestly helped bring it up or bring it down,” McGowan said. “I just loved working with the soundtrack and the score to paint the film basically.” In the end, it is us the audience who is left wondering what happens next in our own lives. The dialogue between the characters is real, the thoughts going through Ben’s head, as told through the narration, are honest. “You can’t live each day if it’s your last because you won’t be eating in a week. But yet you should because it might be.” McGowan pointed out. “It’s about him taking chances really. It’s not about the big things … It’s intimate moments that are sometimes the greatest in life.”