Released as a world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Jarrod Carmichael’s directorial debut “On The Count of Three” is a socially conscious appeal served through dark humor. Jarrod himself acted in this movie as an important protagonist. Also, there is Christopher Abbot as his friend Kevin. This riveting story with perfect performances portrays the lives of two mentally unstable people and how they approach their life and death throughout the course of the story. This movie realistically depicts how every person’s inner struggle is different. Some cry their silent tears while others violently express their anger, and when they finally choose to die in the pursuit of relief, it is precisely there that films like “On the Count of Three” show them a glimmer of hope. The occasion of the movie becomes an impeccable approach beyond the criticism of its craft. The movie commences its journey with two best friends facing their hovering death, putting each other at gunpoint. A single shot followed by a count of one to three in their trembling voice indicates the failed attempt. But why are these two young men tempting their death in this way? In search of that answer, let’s embark on a journey with the plot of this movie.
The Death Bite And Its Two Different Victims
With an elementarily raw vibe fused with the tune of punk, the movie shows some earlier moments of the almost-dead lives of two young men. One of them is a manual laborer named Val, whose mental turmoil does not show an obvious reason from the beginning, but he is not holding it up well. Val’s silent breakdown is a true representative of the harsh reality where people’s lives are laid out in a grid where no one can understand their inner struggles. Presumably, Val’s outer shell is just as calm as his inner voice is terrifyingly loud, prompting him repeatedly to choose a suicidal path. Nothing even affects his life, whether it’s a phone call from his girlfriend or a job promotion, except for killing himself with a belt around his neck. Being a small earner, he probably suffers from insecurity and avoids commitment. On the verge of his muted disruption, Val grips his cigarettes desperately and emits his grief like smoke in the air.
On the other hand, Kevin is a clinically diagnosed mental patient whose long-term treatment has been done in an asylum. But to no avail, Kevin repeatedly attempted suicide. While Val’s mental wreckage is unspoken, Kevin is a chaotic personality who listens to death metal as recreation and verbally abuses a therapist. But Kevin’s immediate realization forced him to relent, which shows the existence of humanity somewhere inside his noisy brain.
Val thinks that death is the only way to escape the pain and comes to Kevin. As they escape the asylum, Kevin is strongly urged by Val to commit suicide. Here, Kevin doesn’t want his friend to choose this path, but the backlash of depression makes Kevin sympathetic to his best friend. But the plot twist is Kevin himself. He has a conflict inside. The moment he is freed from the prison of the asylum, the taste of living in his life wakes up. He chooses death as the second option and asks Val to give him the day as his last day on earth. So Kevin intentionally dodges Val’s gunshot so that he can live a little longer.
Kevin’s disorganized thoughts now suggest to Val something that is far beyond his idea. Kevin wants to kill his psychiatrist, Dr. Brenner, who molested him as a child. Here, a dark truth behind his long-term mental sickness is revealed. But the extent to which his sense of humanity will allow him to do this remains questionable. The two best friends arrive at Brenner’s clinic with a pair of shotguns.
And with the fire of vengeance burning in Kevin’s eyes, he admits that the existence of a small gun to an afraid man gives him the illusion of strength, but Val remains calm. They both stand so close to their end that no external influence can move them. But Brenner still has some time left in his life, and so do Val and Kevin. When they set out to kill the doctor, he is not present there at that moment, and the receptionist tells them to come at 5:45 in the afternoon. After that, when Kevin grabs his last meal on earth, he finds his annoying old schoolmate Brian catching up with him. Brian is so fulfilled in his life with his wife and kid that Kevin cannot tolerate him. Even when Brian drags up the old days of school humiliating Kevin, he feels a little tortured and gets out of that place. Showing a little rage outside, he thinks of revenge. Though he felt an urge to live before, everywhere and everything started triggering him again to kill himself. But he calms himself into getting done with his unfinished business.
Val tries to survive the last moment of his life and goes to a good friend’s garage for bike racing. While Kevin and Val begin a death race with the bikes, Val falls off and injures himself. Without delay, Kevin takes him to the local store to buy bandages and medicine. But the shopkeeper ignores them, and Kevin cannot stand that anymore. Bringing out his gun at him, Kevin scares him to listen to them. But at least after the threat, he pays him the bill. Picking up the gun in his hand is a passive cry for help. He just wants to express the sadness of his neglected life. Honestly, he is neither a murderer nor a gangster. He is just a disgraced person in society who will leave the world in a few moments, but no one will even care. But Val does some isolated work, which causes confusion at first, but later we understand his ambition. Val, along with Kevin, visits his fugitive father, Lyndell, to collect some money that his father once stole from him. When they fight over this, Kevin injures Lyndell with metal and escapes with Val. Val is also seriously injured, which is nothing to compare with his wounded mind. On the way back, Val tells Kevin the reason for avoiding his girlfriend. He doesn’t want to tie the person he loves to the melancholy of his life. Showing a ring to Kevin, Val explains he failed to propose to his girlfriend. It’s because he thought a small ring and some social responsibilities will not bring any happiness in his life, he will make his lover’s life miserable as well. So he decides to sacrifice himself without living with this burden.
Val’s broken frame now takes shape, but the source of his grief is still unknown. And if we look around, we’ll find thousands of people like him suffering from idiopathic depression every day, which is illustrated by the story of Val. Now Val stops by his girlfriend Natasha’s door, where he offers her the money he took from his father’s place, but Natasha doesn’t want that money. She respectfully refuses the help, as she doesn’t want that money, but wants her partner by her side. She even tells her boyfriend to see a therapist bravely without running from his problems. Val understands the affection and power of love. Just like how Lyndell screwed up his childhood, Val doesn’t want to repeat the same thing with his own child. Rather, he wants to give his unborn child the life it deserves. So he gives himself a second chance to make everything right. He finally starts walking towards the light, leaving behind the initiative that pushed him to commit suicide, but who will he tell? The spree of suicide has already spread through Kevin’s pores, and he has gone for the kill. Kevin arrives in Val’s car, drunk to the metal frenzy of Papa Roach’s “The Last Resort”, to take the life of Brian, whom he met in the morning, but seeing him happy with his wife and child, Kevin changes his mind. He does not want to give that innocent child the trauma that he received from childhood and the miserable life he has led so far. So, defeating all the demons in his brain, Kevin becomes a human again.
When Kevin returns, Val tells him that he wants to live. When Kevin starts to argue about that, Val informs him about his girlfriend’s pregnancy. But Kevin still doesn’t want to back down from killing Dr. Brenner to get his revenge. And Val stands next to him. Kevin arrives at the clinic to approach Brenner with a gun, but the gun comes out to be empty, so Brenner wrestles the gun from his hand. From the outside, Val thinks Brenner may have gotten over Kevin, so he shoots him to save his friend.
‘On The Count of Three’ Ending Explained: How Do Val and Kevin Symbolize The Two Different Forms of Life?
Val, whose will to live is revived, becomes the killer of a person whom he barely knows. While Kevin is happy about this, Val doesn’t want to screw up again. So he flees the scene with Kevin. But with the entire police force behind them, Val and Kevin realize their end is near. Either they must surrender or decide to die. But Val is still an optimist about the dream he chose, so he finds a new way to escape. Val and Kevin run away with the bikes from their friend’s garage, but all their efforts go in vain when the end is not saved. Kevin falls off the bike and injures himself, but he no longer holds grudges. He finds no more anger in his mind. Instead, he becomes positive about his death this time. He encourages Val to sacrifice their lives according to their preconceived plan. But Val convinces him to surrender to the police so that they will be released one day. This is tragically a twist for Kevin when he sees his friend Val, who urged him to die, now begging him to live for his own happiness. But Kevin is determined to break free from all the obstacles, so he doesn’t choose another exhausting life in prison. Kevin tells Val to blame him for the murder, and in the blink of an eye, Kevin shoots himself and takes the last leave of his life. We see Val, alone in all, get surrendered by the police.
Later, in the end, we see how Val’s future takes a turn, and now he is in rehab, meeting his girlfriend Natasha and their child. In this demonstration of the tension between life and death, Kevin symbolizes death, while Val is depicted as the eternal form of life. Val’s recovery from the tragic turn of his life is an instructive chapter of the movie that urges all suicidal victims to have hope to live. Although usually, films about mental awareness are considered educational in the end, there may be some disagreements about this one. For example, how Val’s paternity wake-up calls off his death detour that leads to betrayal with Kevin. But pain entangles us so much that it becomes impossible to get out of it. Likewise, in Val’s life, his paternity gives him hope to survive, but he becomes a victim of Kevin’s vengeance. Although Kevin feels empathy for Val, he commits suicide in his greed for freedom. So, it’s needless to say, life ultimately forced the two friends to make different decisions for their own good, which gives Val an opportunity and Kevin an end.
Final Words: A Distinctive Approach
The film is Carmichael’s innovative take on the portrayal of mental breakdown, packed with intense emotion and dark comedy. This movie may not make you laugh out loud, but it is bound to put an uncomfortable smile on your lips that will make you worry repeatedly about the protagonists’ dire consequences. Kevin’s faint gaze and Val’s burning silence keep you thinking throughout the movie. Don’t expect any grand locations or eye-catching visuals in it, as the movie primarily portrays the half-dead lives of two broken-minded people. But within an hour and a half, the movie will change your perception of mental illness and make you choose between two endings: either finishing it off or beginning something new.
“On The Count of Three” is a 2022 Drama Comedy Film directed by Jerrod Carmichael.