There are a few films in a lifetime that you feel make you a better person having watched it. Selected for SXSW 2023, Pure O from Dillon Tucker is one of those films.
It is life-affirming, dynamic, and deeply resonant on a fundamentally human level. Tucker’s semi-autobiographical film makes the often misunderstood, hard-to-define disorder tangible. The idea that we all need help and there is no shame in admitting our flaws and accepting help is resonant in every word in Pure O.
The character-driven drama of one man’s struggle with a crippling form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder(OCD) doesn’t sound like it would be as hopeful as it is. Nonetheless, it is one of the most poignant and optimistic films I have ever seen. Relatable and kindhearted, it is a story about the connections we make and the strength we find in ourselves and others more than the mental illness it is named for.
Cooper, a charming Daniel Dorr, is a newly engaged aspiring screenwriter and musician who is a counselor at a fancy drug rehab when not performing. His fiance Emily, Hope Lauren, real-life partner of Dorr, is also a musician who loves Cooper, her family, and her life. When her father becomes ill and life intrudes, Dorr begins spiraling. His rare form of OCD, called Pure O, has become debilitating. With help from his friends, family, therapist, and support group, he navigates some of the most challenging things we have to face in life.
It is sometimes an uncomfortable film dealing with issues of death, addiction, abortion, and mental illness. Yet, pure O is raw and cathartic. Everyone has had moments of anxiety and depression and can relate to Tucker’s script. Dorr’s understated performance of Cooper makes him a likable everyman. Tucker does a masterful job showcasing the intensity of the disorder with Cooper’s sympathetic personality. A particularly powerful scene showing the very real pain of Pure O reveals Cooper reciting his worst fears alone in his car. It is a brutal, tightly shot scene that conveys all the fear and pain those with Pure O go through.
Dorr and Lauren have great chemistry, likely tapping into their real-life relationship. It feels sweet and fragile, making the final act even more bittersweet. These characters don’t just feel like the actors troubled counterparts. They become their characters, opening their world to us to understand their struggles in ways we rarely can.
Typically when reviewing a movie, I take notes while watching. Plot beats I want to highlight, particularly inspiring performances, set pieces or effects that are effective, and, in the case of negative reviews, problems. After watching Pure O, I found I had nothing written down. Not one word because I was sucked into the world Tucker built and so convincingly put on screen I was utterly invested. Wiping away a tear, the words I didn’t type up during the movie came pouring out. Endless streams of optimistic words that sometimes didn’t make sense just sounded hopeful. I’ve never been a particularly religious person, but it was like going to church, and Tucker was my preacher.
Tucker, who wrote, directed, edited, and half a dozen other things in Pure O, gave us his Opus on a plate. His original songs feel like they grew organically straight out of the script and help provide sound to the potent sentiments. Beautifully edited, it is dynamic and mesmerizing from the beginning. Like a favorite hype song, it ebbs and flows with nuanced and powerful notes that work in concert to create a symphony of emotions. Pure O swells and crescendos and quietly plinks and beats. The editing is so meticulously conceived every moment prepares you for the next. It is a symphony played with heartstrings and heartbeats.
Captivating and timely, this is a movie everyone should see. I related to Pure O in a way I never expected. The fact that Cooper can help so many and still need help himself stuck with me. It made me want to be kinder, think harder, and be more patient with myself and those around me. You can’t ask for anything more from a movie. Find all our SXSW 2023 coverage here.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.